Secrets of the Golden Ball

After several months of planning, an expert team was put together to enable access into the golden ball atop St Lawrence’s church tower in West Wycombe to investigate the structure’s condition and weather ingress paths as discussed in our blog of the 11th February 2019.

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First of all, Chris Milford of Wall Walkers secured a safe route to the top of the tower. It was decided to go with rope access as this is the most cost effective and unobtrusive means to secure access into the golden ball. Each member of the survey team was strapped into harnesses, given a safety briefing and then the great ascent began!

Climbing ropes and hooks secured to enabled rope access into the ball

First up and into the ball was surveyor Carl Vincent from James Brennan & Associates Chartered Surveyors. Using the latest technology, a laser scan of the golden ball and its structure was carried out to produce measured survey drawings which will form the basis of any remedial works specification.

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A non-destructive environmental timber condition survey was carried out by specialist Huw Lloyd of Environmental Building Solutions. Preliminary findings suggest that despite the ingress of rainwater, the oak structure was in a surprisingly good condition given its age. The saving grace for the structure is the abundance of openings allowing ingressed water to dry out quickly, reducing the risk of timbers rotting considerably. Some localised remedial work has been identified.

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Next, Solid Structure’s Mark Harris donned his safety harness and hard hat. Mark’s survey of the structure revealed a range of structural weak points to be remedied. Amongst these are a cracked rib in the golden ball’s structure, poorly executed past repairs that need re-doing or strengthening lower down in the structure and some compromised structural elements due to decay.

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Last but not least Architect Emma Wiggins of Nick Cox Architects ventured into the ball. Areas identified for architectural intervention are; stopping water ingress, the railings to the tower, the access staircase and access hatch onto the top platform to the tower.

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Next steps are for the team to formally present their findings and agree a remedial plan of action to conserve this tower and golden ball, thought to be built in the 1750’s, for many generations to come.

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It’s unlikely that golden ball will be opened again as a public rendezvous point as was evidenced by engravings found on the inside of the ball and to the copper clad support turret but the church does have ambitions to look to open the top walkway, subject to resolving some safety aspects. So maybe one day you to could enjoy the view from the top!