Published: 00:00, 29 July 2016
| Updated: 16:25, 29 July 2016
A church tower tour offering ‘an unparalleled view of the most complete medieval town in England’ has officially opened.
Haven Heights tours inside the historic St Peter’s Church, in Sandwich, was unveiled by The Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) today.
In exactly a year, the 114-step experience has been designed and created, enabling people to see the town from above.
Visitors, this afternoon, described the view as incredible, amazing and absolutely stunning.
Peter Aiers, a director of the CCT, said: “This is something that has taken a lot of effort from our team and the people of Sandwich and we’re delighted to be able to now offer an unparalleled view of the most complete medieval town in England.”
It is hoped the new attraction will bring people into the Grade I listed building and add to the sustainability of it.
Mr Aiers said: “The big thing the CCT is trying to do is to invest in a better visitor experience in our churches.
“We really honed in on this site because it’s so wonderful.
“We asked the Friends of St Peter’s Church and they came up with the awesome idea of building a staircase up the tower.
"It seemed like a crazy thing to do and we only had one year to build it, but I’m pleased to say we’ve done it.”
The first group to venture up included seven-year-old Mary Beaman, from Sandwich Infant School, who designed the ticket for the tour, and Sandwich resident Brian Watkins who named the visitor experience - Haven Heights.
The Mayor of Sandwich, Cllr Paul Graeme, also joined them.
He said: “This new feature must be one of the most significant events in Sandwich’s history. It will enable people to view all across the town.
“It adds to the town’s tourism offer and I’d like to congratulate the CCT on their successful and timely completion of the project.”
The tour takes around 30 minutes and is controlled by a red band system ensuring no more than 30 people are up the tower at one time.
Visitors can learn about the history of the church through a series of displays on each of the tower’s levels.
This includes music composed to describe a place, and interactive activities to describe the history of the curfew bell and the collapse of the tower.
At the top, hand-held guides highlight some of the landmarks in the town including the Guildhall and Fisher Gate.
For safety, every floor has an intercom system in case of an emergency. There is also CCTV.
Architect Malcolm Fryer said: “It’s not for the faint hearted. We’ve made the staircase as wide as it can be to ensure the reversibility of it. We didn’t want to affect the historic fabric.”
To make space for the stairs, a 391kg central bell has been moved to a special platform where visitors can now see it.
Mr Fryer added: “We could take the staircase away and put the bell back in and you wouldn’t know.”
To celebrate the opening of the Haven Heights visitor experience there will be medieval musicians, free children’s activities and games at the church tomorrow (Saturday).
Entry to the tower is £5 for adults, £4 for children, or £15 for a family ticket which includes two adults and two children.
To pre-book a tower tour call 01304 617295 or go to visitchurches.org.uk. The tours are available daily from 10am-3pm.
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