St John’s Church,
Friern Barnet

An unfinished bell tower proved to be a godsend for a north London church when its old non-condensing boiler packed up two months before the parish’s busiest period and it had to find a new solution in time for the Christmas rush.

AS WITH many historic buildings, problems of accessibility, working sympathetically with its surroundings and where to the place flue, just added to the problems St Johns Church in Friern Barnet had to solve quickly. But it was only after the church made contact with Christopher Dunphy Ecclesiastical (CDE) – a specialist in church heating systems and also a finalist in last year’s HVR Contractor of the Year Award – that a rather unique solution was found. It involved two new condensing boilers being hoisted through a hatch left over from an uncompleted bell tower, which was never put to its originally intended use. Plans for the bell tower are clear in an early illustration by renowned Gothic revival architect John Loughborough Pearson depicting his vision for the church. It was envisaged that the bells would have been brought up through the hatch.

The Problem

When Mick Russell of CDE was contacted by the church, he looked at various options in the cramped and rather inaccessible basement room which housed the older boiler. “We had the option to come back into the basement with a boiler which would have to be a condensing boiler to comply with ErP requirements, but we discounted this straight away.”

The drawbacks included:

  • The original burner would have to be used but if there was then a problem, that would have meant extra cost for the church.
  • The room is a natural drain meaning that when it rains it is not unusual for the floor to be three to four inches deep in water which could have presented a risk to any new equipment.
  • Any new solution would have to be brought down in sections
    and then reassembled on site.
  • Any installation in the basement would have an issue with where to site the flue – critically important in a Grade II listed building

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