St Francis Xavier Catholic Primary School has been waiting for two years to be able to repair and extend its historic, stone, boundary wall that is known to have been standing since at least 1860.
It could have been replaced with a green palisade fence and the governors knew what the cost of that would have been, but what would the value of it be? They unanimously decided that the local stone wall should be repaired. This was not an easy task and it was difficult to find people qualified to tackle the task sensitively; stone walls are not easy to build well. Eventually a stonemason was found who fell in love with the wall and certainly showed the dedication and skill necessary to create a beautiful feature that will probably last for another 200 years.
The original wall was beautiful but the British weather, together with some well-established trees, seriously tested its quality. It became badly bowed and had been repaired on a few occasions using red brick, which really spoiled it, so this was a fantastic opportunity to repoint, remove the red brick sections and raise the height of the wall to the necessary 2.1 metres. After receiving advice from a number of sources, including helpful staff at the council, local builders and a local stonemason, it was obvious that the wall needed to be completely knocked down and rebuilt from scratch using the original stones. Those stones on the reverse side of the wall were used to repair the brick sections on the front and provide the extra height needed, without incurring additional costs for materials. This worked very well indeed but given the size of the wall, 60 metres by 2.1 metres, this created an extremely large jigsaw puzzle because the stones are larger at the bottom and get smaller towards the top of the wall. The stonemason, John Lockheart from Tickhill, had to complete this jigsaw before he could even begin his enormous labour of love.
It soon became apparent that this beautiful stone front needed an equally high-quality reverse side so the render was selected to complement the stonework. This monumental undertaking needed to be commemorated and celebrated so what better person to do this than the school’s Chaplain, Fr Pat O’Connor, who is retiring soon. He has already been decorated for his services to school governance by Doncaster MBC and this will be another significant legacy after his 14 years as the school’s Chaplain.
The children were impressed with the wall for a number of reasons and some found it difficult to imagine that it was the same stone. The old, lower, oddly-shaped wall has been included in the curriculum over the years and now the new one will stimulate many new lessons, especially maths. One group of the children, after closely looking at the construction, estimated that the stonemason and his skilful team of two had laid approximately 3,400 pieces of local sandstones of varying sizes.
This new wall is going to be of equal historical significance and will probably last even longer, particularly as the council insisted it was built to very high specifications, including deeper footings (which had to include little bridges for tree roots to grow), concrete centre section between the two wall skins and buttresses every 8 metres (which actually add to its beauty).
The finished product looks spectacular and was celebrated at the school’s Mass of welcome before being blessed by Fr Pat.
One of the adults at the celebration said, “We may be in the middle of Balby and surrounded by houses, but looking at that wall and with a little imagination you could almost believe you were in the Derbyshire countryside.”