GEORGE TOWN: Restoration work on the 19th century St George’s Church is expected to be completed in November, according to Deputy Heritage Commissioner Prof Dr A. Ghafar Ahmad.
He said the project included replacing the clock, cleaning and restoring the Marseilles tiles of the roof, using the “cocoon” method to desalinate the lower parts of the walls, restoring parts of the interior as well as door panels and repainting the church.
“We want the building to last another few hundred years and it is our collective responsibility to ensure it does,” he said of the church, which was declared one of the country’s 50 National Heritage treasures in 2007.
Built in 1817, the historic church is one of Penang’s major landmarks and reputed to be the oldest Anglican church in South-East Asia.
Dr Ghafar said the restoration project under the National Heritage Department’s Ninth Malaysia Plan allocation began in April.
He said they were in the process of sourcing for a working replica of the clock, which would be the last stage of the project after restoration and painting of the spire.
“We want it to match the original clock as closely as possible, so the replica may have to be specially made or imported,” he said.
Based on pictorial records, there were originally four clocks on the church’s spire.
Dr Ghafar noted that in the mid-19th century, John Turnbull Thomson (an influential British architect and artist who lived from 1821 to 1884) drew a watercolour painting of the church showing the clocks facing north, south, east and west.
In historical photographs, the clocks were there as early as 1846 but a picture taken in 1883 showed only one clock facing north.
“In 1907, the clock was still there, but in 1948, there was only a blank panel where the clock should have been,” he added.
Dr Ghafar said they were also chipping away cement used in previous restoration activities and replacing it with lime plaster.
“Unlike cement, lime plaster is not such a hard material and allows the building to ‘breathe’,” he said, adding that lime plaster was also very sturdy.
He said chemical fluid injections would also be done on the wall’s lower areas as well as the column bases to prevent ground dampness from rising.
He said the church was damaged during World War Two when six bombs fell in the church’s compound.
Reports showed that the pitched roof was significantly damaged at the time, which may also have resulted in the clock being destroyed or removed.
Dr Ghafar added it was a good thing the building was in constant use by churchgoers (who have moved their services to the Parish Hall while the restoration works are ongoing) who were certain of maintaining the heritage site.