Following the restoration of historic properties. In 2007, newly-weds Paul and Laura spotted St Thomas a Becket church and decided it was the family home for them.
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'All over Britain, hundreds of precious historic buildings
'are in danger of being lost forever.'
The tragedy is that these buildings are far more
than just simply bricks and mortar. They are the keepers of our past.
I love the idea that people have stood here discussing the Battle of Waterloo, the Battle of Bosworth,
the Battle of Britain.
'I'm following the fortunes of six properties.'
Each of these six fragile buildings has found a would-be saviour,
new owners desperate to breathe life into these crumbling ruins
by creating their own 21st century dream home.
-Well, she found it.
-I just think it's an adorable building.
I know there's a lot of work, but I think it's a building that needs to be cared for and will be cared for.
'As our owners get down to work,
'architectural expert Kieran Long
'and historian Dr Kate Williams
'will help me unearth the fascinating secrets hidden deep in each building's past.'
If it wasn't for you, we'd have forgotten, this whole story would be buried in the archives.
I love old buildings and I always have
and I've spent many years restoring various different properties
in an attempt to create the perfect family home.
So I know from personal experience the hard path that our families have chosen to follow.
You're sanding it and scraping it and putting the poultice on it and you're like, "Ohh!"
I don't think we'd ever buy another listed building. Ever.
'Six precious buildings.
'Six owners with a mission.
'Six intriguing journeys into Britain's past.'
It's Restoration Home.
This is the most important church in the land. Canterbury Cathedral.
'This has been a holy site for more than 1,400 years.
'And in that time, Canterbury Cathedral has had a pretty rich history.'
Just after Christmas in the year 1170,
the Archbishop of Canterbury had a terrible falling out with the king.
Christmas is always a tricky time, isn't it?
Unfortunately, things got rather out of hand
and the Archbishop was brutally murdered here on this most sacred of sites
by four of King Henry II's supporters.
The murdered man was called Thomas Becket.
'Later known as Thomas a Becket,
'he became one of England's most celebrated martyrs.
'Barely three years later he was made a saint,
'and for centuries to come, churches were named in his honour.
'But in the southwest of England,
'one of them is in serious danger of being lost.
'And this is our Restoration Home.
'St Thomas a Becket Church in Pensford, Somerset.
'Abandoned and empty for years,
'it's on the heritage critical list,
'and without a new owner, its future is bleak.
'Sitting on an island at the heart of the village,
'St Thomas a Becket has always been at risk from floods.
'And 43 years ago, the most catastrophic in living memory
'led to its eventual deconsecration.
'It has a Victorian nave and a medieval tower
'which means the whole church attracts a Grade Two Star listing,
'the second highest grading for an historic building.
'But first and foremost, St Thomas a Beckett Church needs to be saved from complete dereliction.
'Step forward newly-weds Paul and Laura Baxter,
'both in their late 20s.
'Former childhood sweethearts,
'they've never tackled a full-scale restoration before.
'They were working their way up the property ladder when Paul spotted the church in 2007.'
I was looking for a flat in Bristol, nothing came up that I liked
and this was up for sale by auction.
We went and had a look and thought it was ridiculously large,
-couldn't afford it.
-And it's leaking, it's rotten.
But, man, this would be wicked if we could sort it out!
So then we started thinking that it was a great idea.
'They applied for listed building consent to create a three-bedroom home
'on three floors inside the church's nave.
'The conservation authorities approved their plan,
'and the first stage of work, to make their new home weatherproof, is already under way.'
We would like to start a family here. I'm not sure how practical it is
being that there's a stream all the way around the outside,
-there'll be balconies, glass.
-It'll be like a learning curve for them.
'They paid £120,000 to buy the nave,
'but they didn't buy the tower, which remains the property of the Churches Conservation Trust.
'And outside their front door, St Thomas a Becket's centuries-old graveyard
'will need to remain open to the visiting public.
'They have a restoration budget of £140,000
'and they're renting a flat in nearby Bristol until the church is ready.
'To keep costs down, Paul will do all the work himself.
'And Laura, who's an accountant, will bankroll the project.'
I don't have a problem with being the breadwinner. It's fine.
Right from the start of our relationship, Paul said he wanted to renovate property,
he didn't want to get a job. He's never had what I would call a proper job.
It's not as expensive as you would expect, though. The average build is 75 percent labour costs.
So if you think, "That's going to cost 200 grand,"
if you do it all yourself, it'll cost 50.
'Paul's got plenty of DIY experience,
'but converting a church nave into a four-bedroom home is a whole new ball-game.'
'He's had to train himself in a completely new range of new skills,
'including becoming a roofer.'
I've done an 11-month crash course in roofing
because on the first phase, I got a load of roofers in to help me
and I made sure I was doing it with them.
'Confident enough to carry on on his own,
'Paul has spent a solid year fitting 7,000 slates.
'As well as making the church watertight from above,
'he has months of work ahead inside the nave
'creating the framework for the couple's new living space.
