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Iconic tower at St Mary’s back open for visitors following £1.8m restoration

St Mary's Warwick

The iconic tower at Warwick’s famous St Mary’s Collegiate Church is reopening for the first time in over a year following a £1.8m restoration. 

The full splendour of the 160ft tower – which boasts 160 steps and provides stunning views across Warwick, its world-famous castle and the county beyond – has been restored to its former glory thanks to extensive repairs to its stonework, clock faces, pinnacles and heraldic shields. 

St Mary's Warwick

St Mary’s tower, which is visible from every direction, has been a Warwick landmark for centuries. It was destroyed in the Great Fire of Warwick in 1694 and rebuilt in 1704. 

The tower is reopening to the public for the first time since January 2023 on Saturday 4th May, giving visitors the opportunity to enjoy its views. It comes after the scaffolding erected around the tower to allow vital repairs to be carried out was removed, showing it in all its glory.

The tower is also set to feature a new augmented reality experience that will give an insight into its history using technology created by local company Rivr. 

The conservation work to the tower has been a huge project for the church, which launched a dedicated fundraising appeal that attracted local and national support, including a £250,000 grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, contributions from local authorities including Warwick Town Council and Warwick District Council, and individual donors. The appeal was also backed by celebrities including actor Dame Judi Dench, who spoke of how dear the location was to her.

Warwick tower

The project has seen repairs to the stonework, as well as the tower’s windows and turrets, along with painstaking restoration of the 12 painted stone heraldic shields at the top of the tower.

Church warden John Luxton, a member of the committee behind the tower project which is led by chair John Edwards, said the reopening of the tower is a huge moment for St Mary’s and marks the start of a new chapter – coinciding with the arrival of new vicar Reverend Canon Angus Aagaard, who took up his post at St Mary’s at Easter.

John said: “It has been a long and difficult journey to get to this point but thanks to the support of local and national organisations, generous donors, and our own volunteers’ fundraising efforts, we’re delighted to have restored the tower at St Mary’s to its former glory. 

“We’re aware how disruptive this has been for people in the town, and we’re grateful to their patience, but I think we can all agree that seeing this iconic tower scaffold-free, with its stonework repaired and its shields glinting in the sunshine, means that all the hardship was worth it. 

“The tower has played a huge role in Warwick’s history books and will continue to do so, thanks to the time, dedication and passion of so many involved in this project. It really is a new chapter for St Mary’s in so many ways, including the arrival of our new vicar, and we look forward to what the future holds.”

Councillor Chris King, Portfolio Holder for Planning & Place at Warwick District Council, which contributed to the project, said: “The tower of St Mary’s Church in our County town is a defining landmark in our district. It is therefore wonderful to see it so carefully restored to its former glory by an incredible team of skilled crafts people. The Council is proud to have been able to make a significant contribution towards this essential project to protect and preserve this beautiful building.”

Among other contributors, Warwick Town Council also granted monies towards the renovation of the tower. Clerk Jayne Topham said: “As a huge tourist draw for our town, not to mention a landmark with both historic and cultural significance, and huge meaning for our local community, we were delighted to have contributed to this renovation of the tower at St Mary’s. The restoration of it to its former glory is a huge moment for Warwick and we can’t wait to welcome more visitors to the town to see it firsthand.”

St Mary's Warwick

Past meets future thanks to Augmented Reality Experience

The reopening of the tower also marks a moment where history meets futuristic technology thanks to the launch of a new augmented reality experience created by local company Rivr and funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund. 

The experience will see a 3D printed model of St Mary’s put inside the church, along with two iPads that allow visitors to focus on different aspects and areas of the church whose history is then brought to life through stories told by those involved in it, and by local schoolchildren who scripted and narrated parts of the presentation.

Church historian Tim Clark said: “St Mary’s has such a rich history, we really wanted to bring it to life in a way that would speak to visitors in 2024. So how better than to use an innovative augmented reality experience created by a company based right here in Warwick. 

“Rivr’s immersive experience will allow visitors to St Mary’s to be transported back in time, using iPads to learn more about the church and the tower with engaging narration that we were helped with by local school children.”

Joe Harvey, who founded Rivr with brother Alex, said: “We really wanted whatever we created to encourage people to visit St Mary’s in person. We wanted to create something that would enhance the experience of people visiting the church and tower and add to the draw of actually getting yourself to Warwick to see the church firsthand.

“This AR experience builds on the huge success we’ve already seen with our project at Warwick’s Market Hall Museum and we’re confident it provides an experience unlike anywhere else that combines groundbreaking technology with the rich history right here in the heart of Warwick, adding to the town’s fast-growing reputation as being a leading light when it coming to incorporating tech into tourism.”