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Chancellor criticises ‘do it yourself’ lighting in medieval church

24 June 2016


DIY: St Mary's, Mildenhall

DIY: St Mary's, Mildenhall

THE Chancellor of the diocese of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich criticised the “potentially damaging ‘do it yourself’ spirit” at St Mary’s, Mildenhall, in Suffolk, which had led to the installation of sound and lighting systems in the church in 1997 and late 2015 respectively without first having obtained a faculty.

The church is Grade I listed, and the base of the tower is dated by Pevsner to the second quarter of the 16th century. It is said to have the finest medieval roof in East Anglia, and it has “tunnel-like” fan vaulting, which the Chancellor described as “visually stunning”. The Archdeacon of Sudbury, the Ven. Dr David Jenkins, complained to the Chancellor that an unauthorised lighting system had been installed in the west porch, and invited the Chancellor to consider making a restoration order.

Various proposals for the lighting had gone back and forth between the DAC and the Assistant Curate, the Revd Sue Leathley, who had had effective day-to-day charge of the church since 2008, but no agreement was reached, owing to differences of opinion between the DAC, the PCC, and the consulting architect.

When an electrician was working in the church in connection with the heating, Ms Leathley took the opportunity to have the lighting installed. She said that she thought it would be well received, and that the faculty was going to be a simple formality. The electrician had said that if a faculty was never issued, the lights “would be easy to remove”. Ms Leathley said that “in the heat of the moment” she had decided “to take the risk”.

The present lighting installation looked “amateurish and unsightly, the drilling directly into the stonework is unnecessary and damaging, and the siting of the lights is unattractive”, the Chancellor said. Ms Leathley had “shut her eyes to the risk” that the DAC’s proposals had not received a favourable response from the architect, he said, and had ignored the fact that she was depriving the public of a right to oppose the scheme.

Bodies such as the Church Buildings Council, Historic England, and the amenities societies were deprived of the opportunity to comment, advise on, or object to what was proposed. The Chancellor pointed out that not only was the installation unlawful, but it was foolish. Unlawful works were unlikely to be covered by insurance, and contractors were at risk of not gaining approval for future work in other buildings covered by the faculty jurisdiction. There was a real risk that the lighting system would have to be dismantled, causing a “ridiculous waste of money” for the parish.

It was accepted that Ms Leathley had made a genuine apology, and had acted “from a moment of markedly poor judgment”, and it was obvious that she was fond of the church. The Chancellor permitted the present lighting to remain until such time as he could consider the grant of a faculty to relocate it more appropriately. A confirmatory faculty was granted for the sound system. The costs of the hearing were ordered to be borne by the PCC.

The Chancellor emphasised that it needed “to be clear beyond any doubt whatsoever” that what had happened at St Mary’s was “never to happen again, either in this church or anywhere else”.

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