Most historic places
of worship are kept open and maintained by the church authorities which
own them, with some help from the state and from other charitable bodies.
It falls to the incumbent, the churchwardens and the congregation to find
the necessary funds to pay for their upkeep and to cope when disasters
arise. But what happens when the congregation is too small to cope and
can no longer afford to maintain its building?
Of the top ten tourist
attractions in Britain, six are cathedrals. Visiting historic buildings
is the second most popular recreational activity after shopping, and it
is not surprising to find that historic cathedrals and churches are the
most numerous, most accessible and the most visited of all. Their importance
is unquestionable, not only to those who live nearby and who worship in
them, but also to the heritage of this country as a whole, and economically,
for their role in tourism.
Who can fail to be
moved by lifting the heavy iron latch of a medieval parish church and
the slow creaking swing of its solid oak door? Entering an ancient church,
whether in a city or the countryside is a moment of great anticipation.
The transition from outside to inside, from bright grassy churchyard to
cool dark interior is full of mystery and contrasts. No other architecture
or experience is quite like this. All the details are unfamiliar elsewhere;
the materials used, their texture and richness, their colour, scale and
smell. The few moments it takes for the eye to become accustomed to the
light intensifies the experience, since the first things you see on entering
the dark interior are close by, as if you were passing through a tunnel;
the worn paving slabs, wood or tiles, the first pew and perhaps the hymn
books waiting to be picked up. Then the scale of the interior is slowly
revealed, turning the act of entering the building into an event in itself,
filled with drama.
The interiors of almost
all places of worship – churches, chapels and cathedrals – have one thing
in common; they are all inward looking. The windows are raised above eye-level,
so that they let light into the interior without giving views outside,
and often they are entirely obscured by stained glass. The architecture
is designed to reinforce quiet contemplation in a space apart from the
world beyond. It is particularly suited to the function; the worship of
God. It is not readily adapted for any other use.
For those who are
religious, including the many who only ever attend church for Christenings,
weddings and funerals, these buildings have perhaps the greatest significance.
Nevertheless, historic churches, cathedrals and other places of worship
draw visitors from across society, irrespective of creed and class. The
visitor does not have to share the religion to enjoy the architecture.
It is perhaps a sign of the Government’s recognition for the importance
of these buildings to the community as a whole that it focuses some grant
aid on the repair of churches, and has, in effect, introduced a reduced
rate of VAT on repairs through a grant scheme. However, the burden of
responsibility remains firmly with the congregation and the local community
to fund repair and conservation work and to cope when disasters arise.
But what happens when a dwindling congregation finds that it can no longer
justify the expense of running, maintaining and repairing a building that
is far too large for their needs and it becomes redundant? The options
are as follows:
Dereliction and demolition
All too often historic
places of worship are abandoned and left derelict, pending their sale
or demolition, creating a soft target for vandalism and theft. Lead may
be stripped from the roofs, fittings may be stolen, windows smashed and
in the worst case, the building may ultimately be gutted by fire. Even
at this point it may be possible to rescue the building, as in the case
of St Elizabeth’s, Gorton, Greater Manchester, but demolition is the more
Sale – usually for conversion
place of worship may be put on the market. However, it is rare to find
a new owner who wishes to keep the building as a place of worship, and
these buildings are notoriously difficult to adapt for new uses. Conversion
to housing, in particular, almost invariably requires the subdivision
of the main spaces, window alterations and often the introduction of a
large number of roof lights to let in more light and to provide views
out. All the fittings are usually stripped out, including stained glass,
organ, pews and so forth, rough walls are usually plastered over, and
the original character is obliterated.
Church trust ownership
the past few decades a few places of worship have been looked after by
a growing number of charitable bodies whose purpose is to look after the
most important historic places of worship which would otherwise be redundant,
and to keep them open to visitors and for occasional worship wherever
possible. Five of these organisations operate nationally. Of these, the
Friends of Friendless Churches is the oldest, having been set up in 1957,
followed by the Churches Conservation Trust which was founded by the Church
of England in 1969 specifically to look after its own redundant churches.
