For a long time now Long Compton's belfry openings have looked decidedly gap-toothed — a bit like the tower captain's six year old granddaughter Lucy. Years of weather, especially on the south and west sides, and pigeons, have thinned some of the stone slats to cracking or breaking point. The problem came to a head when a large piece of a slat fell out of the south opening directly on to the path in front of the tower door. Ringers are too hard to come by to risk braining one. The Fabric Committee decided that something must be done.
Invitations to several builders to quote for replacing twelve missing or damaged stone louvres produced some worrying responses: either the job was too small to be worth attempting; or, they would only do it from the outside, on scaffolding. Now Long Compton tower is quite high, and to scaffold it would cost £10,000 minimum, before the builder even began work. The PCC just did not have this kind of money available. We asked the Diocesan bell advisor if he had any suggestions, but he was unable to help us either.
All sorts of ideas were kicked around. One stonemason said that he might do the work from inside the belfry, but only if we built a wooden frame all round the top of the tower to stop him from falling out. We even thought about using a steeplejack to abseil down from the top, but dismissed the idea as too wacky. This head-scratching went on for some months and we were almost ready to give up. But then someone gave us the name of Trevor Dean, a stonemason from Great Bourton, near Banbury, and he told us that he could do the job from inside the belfry. He said that he had worked on the louvres of Bloxham church, and when we went to look at them they were extremely well done.
The only difficulty Trevor encountered was getting the replacement slats, which are larger than the cut stone usually available. However, he was successful in the end, and fitted them without difficulty. The work cost the PCC about £3000, compared to an original quote of £20,000, so they are happy and the louvres are now smart and secure.