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Weather extremes damaging churches

14 March 2012

by Gavin Drake

Frost-damaged: St John the Baptist’s, Woodhurst, after part of its nave wall collapsed GAVIN DRAKE

Frost-damaged: St John the Baptist’s, Woodhurst, after part of its nave wall collapsed GAVIN DRAKE

HISTORIC churches and other ancient buildings are believed to be at risk because of a combination of the prolonged spells of extremely cold weather during the winters of 2009-10 and 2010-11; and the recent dry summers.

St John the Baptist’s has stood for about 1000 years in Woodhurst, near Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, but last week part of the east nave wall, the oldest part of the church, fell into the churchyard as a result of the lengthy frosts and near-drought con­ditions.

An architect with English Herit­age, Ian Harper, says that a number of historic buildings have been sim­ilarly affected. “During the previous two winters, there has been a sus­tained frost leading to an in­creased progression, or an accel­eration of the rate of decay and degradation.”

Walls such as the nave wall at St John’s, Woodhurst, were “very sus­ceptible to damage”, he said, because they carried the weight of the thrust of the chancel arch. Any damage to the wall could mean water getting in: “When that happens, it won’t be long before they suffer from cracks, decay, or even falls of this nature.”

An inspection at St John’s last autumn highlighted a bulge in the wall, caused by the cold weather, and a drying-out of the clay ground on which the church is built.

Plans to deal with this by remov­ing five trees close to the church had been approved by the conservation department at Huntingdonshire District Council, but the work had not been completed.

Annabel Armstrong and Neil Farbon, who are planning to marry at the church in May, await news of the church’s future.

The insurance broker for St John’s has told them that the church is not covered because the damage is a result of “wear and tear” rather than an insurable act. The £40,000 estimate for repairs is six times the church’s total annual budget.

Miss Armstrong said that both she and her fiancé were determined to get married at Woodhurst: “It is important for us to get married here. . . . If necessary, we will have to get married outside.”

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