On the evening of the 15th June 2016 one of the five stone gargoyles around the bell tower at the top of the Moseley School’s tower crashed to the ground in front of the main west door to Spring Hill College. It was a big chunk of powdery stone around a foot in diameter plus some other smaller bits.
The area was cordoned off as a health and safety precaution.
As a number of Moseleians Association members may know, the stone used back in 1856 is very soft local Warwickshire stone which is well known to deteriorate over the years – not helped by pollution as well as water, frost and wind.
Fortunately this particular gargoyle come down over night, although it fell to ground just where on Tuesday the Moseleians association garden team had been planting the two containers on the steps. The short term issue is clearly ensuring the safety of people especially children moving around the outside of the building, although in the longer term restoring of architectural features of what is a Grade 2 Listed building needs to be considered.
Surveyors were called in and a visual inspection was undertaken. The purpose of this inspection was to investigate the likely cause of fallen stonework, which was believed to have originated from one of the gargoyles surrounding the Turret to the central Tower.
High level access to the central Tower and corner Turret was gained via a 27metre truck mounted boom, located to the front elevation of the building. From within the basket, a visual inspection was carried out on each of the sandstone carvings where it became apparent the source of sandstone that had fallen to the ground had originated from one of the gargoyles.
From the visual inspection it was evident the sandstone carvings and mouldings have been subjected to many years of weathering both from freeze thaw and salt crystallisation, causing the sandstone carvings to lose some of their structural properties and become soft and friable. Given the age of the building, dating circa 1856, the defects noted on site are typical for the age and location of the carvings.
As part of the visual inspection, a Tap Test (using the small handheld hammer as shown opposite) was applied to each of the sandstone carvings whereby it immediately became apparent there were further areas of loose / friable sandstone. Where this was identified, the sections of sandstone were carefully removed by hand to mitigate the immediate danger of sandstone falling some 27 metres to the floor beneath.
The picture below shows the extent of the loose / friable sandstone to the remaining gargoyles surrounding the front elevation of the Turret. It must be noted that we were not able to inspect the three gargoyles to the rear of the Turret due to limited access. There was also evidence of previous repairs, which are now starting to fail.
As a result of the defects noted above, the surveyors also inspected the Crocketed Finials to the main elevation buttresses, whereby they equally identified significant decay to the sandstone. Numerous ballflower ornaments forming the Crocketed Finials were simply remaining in place by their own deadweight. It was noted that one of the ballflowers had previously been pinned and jointed using a resin based glue, but this had equally failed and was carefully removed.
Significant concerns still remains as to the structural stability of the Crocketed Finials as two out of the four show physical movement at their base and need to be further investigated by a Structural Engineer / Stone Mason.
A full report is expected within the week.