'Right now, he's loving every part of his full-time restoration job.'
It's got a combination of everything. You get to design it, so that's a bit artistic.
You get to go through the planning process, which is a bit of an effort, but it's more paperwork.
And then you also get the physical side of it.
So it's like the job that has everything.
Yeah. No, I think it's marvellous. I can't think of anything else I'd rather do, or I'd be doing it.
'Both of them are eager to learn more about the church they've decided to make their home.'
We'd definitely like to find out more about the history of the building.
If you're living in a place and you know what's happened, you get more of an attachment to it.
But also, so many people visit Pensford and come round and say, "My ancestor's buried here,
"do you know where he's buried?" and it'd be really nice to be able to provide some information.
-Some of them come from Australia.
-And we can't really tell them anything.
'While I keep tabs on Paul and Laura's restoration journey,
'our investigators are going to help me uncover the hidden story of St Thomas a Becket Church.
'Architectural expert Kieran Long will search for clues in the DNA of the building itself.
'And historian Dr Kate Williams
'will trace the events and characters crucial to the church through the centuries.'
Well over 1,000 churches have closed their doors during the last 40 years.
Declining attendance and the amalgamation of parishes
means that a huge swathe of our architectural heritage is in peril.
Finding new uses for these churches is vital for their survival.
So if Paul and Laura don't succeed,
we may lose another of our precious buildings forever.
'Kieran starts his investigation in Pensford.
'He wants to find out what St Thomas a Becket Church can tell him about its past.
'At first glance, it's not a simple story.'
We can already see that there are two different ages of stonework
here in the building. The tower looks older than the body of the church.
'The style of the windows and gruesome gargoyles of the tower
'are instantly recognisable to Kieran as medieval Gothic.'
It looks a bit like a castle keep, doesn't it? There's something much older about it, much more ancient.
We can tell from the condition of the stonework that it's clearly centuries older than the rest of the church.
It could be 15th century.
'Paul and Laura don't own the tower,
'but it's this ancient part of the church that gives the building its Grade Two Star listing,
'a designation which means it's of more than special historic interest.'
Coming in here is like coming into a tomb that's been closed.
It's really, really special.
The roof vaults that we see above us, absolutely characteristic of the Gothic style.
They're about this verticality. This idea that your eye should constantly be drawn upwards
and therefore towards God, the light of God.
'Kieran moves to the nave, the part of the church that Paul and Laura do own.
'It's also Gothic in style, but built much later than the tower.'
Ah, fabulous. Here we are, finally, in the nave.
Really classic Victorian Gothic.
'There's evidence this is a bigger nave than the one the medieval church had.
'A join in the stonework shows the roof used to be lower.
'At some point, this nave has been supersized.'
This steeply-pitched roof that you can just see the outline of, there was clearly a much smaller nave
attached to that tower before.
And I think it would've been a much more proportionally pleasing relationship
between tower and nave then.
'As a potential new home, the nave comes with some stunning original features.
'The stained glass windows.'
We'll have to do some more work to understand the significance of the windows
but they're certainly of a fineness that belies a small rural church.
'Armed with Kieran's findings, our private eye of the past,
'Dr Kate Williams, gets her investigation underway.
'It brings her to the local archive,
'where she's worried the parish records might have been destroyed by floods.
'But she manages to discover one vital piece of evidence,
'an early 19th century drawing that shows Kieran was right.
'The church used to have a much smaller nave.
'And when Kate digs deeper into the archives, she makes another exciting discovery.'
What I have here is a memorial book for all the churches in the area.
You hardly ever see something like it. It's so rare. All these pictures and records and written memoirs.
This could tell us so much about Pensford Church.
'Kieran thought the original medieval church might date back to the 1400s.
'But Kate finds a list of every vicar in the reign of every monarch
'that goes all the way back to the 1300s.'
The church is so much older than we really thought.
The first incumbent is here, 1341 under the reign of Edward III.
What the church must have been like in those times. It must have been the focus of the community.
'The book also shows that over seven centuries of history,
'Thomas a Beckett Church has paid a heavy price because of its location.
'On an island in the middle of the River Chew.'
There has been a terrible history of flooding.
Over and over again, the church has suffered.
Here, 1807. 1809.
Two years later, another flood.
Then throughout the 18th century and the earlier period.
'And there was another reason villagers must have thought their church was cursed.'
In the 16th century, as we learn here, the church was a plague church.
This is terrible. The victims of this horrific disease
were taken to the church and the parishioners would've avoided the church,
terrified of catching the disease again.
So it's somewhere that's been shunned.
'Traditionally, churches were the very glue that held a community together.
'So what finally made the people of Pensford abandon their ill-fated church for good?
'Time for me to reprise my role as amateur TV detective
'and do some of my own snooping round the village.'
Hi. I'm trying to find out about your church.
It was just nothing but a cold, empty shell.
That was the last time I looked inside it.
It was awful. The centre of the village looked derelict, horrible.
