AN APPEAL to save some of the UK’s most striking landmarks — its church spires — has been launched this week. Forty spires are currently in such poor condition that they are listed on the Historic England’s Heritage at Risk (HAR) register; they include wooden spires that have been so pecked by woodpeckers that rain is getting inside the building. Decaying masonry and damage from winds and rain are also the culprits for many of the spires that are in need of urgent repair.
The National Churches Trust has launched the Save Our Spires appeal, and is looking to raise £250,000 for repairs. Over the past three years, the Trust had spent £370,000 to help parish churches with their spires, but more was urgently needed, its chief executive, Claire Walker, said.
“Soaring high above their surroundings, church spires were often built as an attempt to get as close to heaven as possible. Sadly, these days, many are in danger of going in the other direction.”
Many churches are unable to check the condition of their spires, because their height means they are not accessible, although some are exploring using drones with cameras to survey the structure. Costs for scaffolding to examine some of the tallest spires can be huge.
Most spires are built of stone or brick, but some are wooden and have timber shingles. St Mary the Virgin, Flaxley, in Gloucestershire, has wooden shingles that need renewing because of damage caused by woodpeckers. The building has been on the HAR register for a year, and the condition of the spire has continued to deteriorate; birds now nest inside it. The cost of repairing it is estimated at £92,500, plus VAT.
Woodpeckers have also caused extensive damage to St Michael and All Angels, Knighton-upon-Teme, in Worcestershire, boring holes so large in the cedar shingles that rainwater is entering the building. The Heritage Lottery Fund has now offered £70,000 towards the bill.
Other churches on the HAR register include St Philip’s, Alderley Edge, Cheshire, where the spire has fractured; and St Paul’s, Ramsbottom, in Manchester diocese, which has an unsafe and now leaning spire.