Farnham’s ancient St Andrew’s Church will see part of its grounds closed to the public as major restoration works, expected to cost up to £500,000, is awaited to save its crumbling bell tower – and transform the structure into a visitor attraction for the town.

Along with the castle, St Andrew’s is the town’s most important historic building with the earliest parts dating back almost 1,000 years, and as well as being part of the area’s rich heritage it provides a peaceful oasis of green in the town centre for residents and visitors alike.

But worsening cracks in the 16th century tower that houses the church’s beloved bells mean that a section of that sanctuary of calm needs to be fenced off for the sake of public safety. The issue with the stonework has also meant that the bells have been silenced since last summer.

Rev David Uffindell, the Rector of St Andrew’s said: “We want to let people know what is happening before they see the fencing or barriers going up. Many people have already noticed that the bells have not been ringing for some time. This was partly due to the restrictions of the Covid pandemic but also due to problems with the tower itself.

“Parts of the external stonework on the pinnacle buttresses on the western elevation are cracking. Last summer we were advised to stop ringing the bells as this movement in the tower might be exacerbating the problem.”

Surveys have revealed that external stone cladding added to the original stonework of the tower to protect it had not been tied to the inner structure of the tower, creating a gap between the two. Into this gap, loose stone has been falling and as it has built up it has been pushing the outer stone skin away from the inner structure, causing the cracks.

Rev Uffindell said: “About 25 years ago, some work was done, including lowering the bell frame, to prevent further movement and stone cracking but unfortunately this didn’t solve the problem. The cracking has continued and there is a small risk that some stones may fall.

“The PCC has been advised that even though the risk is small, the area should be fenced off and path to the rear closed or diverted away. Obviously, we are concerned about the safety of members of the public passing through. The PCC has, therefore, notified Waverley and Surrey who are responsible for the maintenance of the churchyard. The likelihood is that protective fencing will be erected in the next few weeks. Clearly, we need to undertake a major restoration of the tower.”

More surveys and investigative work are under way, but the PCC has agreed:

A long-term solution to the external stonework issue is needed that will enable bell ringing to be resumed and improve the quality, sound and operation of the bells.

To restore the soundscape to as it was before the bells were lowered.

To create a visitor attraction in the tower, encouraging people to visit the tower, the bell chamber, to see our ancient carillons and clock mechanism and to have safe access to, and on, the roof.

“The aim is to provide greater public access to one of our most important ancient buildings. This should be an exciting new attraction for all the town to enjoy,” said Rev Uffindell. “It is estimated the project may take 18 to 24 months from today – if we are successful with raising the money. We hope to start next summer and will be applying for a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

“We will need the support of the people of Farnham and fund-raising ideas. This restoration and the creation of public access to the tower is a great opportunity for our town and for St Andrew’s. We believe our role is to serve the people who live and work in the parish as a place of welcome to all – irrespective of faith conviction.”