'In 1968, Pensford experienced floods so severe
'that they made the national news. The Duke of Edinburgh came to inspect the damage,
'and meet the vicar at the time, Reverend Clatworthy.'
"The Duke summed up the situation as absolute chaos. But the townsfolk..."
'The 1960s catastrophe proved to be the last straw for poor old Thomas a Becket church.'
-Do you remember the flood?
-Yes, very much so.
It came down through the valley here like a raging torrent.
Anything loose was gone. Cars, garden sheds, you name it.
The church wasn't used for years after that. Years.
-So, really, the flood was the absolute end of the church.
-Basically, the end of it.
'The church's fate was sealed because villagers could easily use another one at Publow,
'just half a mile away, run by the same vicar.'
So is it a prettier church?
Er, yes, I would say so.
Most people get buried at Publow Churchyard, all the weddings.
So Christenings, weddings and burials, everybody really wanted to go to Publow.
'But some villagers do miss having their own church.'
When the decision was made to close this church down, how did you feel?
Well, upset. It's part of the community.
-All that's gone.
-It does seem that everyone's turned their back on this church.
-It seems to, yes.
-You're the first person I've spoken to
that really seems to feel that the church has been let down, in a way.
-I feel it has. Definitely.
-It's a shame.
-A great shame.
-And how do you feel about it being a house now?
-Not a lot.
-No. It should still be a church.
'Our architectural expert Kieran
'wants to find out more about Paul and Laura's plans
'to turn the church into their home.'
One of the things I'm really interested in is how you're going to live with this heritage.
-You're going to have a living room next to an altar. How do you feel about that?
The new work that's proposed is quite bland, colour-wise. It's white, basically.
So hopefully this will be the equivalent of that red cushion that they throw on a white chair
in a white room, it's the signature colour. We've got a signature altar piece instead.
So your idea has been to be quite neutral with the building and let it speak for itself.
Yes. We weren't expecting it to say anything, but now it has,
you've just got to... I quite like it.
Has anything you've found transformed or changed your ideas about what you want to do in this space?
No. The thing is, when we designed the conversion,
we designed it to be very Gothic and very in touch with the structure of the church anyway.
I think the spatial programme that he's putting together for the building
is somewhat difficult for me to imagine right now.
It looks to me like he's filling it up with rooms and mezzanines and so on.
This building has so much more about it than just his new home.
It's a part of British architectural history and it'll be interesting to see
if he can bring some of that into his thinking about making a great house for him and his wife.
We'll see. But I have concerns that some of the quality of that space will be lost.
'There's some way to go before the rooms in the church start taking shape.
'Paul's still busy with basic preparation of the nave,
'trying to strip away layers of paint on some of the stonework.'
Every time you try and do something with the old bit of the building, it just...
It just hits you. You think, "I'll just take the paint off these stones"
but there's no "just" about it.
You scrape off the white top layer and then underneath there's this blue stuff that will not come away.
You're sanding it and scraping it and putting the poultice on it and you're like, "Ohh!"
-Then Laura comes at the weekend and says, "It's a bit blue".
So it is! Ha-ha-ha!
'Paul and Laura's plans involve creating an extra level of living space inside the nave,
'installing a mezzanine floor half way up.
'Before the new floor goes in,
'they've decided to double glaze the draughty leaded windows.
'Jack-of-all-trades Paul thinks he's up to the job. But Laura's not so sure.'
Paul seems to think that he can do anything,
that he could literally do anything.
And a lot of the time, he is really good with his hands and he's very good at picking things up.
I do have to rein him in a bit and say, "Actually, you're not allowed to do this, I want it done properly
"so you're not going to do this" and put my foot down a bit.
I said, "I'll have a crack at that" and Laura kind of went, "What makes you think you're able to do that?
"We'll definitely get someone in for that."
So we got a load of quotes in and Laura looked over the quotes
and after a few moments reflection, she turned to me and said,
-"So, is there any reason why you can't do this yourself?"
And that was pretty much it. So what it is is this one here is the test case.
So I'm going to make this one frame and then Laura's going to come with the white gloves
and peruse it, check it over with the microscope
and decide whether or not I'm going to be released on the other windows.
'Before he can fit the glass, Paul has to make the frame for his DIY double glazing.
'The trickiest bit is bending the wood to make the arch,
'but with Paul's homemade steam-box, it should be a piece of cake.
'Once the wood is nice and hot, it goes into his former to shape it.'
And then the two of them go together like that.
And there's your arch.
So hopefully in the end, as long as I put it together right, it will be acceptable to the gruppenfuhrer.
'But while making the frame has been pretty straightforward,
'fitting the glass is a different matter.'
I'm not really one for paperwork, by and large.
If you asked me what the angles were on the frames, I wouldn't be able to tell you.
We're only going to do one, cos it's just another thing to get broken. We'll put the rest in at the end.
But Laura has to cast her critical eye over it.
'The adhesive strip should hold the glass in place
'if it fits the frame.
'The most important thing is to make sure the inside of the glass is completely clean before it's fixed.'
