Meet the 80-year-old steeplejack fixing up Oving’s church

Peter Harknett is working on St Andrew's Church, in Oving. Picture by Kate Shemilt
Peter Harknett is working on St Andrew's Church, in Oving. Picture by Kate Shemilt

AN INDEFATIGABLE steeplejack is still scaling church spires at the age of 80.

Peter Harknett, of roofing company AE Hughes and Sons, is working with two colleagues at replacing the spire of St Andrew’s Church, in Oving.

Work undertaken on the spire

Work undertaken on the spire

A steeplejack since 1950, Mr Harknett has been working on the spire since August along with Andy Smith, 52, and George Roberts, 25.

Taking a great pride in his trade, Mr Harknett said he looked forward to returning Oving’s spire to the way the original builder had intended.

“It’s going to look absolutely as it did,” he said.

“I always try to put them back as the bloke who designed them wanted them.”

George Roberts works on the St Andrew's Church spire, in Oving

George Roberts works on the St Andrew's Church spire, in Oving

He admitted he was ‘very fussy’ about the types of spires he worked on, even to the point of turning down jobs in the past that had not let the spires be repaired like the original.

Oving’s church dates back to the early 13th century and sits in the very heart of the village in Church Lane.

Its distinctive spire was used as a marker by pilots in the second world war heading back towards the Tangmere airfield.

Its wooden shingle spire is usually topped by a golden cockerel, but this is in the process of being regilded and restored by Mr Harknett.

He said the weather vane looked to be early 16th century as he could make out an inscription reading ‘150’ with the final year of the date too faded to read. 
He said it also had bullet holes in it, hailing back to previous conflict.

This time, Mr Harknett and his team are replacing the spire’s shingles with ones made of oak, using similar methods that have been used for many centuries.

“It hasn’t altered much at all,” he said. “We’re silly old boys who carry on the same way. It’s worked, so why change it?”

Over the years, Mr Harknett has worked on an untold number of churches.

“Everybody asks me that,” he said when asked if he could put a number on how many he had worked on.

“I’ve probably done three or four each year for the last 60 years and more some years.”

He has even worked on this church before and has discovered his father’s name Reg written on part of the spire, showing his father had worked on it as well.

Churchwarden Stephen Bennett praised the work carried out by the team and also thanked the community for all their contributions.

“People who don’t normally come to church have given money for the spire. Without their assistance this couldn’t happen,” he said, adding: “The Oving Parochial Church Council are delighted with AE Hughes and Sons.

“I would like to stress that I saw Andy at work one day. The sheer craftsmanship was really impressive.”

Individual oak shingles have been signed by residents and will be placed up on the spire, where they are expected to last for 100 years.

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