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Ropley Church – rising like a phoenix


St Peters Church, Ropley 6 April 2013 Simon Burchell (CC BY-SA 3.0)
St Peters Church, Ropley 6 April 2013 - Simon Burchell

St Peters Church at Ropley was originally built in Norman times, although little remains of its early structure except the south door. Its wooden bell tower, added at the end of the C14th, gave the church great charm.

St Peter’s today is a wonderful phoenix, literally rising from the ashes of the catastrophic fire that devastated the building one morning in June 2014. Local residents are said to have reported power surges earlier that morning.

The fire June 2014. Photo: Alan Thomas
The fire June 2014. Photo: Alan Thomas

It isn’t known whether Swifts nested at the church at the time of the fire, though in talking to local residents that seems very likely as I’m told they were often seen swooping around the building. So it seemed an ideal opportunity while the church was rebuilt to ensure that nesting provision was provided and at minimal cost.

My original plan was to insert S bricks within the edges of the flintwork of the hipped end on the west side as these walls had the upper areas of flintwork rebuilt. The Architect wasn’t keen on this idea and wanted indemnity from me that the Swift poo would not damage the lime mortar leading to a collapse of the building! No amount of assurance that there were many old churches all around the country, some of which had had Swifts nesting in them for hundreds of years without detriment, would change his mind. The fine detail of the waterproofing of the short louvres of the rebuilt belltower precluded the use of internal boxes within the belltower.

St Peters Church after the rebuilding was completed. July 2023. Photo: Lynn Fomison
St Peters Church after the rebuilding was completed. July 2023. Photo: Lynn Fomison

So the solution was to simply build in five plywood boxes based on the Model 30 design between the exposed rafters on the west side. Made of marine ply and positioned as they are high under the overhanging eaves they should last for many decades without requiring any maintenance.

Five new Swift nest boxes installed in June 2023.
Five new Swift nest boxes installed in June 2023.

While carrying out the work we noticed a pair of Swifts using the RSPB nest box on the flint cottage on the other side of the road, and another pair using one of the new soffit entrances that we cut in the adjacent soffit here just last year.

The flint cottage opposite the Church with two pairs of Swifts.
The flint cottage opposite the Church with two pairs of Swifts.

Our grateful thanks are due to the Ropley Society for funding the cost of the boxes and installation, and to Rev Claire Welham and Jules Flory for their support. And of course to Roger Maynard for manufacture and installation.

Tim Norriss, Hampshire Swifts


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