The All Saints Church spire in Hereford, which is 240ft (73m) high, has a five-degree list to the south-east. A structural engineer's report has warned that an 84mph wind would be strong enough to blow the city's highest landmark down.
Builders will shortly begin dismantling the top 40ft (12m) section. Meanwhile, the octagonal sandstone spire has been encircled by a crow's nest scaffold to catch falling masonry and a large copper weathercock installed by kite in 1870 has been removed in the interests of safety.
The Rev Andrew Mottram, 39, made several trips up a steeple- jack's ladder to the top before a 17-storey scaffold was erected. 'Interestingly, you can feel the spire move as you climb up. I just kept looking at the wall,' he said.
'The spire is now 1ft 10in (56cm) out of line and half that movement has occurred since 1950. It's gaining acceleration as the problem worsens. The safety implications are just appalling.
'A piece of mortar the size of a dinner plate fell from 100ft (30m) just missing a mother with a child in a pushchair and another lump skimmed a man's arm - he came into church looking absolutely white.'
The Grade One listed church dates from 1290 and was built next to a Saxon ditch which caused the tower to subside slightly to the north-west. It is thought workmen gave the spire a slight banana curve to compensate.
Victorian builders also dismantled the spire in the search of a cure. But they inserted iron hoops which rusted and made the spire bend more.
Alan Wright, a structural engineer, said: 'They took remedial action to push the spire back the other way and this introduced stresses which have led to the thing almost falling in the opposite direction.
'I don't think it's far from falling over and the statistics say it should not be standing up now - but obviously it's found a way.
'The top will still lean slightly when we put it back - but we hope it will be within six inches of the lower section's centre of gravity.' The restoration project is expected to take six months and English Heritage is funding 70 per cent of the cost.
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