Cleaning St John the Baptist Church

15 October 2019

Restoring this listed church required a delicate approach after it suffered widespread smoke damage.

St John the Baptist inside

Restoring St John's

St John the Baptist Church is a large Grade I listed Victorian parish church that has existed at its location in Kensington since 1869.

St John’s suffered a short circuit that caused the curtains around the high altar to ignite. The fire was small and burned rapidly until the entire curtain and pelmet had been consumed. 
By the time the fire service arrived at the church, the fire had self-extinguished. Despite discovering scorch marks on some wooden steps close by, the fire had not caught and the church was spared from further destruction. The bulk of the damage was caused by the acrid smoke that had filled the church. 
The smoke/soot clung to the many years of dust and grease on the 150 year old walls and flat surfaces causing blackening of surfaces in the immediate vicinity of the fire and lighter contamination as you moved further away.
Following the fire we visited the church to begin planning restoration works. The height of the church, coupled with the positioning of some of its ornate features made areas like the nave were quite difficult to access. We worked closely with restoration specialists Polygon to find solutions. 

Issues with reaching the nave

  • Due to the height, traditional scaffolding would have been too tall and unstable and would have meant the church could not be used during the restoration.
  • A number of statues protrude at a 90° angle from the wall 7m up from the ground, making the construction of the scaffolding complicated.
  • Due to the Grade I listing, the scaffolding would have to be self-supporting and not take any support from the walls, adding further complications to the construction.
The solution was to use a spider crane. This type of crane gave us excellent reach and greater flexibility to work around awkward parts of the structure. When it was not in use, it could be moved out of the way so the church could still be used. 
St John the Baptist roof

Issues with space in the chancel

  • The church features a suspended floor with a raised platform in the apse. This combination created a void which means the floor is structurally weak and wouldn’t bear the weight of the spider crane.
  • The apse area particularly is quite compact so there would be little space to manoeuvre the spider crane even if it were smaller.  
The solution was to carefully design and erect scaffolding with supporting pads spreading the load. 

A delicate approach

Recognising that paint on the reredos panels had carbonised, we knew a delicate touch would be needed to prevent any further damage. 

We reached out to art restoration specialists to complete the intricate work. They gently swabbed the affected surfaces and then carefully touched up the panels with paint to match the original design. 
At every stage we have felt supported by you. David Townsend (the appointed loss adjuster) has been impeccably professional and fair, and we are aware that you have repeatedly erred towards generosity where the restoration solution has been debatable… The church already looks better than any of us dreamed possible.

Jamie Priestley, Church Warden

For detailed information please see our electricity guidance notes

You can also visit the United Benefice of Holland Park website to find out more about the fundraising campaign and restoration of St John the Baptist Church.