[ACNS] The number of historic places of worship in England that are officially designated as being “at risk” – including many Anglican churches – has increased at a time when the overall number of at risk buildings and assets has decreased.
The official body responsible for safeguarding important heritage sites in the country, Historic England, publishes an annual “at risk” register detailing heritage sites in need of urgent repairs or conservation. The aim is not to “shame” the buildings’ owners but to draw attention to those buildings most at risk.
In the past year 113 places of worship were removed from the register following repairs; but a further 159 places of worship were added; taking the total to 930.
In contrast, 604 sites of all descriptions were removed from the register in the past year while only 327 were added; bringing the total to 5,534.
“We continue to fund diocesan Support Officers who play a key role in helping parishes to manage their places of worship, plan for the future and apply for grant aid,” Historic England said. “We also continue to provide specialist advice to the Heritage Lottery Fund on applications for Grants for Places of Worship.
“Our support is much needed. Despite over a hundred places of worship being removed from the 2014 Register, overall the number of entries has risen to 930. . .
“Through advising funders on which sites are most at risk, and directing our own grant aid where other funders cannot, we will continue to reduce heritage at risk,” Historic England said. “Sadly, some owners do not take responsibility for the condition of their sites. In these cases, Historic England can assist local planning authorities in exercising their statutory powers to prompt action.”
Amongst the churches included on the register is the parish church of Saint Andrew in Pixley, Herefordshire. Historic England says that the small single-cell rural church, set in a farmyard setting, has a 13th Century core, a 14th Century chancel and roof; 17th Century windows and a 19th Century bellcote.
English Heritage – the predecessor body to Historic England – recently provided grant funding for repairs to the roof, bellcote and rainwater system; but Historic England says that “structural instability needs repair in the north east corner and the timber-framed entrance porch.”
It describes the condition of the church as being “poor” and says it is suffering from slow decay with no solution agreed.
One church at much greater risk is St James Church in Arlington, North Devon. Built in the late 15th or early 16th Centuries, with some 19th Century work, this parish church is set in the landscape of the historic Arlington Court, which is now owned by the National Trust – another of the UK’s heritage bodies.
Historic England says that “damp has caused deterioration of the fabric and significant works are needed.” It is described as being in “immediate risk of further rapid deterioration or loss of fabric.”
“In Victorian times when the church was largely rebuilt to serve the much larger numbers of estate employees and tenants, attendance at services would have been expected for all villagers,” the church said in it’s A Church Near You entry. “Nowadays the much smaller population of churchgoers struggle to support and maintain the building. With the main combined parish church only about a mile away at East Down measures are being taken to make St James Church redundant. Nevertheless although few services are currently held the church remains open.”
Last week, speaking in the new chapel at the Virginia Theological Seminary, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said that “Buildings are things of power, with demands and instructions,” and he admitted that ownership of such a large number of historic churches “is not always, by every parish priest, seen as a blessing.”
He made his comments on the same day that the Church of England published a major report looking at how it cares for its 16,000 church buildings as part of its programme of Reform and Renewal.
It was described by the C of E as “the first attempt in many years to undertake a comprehensive review of the Church of England's stewardship of its church buildings and includes a wide range of statistics, a substantial theological reflection and a survey of various initiatives being taken in individual dioceses.”
The report says that more than three quarters of the C of E’s churches are listed, and that it is responsible for nearly half of the grade I listed buildings in England. More than half of churches are in rural areas, where 17 per cent of the population lives, and more than 90 per cent of those are listed.
“Our 16,000 church buildings are a visible sign of ongoing Christian faith in communities throughout England as well as being an unparalleled part of our country's heritage,” the chair of the Church Buildings review group, Bishop of Worcester Dr John Inge, said. “This report looks at how we can best support the thousands of local volunteers who care deeply for and about churches and offer wonderful service to their communities using their churches.
“We believe that – apart from growing the church – there is no single solution to the challenges posed by our extensive responsibility for part of the nation's heritage. We hope therefore that this work will be a catalyst for discussion about how churches can be better cared for and used for the common good.”
The C of E has launched a consultation on the report’s recommendations, which will be debated by the General Synod next month.
Yesterday, the C of E announced that Mike Eastwood, the diocesan secretary for Liverpool Diocese and chief officer of Liverpool Cathedral, will begin a part-time secondment with the national church from the beginning of January as director of Reform and Renewal.
- Click here to read the C of E's full church buildings review and details of its consultation.