Dollop of inspiration aids church repairs

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WEATHERING churches sounds like such a sweet, rewarding part of restoration work. It's a shame no one ever mentions the cow dung.

The architect chosen for the delicate task of renovating St Bartholomew's Church, in Crewkerne, Somerset, is up to his elbows in the stuff.

In the growing business of restoring churches battered by acid rain, nothing beats a cow pat for giving a bit of stone that aged, worn look. Forget the smell - that simply adds to the 15th-century open-sewer nostalgia.

Villagers in Crewkerne are learning the hard way that the renovation of their church tower requires a little dollop of inspiration. They were disappointed when they found that the Ham stone from their local quarry, which was used to build the church 500 years ago, was no longer suitable.

They agreed to import French stone because that was the best available . . . but a few eyebrows were raised when the firm of architects in charge of the work began smearing it with dung.

Jeffrey Ashenden, a partner at the Sarum Partnership, in Salisbury, said: 'It's a well-established way of weathering stone and providing it with a protective coating that can breathe. Normally a cow pat is collected in a bucket, then diluted with water and applied with a brush. But it has to be a very circumspect operation; you have to take into account the lushness of the grass on which the cows have been feeding because the dung can sometimes be a bit garish.'

In some cases, cow urine has been used to age copper artefacts and roofs.

Howard Pring, a member of the church's building committee, said: 'We know the dung is necessary - it can help attract lichen spores, which harden the stone. And, no, it doesn't smell too bad.'