Restoration of Church Building in 2022
Once known as ‘St. Thomas by the sea”, our little white Church on the Chennai coast was built in 1842 by the Wesleyan Missionary Rev. Robert Carver. Like most churches built at that time, St. Thomas English Church too was designed with Christian Gothic elements like a cruciform layout and a bell tower of modest proportions. A prominent Anglican Church in Madras during the colonial era, the building has withstood the ravages of time (through many restoration attempts and renovations) for nearly 180 years.
Torrential rains in November 2021 served as an eyeopener of the extensive damage to the structure, brought on by the elements of nature – given its vulnerable position on the seashore. Vital areas including the roof, ceiling, beams, walls, and doors were badly affected. It became quite clear that this was not going to be a renovation but a comprehensive restoration.
Waterproofing the roof was a priority, and so for the terrace, RCC flat slab roofing was done with waterproofed concreting and a layer of heat reflective tiles. New metal rafters were fixed to support the outer terracotta tiles. These tiles were of high-quality material made in Spain. The interlocking nature meant that it made the roof further waterproof. The tiles were part of the original structure of the church as seen in photos almost a century ago – and it was good to have them back!
As most of the wood was good Burma teak, much was retrieved for re-use. Decorative panel tiles (painted in terracotta color) were fitted under the main roofing tiles for aesthetics as well as insulation. Original teakwood joists and rafters were reconditioned and reused. The original wooden doors were thoroughly scraped, meticulously repaired, and refitted. The towers on which the finials sat were reconstructed and the finials refitted or recreated.
New canopies have been added to the doors to protect the woodwork from rain and harsh sun, taking care that it blends with the aesthetics of the Church design. Protecting our heritage Pipe Organ (the second oldest in Chennai city) was a priority, and it was exhilarating to hear its music once again, during the Thanksgiving Service for the Restoration on 27 February 2022. The altar table has been revamped too, with the Victorian lettering of the verse ‘I am the Bread of Life’ restored to a prominent position.