Just one thumb print could do it in. It'll be like the whole space telescope all over again.
I'd have to take it all down and redo it at huge cost.
'With Paul confident the inside of the glass is spotless,
'it's time for the moment of truth.'
Fit. Please fit.
Who'd have thought that secondary glazing could bring so much happiness?
-Yeah. Well pleased with that.
I hope that writing's on this side.
-Is this going to be good... Oh, you little
I can't take it off now. Hopefully the beading will cover most of that.
Yeah. That's all right.
'Paul's happy he's saved the day.
'But converting this church is Laura's dream, too,
'and understandably, she wants it to be perfect.'
-I can't really see it.
-Hurray! Nothing to complain about.
-Can I go on here?
-Yes, of course you can. Why not?
-What's this stuff?
-That's a swipe.
-Doesn't come off?
-Are you serious?
-That's the only...
-On the inside?
-That looks bad.
The problem is, I cleaned the window twice but then when I put it in...
-Is it glue?
-No. They put a number on the wrong side of the glass.
It looks awful. And I don't think this should be set back.
I like it like that. That's my preferred appearance.
-And I don't.
The verdict is, generally, it looks really nice,
but it's not quite there yet.
Ooh! Well, erm, I'm going to take that as meaning it can stay, just,
-but the next one better be better.
-That's exactly it.
Phew! That'll do.
'As their restoration journey continues,
'our investigation into the building's history is still progressing.
'We've established a timeline for Thomas a Becket Church that goes back to 1341.
'But Paul and Laura's nave is Victorian
'and it replaced a smaller medieval version.
'So why, despite the church's vulnerable location and history of flooding,
'did the nave get such a big makeover in the 19th century?
'The answer lies in the revolutionary changes that swept Britain in the Victorian era.'
Clifton Suspension Bridge,
one of the great icons of Victorian design.
It spans a seemingly ludicrous distance
and inspires in me the same sense of awe
that it must have inspired in those Victorians when it first opened in 1864.
The building of this bridge was fuelled by the Industrial Revolution.
It was a time when everything in Britain was fundamentally changed,
including the Church.
For the first time ever, churches were being built on an industrial scale.
'In the 19th century, as towns and cities grew under industrialisation,
'the government feared that religion was being lost.
'So in 1818, an Act of Parliament created the Church Building Commission
'which oversaw the building of 600 new churches in less than 50 years.
'Kieran thinks the supersizing of Paul and Laura's nave
'was part of this Victorian church-building frenzy
'and he's scouring the country to find out who might have been behind it.
'He starts by trying to hunt down the architects
'behind Thomas a Becket's 19th century transformation.
'And deep in the local Somerset archive, he strikes gold.'
It's very exciting to find some drawings of our building by the architects.
Giles and Robinson Architects. This is the first time we've found out who these people were
and it's very exciting to be able to name them.
But also, a load of correspondence that deals with the building of our church.
First and most importantly, it dates our building to 1868.
Mentions of consecration of 1869, so that's a great help.
'On closer inspection, Giles and Robinson's letters reveal that in creating a newer, bigger nave,
'they were keen on restoring some of the old.'
There are parts of this Victorian building which are much older, which were kept from the previous church.
And we know that from the architect's description here of how the building should be prepared,
how the site should be prepared for building.
"All free stone is to be taken great care of."
Free stone is the carving, the small pieces of carving of the ancient church.
And then it goes on, "The arcade is to be taken down in the most careful manner
"on centres which will serve to rebuild the arches by properly constructed."
So what we know from this is that the arcade that runs down the centre of the church
is in fact from the old building and has been taken down very carefully and reconstructed.
'So in a rather pleasing symmetry,
'the Victorians, Giles and Robinson,
'preserved key features of the medieval nave,
'just as 140 years later, Paul is working hard
'to conserve Giles and Robinson's 19th century designs.
'But Kieran still has more detective work to do.'
There's still so many mysteries. We don't know anything about these beautiful stained glass windows.
We need to find more about the details of the Gothic and the influences of Giles and Robinson
and that'll be our next step.
'Hot on the trail of Britain's key Victorian Gothic influences,
'Kieran makes a pilgrimage to Cheadle in Staffordshire
'to see the Church of St Giles.
'Considered to be the very embodiment of the Gothic revival,
'he suspects this iconic building holds big clues
'to Giles and Robinson's thinking when they revamped Paul's nave in Somerset.'
It's incredibly exciting to be here because I'm convinced that Giles and Robinson
would've visited this building. So we're here find out more about the DNA, the history of Paul's church.
'St Giles was designed in the 1840s
'by one of the most influential architects of the last two centuries, Augustus Pugin.
'A Catholic convert of French descent, Pugin was obsessed with religion
'and dedicated his life to promoting this style of architecture.
'A workaholic and fanatical perfectionist,
'Pugin was the 19th century god of Gothic, and St Giles in Cheadle was his masterpiece.'
This church is the manifesto of the man who changed British architecture in the 19th century forever.