In 1993 the Historic Chapels Trust was established to deal with non-conformist
chapels in England and Wales, and two more trusts have now been established
to look after buildings in Scotland and Wales.
addition to these national organisations, there are a number of trusts
dotted across the country which are responsible for caring for churches
locally, such as the Norwich Historic Churches Trust.
FRIENDS OF FRIENDLESS CHURCHES (Follow link for details)
society was established in 1957 by Ivor Bulmer-Thomas and has since saved
over a hundred churches from destruction and accepted the direct responsibility
for 31 churches or chapels in England and Wales. Its key objective is
to secure the preservation of churches and chapels of any denomination
within the UK for public access and the benefit of the nation. The buildings
are maintained ‘for the advancement of the Christian religion’, and in
most cases occasional services are held in them, but they may also be
used for other charitable purposes agreed by the society.
the society is currently considering a church on the Isle of Man, most
new vestings are in Wales where the society is now recognised as the equivalent
of the Churches Conservation Trust. It therefore receives 70 per cent
funding from the state through Cadw and 30 per cent from the Church in
CHURCHES CONSERVATION TRUST (Follow link for details)
in 1969 by the Church of England, the trust looks after redundant Church
of England churches only. It is currently responsible for 329 churches,
most of which are Grade I or II* and most are open daily. Some of its
churches host events such as concerts, talks, exhibitions and flower festivals.
Many of the churches also organise occasional services which are advertised
Churches Conservation Trust (formerly The Redundant Churches Fund), a
registered charity, receives most of its funding from the Department for
Culture, Media and Sport and from the Church Commissioners.
HISTORIC CHAPELS TRUST (Follow link for details)
trust was founded in 1993 to look after English redundant chapels from
all denominations other than the Anglican Church. Its buildings are either
of outstanding historical or architectural interest, with most of them
being listed as either Grade I or Grade II*. The chapels’ contents and
burial grounds are also repaired and maintained by the Trust. The HCT’s
remit embraces Nonconformist chapels, Roman Catholic churches, synagogues
and private Anglican chapels.
Trust’s chapels are frequently opened to visitors and used to host a wide
range of suitable events. Alternative uses may sometimes be agreed, provided
they do not involve unsympathetic alterations to the building. The Trust’s
costs are currently supported by a 70 per cent grant from English Heritage,
which also contributes to the cost of repairing chapels.
chapels are owned by the Trust. Recent acquisitions include Wallasey Unitarian
church. The repair and conservation of the Unitarian Church at Todmorden
was featured in the 1996 edition of Historic Churches.
SCOTTISH REDUNDANT CHURCHES TRUST (Follow link for details)
in 1996, this trust was established to secure the survival of outstanding
churches of all denominations where they are threatened with closure.
By acquiring these churches and by conserving them intact as historic
buildings, the Trust aims to preserve a valuable part of Scotland’s ecclesiastical
heritage for the future.
are now four properties throughout Scotland belonging to the Trust: St
Peter’s Church in Orkney (1998), Cromarty East Church in Ross-shire (1998),
Pettinain Church in Lanarkshire (2000) and Tibbermore Church in Perthshire
(2001). The first major conservation project undertaken by the Trust is
St Peter’s Church at Orkney, which is nearing completion following six
months of extensive repair work. This building was on the Buildings at
Risk Register of the Scottish Civic Trust and rescued with the aid of
£250,000 in grants. It is scheduled to reopen in 2003.
