A landmark transformation for Yarmouth church

ENCASED in a cocoon of white and surrounded by head-height fencing, it is a Great Yarmouth landmark that currently couldn’t look much more inaccessible if it tried.

But peel back the plastic overcoat and it is evident St George’s Chapel is transforming, and that the project to turn it into an arts and performance space in time for spring 2012 is well under way.

That is no small thanks to the workers, who, equipped with steel toecap boots, hard hats and the tools of their various trades, can be found all over a site that echoes with the sounds of restoration.

Outside the grade one chapel they tend to what is currently a dusty worksite, in the centre of which slowly rises a grey, round-ended building, but will soon be pavilion with cafe and front of house and tree shaded outdoor performance area.

Step inside the main body of the church and the scale of things increases. Skeletal scaffolding rises up several stories, surrounding a central space lit with strip lights and packed with long planks of wood ready to be put to use.

Lining the church is a balcony area. Last seen in the 1970s which will be capable of seating 70 theatre goers, and the subject of one of the church’s many historically-aware touches- flecked pine is used on the structure to look like oak.

It is an example of the care taken to take account both of the St George’s Chapel’s past – it was built in 1715 and designed by Christopher Wren – and its future.

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This is also evident once you have climbed the winding temporary metal staircase up into the roof space of the baroque building. Dark oak beams curve their way across the tight space, pegged together in the traditional fashion and threatening a bang on the head for anyone not paying full attention.

Higher again, this time via steep, narrow ladders and gap-filled temporary decking to make those with vertigo shudder, and it’s onto the church’s highest-reaches – and stunning views of Yarmouth sprawling into the distance.

Up here, and as well as a sharp bite of the wind one of the chapel’s many secrets can be found.

While some dates remain hazy in the history of St George’s Chapel, thanks to a bit of graffiti historians can confidently point to when the dome was last restored.

Carved into the wooden structure, to be topped with a weather vane, is the carving “F.Mann October 24, 1933”.

What F. Mann would have thought of today’s goings on is anybody’s guess, but it is safe to say that, like him, those involved with the project will leave an imprint on the chapel likely to last well into the future.