The moment where Roman and Greek models were given up substantially in favour of the Gothic.
The other great architects were persuaded that Gothic was the great style of their time.
People like Giles Gilbert Scott, the designer of St Pancras Station,
hugely inspired by this building.
Of course, we later see Pugin's work with Barry on the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben,
perhaps the most important statement of our national identity.
Didn't take long before it dominated the British landscape as the appropriate style for houses,
villas all over the suburbs that were being built in the 19th century.
Even today, a big supermarket might still have a little pointed arch,
just trying to refer back to this great style that seems to us now so English.
So when Giles and Robinson would've walked into this church,
they would've seen things that were way out of their league and their budget,
but they would've thought, "How can we reproduce that and get some of that style
"into this small provincial church that we're making?"
'As he tries to make good decades of neglect,
'Paul is uncovering some of these Victorian Gothic designs which have been hidden for decades.'
As I was scraping that bit there,
these little red kind of teeth started to emerge.
And I thought, "We might have something here".
Then it struck me, there's probably something behind these panels. I tried a tester patch
with some paint stripper, but it liquidised everything and took it back to the stone,
but you could see that there was red paint in it. The only thing that seems to get the top layer off
but the leave the bottom layer on is getting the scraper
and going like this.
It's what you hope for when you start scraping something back.
But it's just a matter of taking the time to do it
and not dying of boredom in the interim.
'His painstaking scraping has revealed an important clue
'to how the nave would have looked in its Victorian heyday.'
The interesting thing about this era is that there was a kind of riot of decoration and colour
that comes back into ecclesiastical architecture.
Walking into this building in the high Victorian era,
you would've found a kind of richness in here. You would've found deep reds and golds
and colours that spoke of a rather dark but rather rich interior.
'Paul is still doing all the restoration work himself,
'with breadwinner Laura helping out at weekends.
'He's been working flat out, six days a week, for well over a year now
'and things have certainly moved on.
'I think it's about time I took a look.'
I'm very excited about coming inside.
-But slightly nervous as well, I have to be honest,
because I have seen some truly ghastly church conversions in my time.
-The sort of thing that makes you go, "Oh, what have they done that for?"
-Try to control yourself.
But I've heard good things and I'm quite looking forward to it. Can I go and have a look, then
-We'd love to you.
-Thank you very much. Come with me.
Oh, wow! You've actually got what look like rooms!
Oh, that's fantastic! So it has changed drastically.
So take me through where we are there. We're in the hall?
-Yep, this is the hallway.
-And what's this room?
-That's another bedroom.
-Is this going to be your room?
-No, no, we have the master suite upstairs.
-Down here is the...
-We're going underneath the stairs here.
-Through an archway, which will be here.
-So you're going to keep the Gothic shape of the arches.
-The whole house is going to keep that flavour?
'Paul and Laura's designs also include a dining room and kitchen
'that use the full height of the church,
'while their sitting room will be upstairs, opposite the master bedroom.'
Am I right in thinking that you're not trained in any of this?
-No, I'm not trained in anything.
Are you reading books, are you reading manuals, are you...?
He tends to ring people up in a builder's accent and get it really cheaply and then say...
OK. What's a builder's accent?
Well, you'll ring the first one and go, "Excuse me, what do you call those scaffolding clips
"where one goes through and the other..." "That's called a straight, mate."
"And what do you call the ones..."
And you get this whole list of jargon and go, "Thanks very much" and hang up.
-Then you ring up as another builder?
-You ring another scaffolding firm,
"All right, mate, could I get, erm, probably 400 straights, 35 swivels, probably looking at about 6K.
-"Have you got that? Second-hand? Price?"
"I'll see what I can do." Wicked!
You're not really a builder, you're an actor.
I have built houses. My husband and I have done some of this.
Not as much hands-on stuff. But it's been very, very stressful
and there are times when, understandably, we'd get really fractious with each other
and it's put a strain on our relationship. Have you found that at all?
-Actually, we've discussed this before
and we think doing it yourself is less stressful
-because you don't rely on other people.
-And do you want it to be perfect for Laura?
No, I want it to be perfect for me.
The thing is, you don't often get a chance to do something like this
and it would seem to be a shame to make a fudge of it.
You want to go, "Right, this is my chance and I really did something which I really like."
You don't want to be thinking, "Mm, it's OK," especially after all that work.
'Paul and Laura seem pretty chuffed with how things are going,
'but I've seen the facts Kate discovered about just how often the church has flooded.
'And I wonder how much these restoration rookies have taken
'the watery history of their new home into account.'
-This has flooded before.
-Did you know that?
-We did know that. I doubt we'll ever see it flood.
It's flooded 11 times in the last 200 years.
I think, at the end of the day, we've raised the floors above a 200-year flood event.
You could expect the inside of the church to get wet once every 200 years,
which to my mind is acceptable.
The level of the River Chew is very much lower than it was,
the reason being that there's a dam, there's a Chew Valley Lake now
further up the river and a lot of the water gets taken out for Bristol Water.
