A PUZZLE on a grand scale is being solved at St Andrew’s Church in Ramsbottom.
Stonemasons have begun the task of piecing together the remains of the pinnacle, which was shattered by a lightning strike in July last year.
Using lifting machinery, masonry experts from Trafford Park-based firm Mather and Ellis have carefully reconstructed the layers of the pinnacle from its remains which smashed through the church roof and into the surrounding grounds.
The process, which company boss John Russell likens to piecing together a giant jigsaw puzzle, involved shifting stone blocks weighing up to 520kg each and laying them out in order on the church car park.
Foreman stonemason Chris Baines was then able to work out which parts could be repaired and the stones which would need to be replaced.
Up to half of the pinnacle, which is thought to have been made from gritstone quarried at Fletcher Bank, will have to be remade from new stone hewn from the same quarry.
Amazingly, the 180kg top stone block, which sat just below the finial, survived the topple from the tower intact, but a larger one below it has disappeared.
It is thought this was the stone which bore the full force of the lightning bolt.
“We have not been able to find any trace of it — it has just vaporised,” said Mr Russell.
The masons, using detailed drawings put together by building surveyors Byrom Clark Roberts, will fashion replacement stones.
While the large blocks will be cut by specialist machinery, they will be hand-finished using the same techniques as the masons’ predecessors, who built the Grade II listed church 180 years ago.
Mr Russell said that, although the work is fairly straightforward, it is unusual to have to replace a church pinnacle.
“I love jobs like this,” he said. “They don’t happen very often — although bizarrely, we have got another one on at the moment in Blackpool where two and a half tonnes fell and landed on the organ!”
The new stones will take about six weeks to cut and then the pinnacle will be put back into its rightful place, with the blocks held together using stainless steel cramps to replace the rusted iron original ones.
By June 20, the church is expected, once again, to boast four pinnacles.
“It should be good then for 150 odd years more — unless lightning protection doesn’t work!” said Mr Russell.