THE Chancellor of the diocese of Lincoln, the Revd and
Worshipful Judge Mark Bishop QC, has been asked to consider making
an order for the demolition of a small Grade II-listed Victorian
church on the grounds that it is necessary in the interests of
health and safety, and because there is not enough time to obtain a
faculty. He said that it "would be a tragedy if it was necessary to
demolish this Victorian jewel in the Fens", and asked for more
advice from specialists before making a final decision.
The church, St Paul's, Eastville, is situated in flat fenland 12
miles east of Boston. It was the last of six churches built under
the Fen Churches Act 1816, and was completed in 1840. It is not in
a conservation area, and is regarded as having only landscape value
owing to its isolated location in a churchyard a mile-and-a-half
north of the village.
The quinquennial survey in June 2005 stated that the church was
generally in a good condition; some minor repointing and drainage
work was necessary, but "nothing serious". Three years later, the
CBC reported that damp ingress and flaking plaster were evident.
The church ceased to be used for worship in about 2007, because
there were signs of movement in the structure, and the congregation
could no longer take on the financial burden of maintaining the
The congregation now worships in New Leake, a small chapel on
the border of Eastville and New Leake village. Although no longer
in use, St Paul's has not been made the subject of a formal closure
process, and, if that process were now begun, it would take at
least 18 months for it to be completed.
In October 2012, the local authority received a complaint that
the church was in a dangerous condition. An external inspection
raised concerns, and the perimeter of the church was secured by a
fence line to protect the public from falling masonry. The DAC
instructed a consulting structural engineer to report on the damage
to the church and to make recommendations.
The engineer's report stated that there was serious structural
damage, and that the church could be stabilised only by complete
underpinning, which was theoretically possible. The delicate
condition of the chancel arch and the north transept, however,
meant that they could collapse at any time, which would bring down
the roof, and, if that happened, cause the progressive collapse of
the whole building.
The report concluded that the church could collapse "in the very
near future"; that "any form of underpinning would be dangerous in
this situation"; and that it was doubtful if any specialist
contractor would be prepared to undertake piled underpinning of the
church with the level of risk involved.
The danger to members of the public arose because they had to
have access to the graveyard to tend graves; there was shared
access with dwelling houses on both sides; and it was impossible to
fence off an area to protect the public from a potential collapse
of the tower. It was decided by the local authority that it would
seek an order in the Magistrates' Court if the church did not act
to remove the danger.
The Chancellor, to whom the application for the demolition of
the church was made, under section 18 of the Care of Churches and
Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1991, inspected the church. It
was clear, he said, that it had been a much-loved parish church, as
demonstrated by the artefacts left inside; and the churchyard
continued to be a focus for the community, with several
well-cared-for graves and a very recent burial.
The Chancellor asked the surveyors to answer four questions: (1)
How close to collapse is the chancel arch? (2) What preventive
measures are practicable to support the arch to prevent collapse?
(3) If the chancel arch were supported by such measures, to what
extent would the risk of collapse be reduced? (4) What is the
minimum measure immediately necessary to secure the safety of
neighbours and visitors?
If the only way in which demolition could be prevented was by
operatives standing beneath the chancel arch in an effort to prop
it up, then that would involve too great a risk for it to be
attempted. A controlled demolition would inevitably follow. There
had been a number of suggestions of remote working, however,
involving a technique which would mean that operatives would not be
exposed to that unacceptable risk. Further advice was required from
a specialist in dealing with the problems which faced this
The Chancellor said that he was not satisfied that it had been
established that demolition was the "minimum measure immediately
necessary", and that it was not practicable to secure safety and
health by works of repair. The requirements of section 18 of the
1991 Measure had not been met, and no order would be made until
specialist advice had been taken and a plan adopted for the
In the mean time, the Chancellor stood ready to make any
emergency orders if required.