RELIGIOUS BUILDINGS TRUST (Follow link for details)
Trust was established following the publication of the Cadw-sponsored
report Redundant historic chapels in Wales in September 1996, which suggested
the formation of an independent charitable trust to hold redundant historic
chapels of significance for future generations and to be an advisory body
aim of the Trust is to promote and advance the religious and associated
heritage of Wales by acquiring and conserving important religious buildings
which have become redundant. To avoid duplicating the work of The Friends
of Friendless Churches, those of the Church in Wales are excluded. Its
first acquisition is likely to be Hen Dþ Cwrdd, a 19th century Unitarian
chapel at Trecynon, Aberdare which is redundant and urgently needs the
GEORGE'S GERMAN LUTHERAN CHURCH
of the churches and chapels taken on by these trusts are already in a
ruined state, such as the Church of the Assumption of Our Lady, near Aylesbury,
but most are acquired as they become redundant, or shortly afterwards.
In this respect St George’s German Lutheran Church, Tower Hamlets, London
is typical. This church has survived virtually unchanged since it was
built in 1762-3, and it is now the oldest German building in Britain.
It was founded by Dederich Beckmann, a wealthy sugar boiler and the cousin
of its first pastor. For over 150 years its congregation consisted of
generations of German immigrants who worked in sugar refineries in the
East End. The church closed in 1996 when the congregation decided to merge
with a neighbouring church. The property was acquired by the Trust in
church is situated in Alie Street and has a brick facade with a Venetian
window at the ground level, a Diocletian window above and a crowning pediment.
This was once surmounted by an elaborate bellcote with a cupola and weathervane.
Inside, St George’s retains many of its original furnishings and features,
including a complete set of ground floor and gallery pews and a high,
central double-decker pulpit. The coat of arms of King George III hangs
above the communion table – the only German church to have a royal coat
CHURCH OF THE ASSUMPTION OF OUR LADY
from the mid 18th century, The Church of the Assumption of Our Lady is
situated in the well-kept grounds of Hartwell House at Hartwell near Aylesbury,
Buckinghamshire. It had lost its original roof during the 1950s when a
combination of poor maintenance and the failure of parapet gutters built
over the roof structure led to the disintegration of the supporting timbers.
Major repairs were required to prevent the loss of the rest of the building.
In July 1976 the building was vested in the Churches Conservation Trust.
eventually began in 2001 when a new roof of Westmoreland slate was constructed.
In elevation, the design followed the lines of the original, but there
the similarity ends. The new roof structure had to be designed to avoid
imposing lateral loads on the already weakened walls, and site access
prohibited the use of a crane. The solution, which was designed by Wright
Consulting Engineers, introduced a simple, modern roof structure using
traditional materials in keeping with the original architecture. This
involves a self-supporting frame, only requiring vertical stability from
the masonry external envelope, and the ceiling structure is suspended
from the roof structure via stainless steel hangers.
result was awarded a commendation by the Institution of Structural Engineers
in 2002 for its innovative structural solution.
TYPES OF CHURCH TRUST
addition to the above trusts, all of which have taken ownership of historic
places of worship, there are a number of other trusts with similar sounding
names but which do not own churches or chapels, but do help historic places
of worship which are still in use by giving grants, advice or help in
other ways. These include the Historic Churches Preservation Trust and
the Church Buildings Renewal Trust based in Glasgow.
Historic Churches Preservation Trust, which was set up to help
the countless churches damaged in the Second World War, is particularly
important as it operates nationally, offering grants for essential repair
work [Editor's note: the HCPT was relaunched as The National Churches Trust in June 2007]. It also administers the King of Prussia Awards – a Gold Medal was
first awarded by Freidrich Wilhelm IV, King of Prussia in 1857 in recognition
of the work of the Incorporated Church Building Society (ICBS). Since
1977 a Gold Medal has been awarded in May each year to the architect or
chartered surveyor of a scheme of repair to a church or chapel in England
article is reproduced from Historic
JONATHAN TAYLOR is the editor of The Building Conservation Directory and a co-founder of Cathedral Communications Limited. He studied architectural conservation at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh and has a background in architectural design, conservation and urban regeneration.
Legislation and guidance
PRODUCTS AND SERVICES
Advisory bodies and associations
Communications Limited 2010