They dredge the bottom out of the river, they've got flood defences, so I'm not that bothered. Oh, God!
-It is fine.
'Paul isn't the first incumbent of Thomas a Becket Church
'to be confident about the future, despite the building's ill-fated past.
'The church had another optimist at the helm a century and a half ago.
'We've discovered architects Giles and Robinson were called in to redesign the building in 1868.
'But we can also reveal the man who called them in.
'The Victorian saviour of Thomas a Becket Church.
'Kate has discovered his identity in the memorial book.'
The church has had a hard and chequered history,
floods, pestilence, plague,
and then finally, in the late 19th century,
there's someone who really loved the church
and that was the Reverend Perfect.
'The reverend arrived in the parish with his wife, Mrs Perfect.
'He was shocked at the semi-derelict state of the church's 500-year-old nave.
'It became his mission to have it rebuilt.
'The services of Giles and Robinson were engaged
'and in 1869, Pensford had a bigger, 'perfect' church.'
There's this wonderful article here from 1869
when Reverend Perfect, after only a year of rebuilding the church,
has made it somewhere for the village. It's so marvellous.
It says how much money was raised, how well he did, and the whole village was so delighted by it.
'The article brings Pensford's joyous event to life.'
'The village in the vicinity of the church was gaily decorated with flags and evergreens.
'The church itself was decorated with exquisite taste and skill by Mrs Perfect.
'With the rejoicing accord forth by the event,
'the villagers were celebrating and the musical portions of the service were given the admirable effect.'
How could it be more beautiful? The people were so delighted.
There was dancing, there was singing
and no less than four services in one day.
There couldn't be more praise for Reverend Perfect, a gentleman who was driven,
devoted, determined to make the church beautiful again
and made it once more, in the late 19th century,
loved and part of the community again.
'150 years later,
'Reverend Perfect's 21st century successor as church incumbent
'is making his home in the nave.
'Taking inspiration from the Gothic arcade
'that Victorian architects Giles and Robinson so carefully preserved,
'Paul's making three arched door frames.
'Whilst Paul and Laura have mostly presented a united front in their design ideas,
'there's been a falling out over the precise shape of the new arches.'
Elements of it have not progress as expected.
Ohh. Yes, unfortunately, there's been some problem with some of the detailing.
I had a lot of fun making that, and when it was finished,
I thought, "That's a fantastic thing of great beauty," and I was very pleased with it
and I was very much looking forward to showing it to Laura.
But when she saw it, I don't think she quite shared my, erm, opinion.
It's not that I don't like the arches
but I felt they were a bit masculine.
I feel that the church is very organic and everything's quite curvy
and the arches were a bit too straight.
To my mind, it's a little late. It is a little late for it. We were in planning for over a year
and we spent at least six months of that coming up with the design we were going to use
and we made the model and all the rest of it.
And, obviously, I feel for her. If she really can't get an impression
of what something's going to look like from a scale model then that's a shame.
At the end of the day, although we did the design together,
quite a lot of it is really Paul's ideas.
So I think he is quite protective.
But I have to just remind him every now and again that, actually, we both own the church, not just Paul,
and I do get a say whether he likes it or not.
I think, if we do come up with some other design,
Laura's punishment for wanting it changed is that she can take it out.
The whole thing is glued and screwed together
and there's no way I'm going to be the one with the chainsaw chopping it away.
I don't know. I don't know whether that's going to sound bad, me saying that.
I mean, shouldn't I be annoyed?
Nobody likes doing something twice.
Hopefully, some kind of solution will present itself.
'I know from my own experience that tensions like these
'only surface because both of them are passionate about doing justice to the building,
'and at the same time trying to make it their perfect home.'
You know, I'll be straight with you, I want this to be more like a work of art than a building.
What I would hope that we can do is perhaps leave the building
as aesthetically pleasing done as it was before we started.
To my mind, if you're going to take on a building like this, that should be your goal.
'The church's stunning stained glass windows adorn the end of the nave
'that will be their dining and kitchen area.
'But it turns out some tricky restoration is required.'
Some local kids have thrown some stones through my window
and those two holes have got to be replaced or repaired.
'Paul will very carefully remove the broken pieces himself.
'But he knows restoring the window properly is beyond even his DIY skills.'
I would be amazed if this is just a standard piece of stained glass from a standard stained glass factory.
It's got to be something of note. It's a stonking piece of work. Absolutely marvellous.
'Specialist stained glass repairs can cost thousands of pounds.
'Paul's sent the broken pieces to Graham Dowding,
'a professional stained glass restorer and artist.
'Keen to know exactly what he's dealing with,
'Graham's done some detective work of his own by trawling through Victorian architectural journals.'
Well, I have come across an article in The Builder
dated 1880 and it refers to the window that we're dealing with.
It's an east window by TW Camm of Smethwick.
Interestingly, a lot of the archives still exist.
So it may be that there are some actual drawings
for our window, which will be great.
