Title ID 6044Collection ID848
TitleThere’s A Tree on Our Roof
Date[1982 - 1986?]
CollectionNorth Downs Film Unit
ThemeCine Club Film-making Rural Life
KeywordsBuilding Construction Buildings Commemorative Events Local History Workers Men Religious Buildings
NationalEngland United Kingdom
ProductionNorth Downs Film Unit
CameraFrank Laitwood, David Watts
NarratorWilliam Duggan (written by Frank Laitwood)
SoundDesmond Pye, David Watts
MusicLibrary music.
ParticipantsPeter Harknett (steeplejack)
FormatSuper 8mm Colour Sound
Duration29 min. 35 sec.
Copyright & AccessCopyright restrictions apply, contact Screen Archive South East for details


The re-shingling of Newdigate Parish Church is told in great detail for this amateur documentary by the North Downs Cinematographic Society produced the mid 1980s.


Re-shingling the tower and spire Newdigate Parish Church. Music. Male commentary throughout. "N.D.F.U. presents... There's a tree on our roof!" The roof needed re-shingling after the hot summer of 1976 caused the shingles to curl, and gales had brought many of them down. 14,000 shingles needed to be replaced. Roger Sawtell was in charge of overseeing the operation.

Ernie Harris in Leistershire passed on his woodsman skills to Paul and Andrew Wright. Supplies of oak were sourced from the area. Straight trees free of branches for twelve feet were needed, aged around 125-150 years old. The grain of the tree is checked by one of the woodsmen by removing a section of bark before they begin to fell it. They prepare a protruding base to obtain a cleaner cut and force the tree to fall in the right direction. Commentary: "in the past, felling would have been done in with hand saw, and all subsequent work on the spot. Mechanisation has changed all that." A chain saw brings down the tree in 6-8 minutes. The length of the tree is cut into rings, which are lifted onto a truck by a tractor. The logs are covered with damp sacks and sawdust to prevent drying out. A throw or cleaver is used to split the logs. The blocks are halved until there are sixteen pieces or "cheeses". 130 shingles are produced from one log. The sap wood and hard centre wood are discarded. The rest is split on a stepped log. A draw knife is used to remove defects, curving and "pimples". The shingles are tied into bundles and stored in a dark shed until the steeplejacks arrive.

When the steeplejacks arrive, the project "swings into action". They begin by positioning and fixing the ladders in place, called "laddering". The men use swings and pulleys to move around the steeple, removing the shingles. Locals "go about their normal lives" as "they tumble earthwards". Close inspection of the shingles reveals rotten and warped timber. Lead flashing is grafter to the most vulnerable points on the steeple. The shingles are then hammered into place. The shingles are drilled with two holes and fixed with stainless steal nails. Only the "gauge" is visible when the shingles overlap. The shingles are shaped for corner use with an axe. The spire changes from a square to a hexagonal transition, and skill is called for working on this area. Scaffolding is used when working on the upper part of the spire. The lead apron is dressed down and the boss, finial and weather vain are fixed at the top. The boarding is removed and replaces by a new oak framework, and the restored clock is attached to the side of the steeple. The shingles will last for between 80 to 100 years or more, "a fitting tribute to true craftsmen."

The service of thanksgiving is held in 1986. Hymns are heard. The stained glass window is seen from within the church. The End. "The N.D.F.U wishes to thank all those who appeared in or otherwise helped in the making of this film."