'Excited by Graham's discovery, our architectural expert Kieran travels to the Midlands,
'to see if he can find the original Victorian drawing for Paul's stained glass.'
I sometimes think, as a nation, we're best at keeping stuff safe.
Cos just when you need one, like we do now,
we should be able to find some evidence that links the work of Camm with our church.
'A key part of Gothic design in the Middle Ages,
'stained glass fell out of favour after Henry VIII Reformation.
'A great number of English churches had plain glass windows for four centuries
'before Pugin and his followers revived the idea
'of filtering light through colour to create a suitably reverent atmosphere in church.
'The Victorian Gothic revival resurrected the nation's stained glass industry.'
We know that Smethwick and other places around and in Birmingham
were in a way the heartland of stained glass production in the middle of the 19th century
and there was this flowering of demand. So it was like an industrial scale operation.
And in total during that period, there were 80,000 windows produced around the country.
'The archivists have told Kieran
'that tube 4409 might be the one he's looking for.'
There's a drawing in here. These are all rolls of drawing, hundreds of them.
'Kieran hopes the drawing in the tube will prove conclusively
'that Paul and Laura's stained glass windows were the work of Thomas Camm,
'a highly skilled craftsman of international renown.'
It's really, really exciting for me to find this because it's exactly the same scene
that's represented above the altar of St Thomas a Becket Church.
There's so many similarities.
It's even richer with all of the light shining through it
and where you really see that is in the figure of Jesus surrounded by this flaming light.
And that's so exciting to see that link.
It places you right back in the moment when they were making decisions about
what kind of window to specify, how the church was going to look, what it was meant to evoke.
'Working hard to preserve this legacy of British craftsmanship,
'Graham and his team have spent painstaking hours
'making a new angel's head for Paul and Laura's elaborate window
'and fixing the disciple's knee.
'Now the pieces are finished, they're ready to go back into the delicate leaded window.
'But this is the most difficult part of the whole process.'
To put the piece of glass back into its leadwork is always critical
because that's the point at which you can break it.
So, yeah, we're in the lap of the gods today, really.
Ooh! Here comes the glass.
And that's your new lady.
Fantastic! Look at that! Right! I should've given you a picture of the missus.
Ah, that's the original.
It's very nice. Very nice.
'The disciple's knee will be replaced first.
'And it's Graham's colleague Tim who has the heart-stopping job
'of fitting the new piece and making sure there are no mishaps.'
Tim is very patient. He's known as the Zen Master.
'The restored disciple's knee is handled with huge care at every stage of the process.
'And putting the new glass in is a lot trickier than taking the old glass out.
'The new piece isn't an exact fit, so Tim will need to trim it ever so gingerly,
'a millimetre at a time.'
We use what are called grozing pliers, these tools here,
and we can actually very carefully nibble the edge of the glass.
We don't often break many.
You dread it happening, but it is a very fragile material.
It's a bit like a wild animal. It can sense that you're nervous of it
and if you show it too much respect, it will crack on you.
You just have to breathe deeply and slowly
So you're actually just paring away the glass very gently.
'As Tim carries on with his delicate trimming,
'Paul has found a way of restoring peace and harmony in another part of the nave.
'He's reached a compromise with Laura over the design of the controversial new Gothic arches.
'It's meant changing one design detail.'
The first arch was like this and absolutely awful.
Whereas the second arch far more acceptably looks like this.
Which I'm not admitting is better.
But it's a change I'm perfectly happy to make
in exchange for conjugal rights.
Yeah, well, anyway, that little drama is over.
'Back at the window, after an hour and a half of careful nibbling,
'it looks like Tim finally might have tamed the fragile disciple's knee.'
Yeah, back in. I think that's brilliant.
'But restoration is a never-ending task
'and now he has to start all over again on the angel¹s face.'
They've done a brilliant job.
Yes, I'm very, very pleased that I can see it from my living room.
She's in. She's in.
HE LAUGHS A lot easier than the other piece.
'And with that, Thomas Camm¹s window is complete once again.
'Before we discover how the intricate restoration of Thomas a Becket Church has gone,
'Paul and Laura have joined Kate and Kieran to find out all they have learnt about their building.'
What I found was this really beautiful list of all the vicars
going right back to the 14th century.
With so many churches, we lose quite a lot of their records
after the Reformation, so it's fabulous that we've got them going right back here.
The unlucky ones that were here under Henry VIII had a bit of a challenge.
I was immediately charmed by this amazing sight.
A very ancient Norman tower with a slightly ill-fitting nave.
-How dare you!
-Not being rude, you know...
It's been a history for the church of a lot of misery and plague and floods
and then, in the late Victorian period, everything changes.
Reverend Perfect was such a devoted man
and here we have the face of the man, the man himself who built the church as it is today.
These are the drawings by Giles and Robinson Architects of Furnival's Inn in Clerkenwell in London
for the great rebuilding of the church in 1869.
Its sophistication, its moment in British history
where people are trying to understand what their culture means.
What does all of this power and wealth mean? How do we situate ourselves historically?
And they come up with this wonderful style. In a way, for me,
one of the last moments where Britain has something to offer in terms of architectural style.
For me, it's just such a fabulous story of how one individual can rescue somewhere
and it's so Victorian. The Victorians had such a belief in the individual
-and there was nothing the individual couldn't do.
-That's what Paul's like.
Paul spent a whole year working on the roof of this church.
He took off every single one of the 7,000 tiles.
Now, that takes some determination.
Transforming a derelict and neglected church is quite a tall order
and I'm desperate to find out how they're getting on.
Hello! Hello! How's it been? All right?
-It's been great.
-We've had a crazy week trying to make it look pretty.
-Let's have a look. I can't wait to see what you've done!
'This was how Paul and Laura¹s church looked when their restoration began.
'A huge space but almost unimaginable as a home.'
-This is it.
Well, it's beautiful.
'The neo-Gothic nave has been transformed into a modern 21st century home,
'with open living spaces and three bedrooms.
'Upstairs they have created stunning views from multiple mezzanines.'
I love the fact that you can see
right up to the roof. It's kind of the first thing that greets you as you walk in.
So you haven't pretended you're not in a church.
Oh! This is absolutely beautiful.
It's... You're so clever! You're so clever!
I really didn't think this was going to work.
-It's awful to say it. But it's fabulous!
-Are you happy with it?
-Yes, really happy!
And then you've taken it up here to your kitchen, which is superb!
And you've got an Aga? I thought you were on a budget!
-Yeah, a reconditioned one.
And it's electric, so you don't have to put a flue in.
And that's a lovely view through here.
This is my favourite bit, where that stair intersects with that column. I'm proud of that.
Tell me why you're so proud of that, because it was hard?
Yeah! You've got two shapes that are both quite complex intersecting and it's just gone like that...
'Thanks to Paul¹s unique skills
'and Laura keeping a close watch on the money,
'they have managed to buy and then create a home out of this church
'on their budget of £300,000.'
I think you've done this incredibly quickly and very thoroughly
and it's so precise. I mean, I know your foreman's a stickler, isn't she?
Yeah, she's a real pain in the bum.
Your foreman is a pain in the... I'm not going to say that.
-But you're a very good team.
-Yeah, I think we complement each other.
'Making a home by converting a church is notoriously difficult
'and one person who had his doubts whether Paul could pull this off
'was our architectural expert and ardent fan of the Gothic style, Kieran Long.
'So what does he make of it?'
You've understood the character of the architecture, which is something really rare and really exciting,
down to the tiny Gothic details you've added, which I was worried about but I think you've pulled off.
A building like this is about more than just a private home.
It somehow has more status than that.
You can't just chop it up into private seeming rooms.
I'm really glad you like it, because we haven't really sought
-that much advice and the advice we have had is don't do it.
-I think it's a really skilful job.
I didn't expect it to be, but it is a really good room.
-I can imagine having dinner there. Hope you invite me.
'Thanks to Paul and Laura¹s vision,
'Reverend Perfect¹s Victorian church has been saved
'and the village has retained one of its most significant buildings.'
You have created a beautiful entertaining space with en suite altar.
-With three bedrooms, four bathrooms.
We're really pleased, but when you say three bedrooms, four bathrooms, we haven't got any bathrooms in
and you couldn't stay in any of the bedrooms.
A little bit of work to go, but I think we'll get there on budget.
-Do people still turn up at the church and knock on the door?
-I get three or four visitors a day.
-Just to have a look around.
They come back with their families. It's like a treasure house. I don't think we appreciated that.
Just two years ago, Thomas a Becket Church was on the critical list,
in danger of becoming just another statistic,
another piece of architectural heritage lost forever.
Then there was a ray of hope, probably its last one.
Since then, Paul has been slaving away six days a week
and Laura has been working hard to earn the money for the build.
150 years after it was rebuilt,
they have become the new Mr and Mrs Perfect.
Only this time, the transformation has turned it into a home.
'Next time, a very different Restoration Home.
'And another intriguing journey into Britain's past.'
I wonder if you'd like to see the people who physically built this.
Ohh! How did you get that?
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Crumbling, ancient houses are brought back to life by passionate owners as they restore and convert them into striking 21st century homes, unravelling the properties' extraordinary past lives through their architectural and social history.
St Thomas a Becket church in Somerset is on the heritage critical list and badly in need of rescue. A flood in 1968 led to the church's eventual deconsecration and it is just one of many churches in Britain that has been declared redundant. Decline in church-going and amalgamation of parishes have put a huge swathe of our architectural heritage in peril.
Working their way up the property ladder, newly-weds Paul and Laura spotted the church in 2007 and decided this was the family home for them. They purchased the listed church with plans to turn it into a three-bedroom home.
As the church is transformed, its past emerges - the dark times which marked its end and its links to an architectural movement that would change style forever, connecting it to the design of some of the greatest buildings in the country.