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Rise in churches in England at risk of neglect and decay

03 November 2017

GORDON JOLY/COMMONS

Landmark: St George the Martyr, Southwark, which featured in the Charles Dickens novel Little Dorrit, has been added to Historic England’s latest heritage at risk register

Landmark: St George the Martyr, Southwark, which featured in the Charles Dickens novel Little Dorrit, has been added to Historic England’s latest heri...

TWO London churches, St Anne’s, Limehouse, and St George the Martyr, Southwark, which is featured in the Charles Dickens novel Little Dorrit, were among the 130 places of worship to have been added to Historic England’s Heritage at Risk register this year.

Of the 14,800 places of worship in the country listed by Historic England, 6.3 per cent (937) were placed on its latest register of buildings most at risk of neglect, decay, or inappropriate development, published on Thursday of last week. Although 115 places of worship were removed from the register this year after repair work, this was offset by the 130 additions.

The mains threats to places of worship are failing roofs, rainwater goods, and high-level stonework, Historic England says. St Anne’s, Limehouse, which was designed by the architect Nicholas Hawksmoor and completed in 1730, has suffered significant water damage.

The churchyard of St George the Martyr was once the burial ground for an adjacent prison, Marshalsea, where Dickens’s family were imprisoned for debt. Although currently in poor condition, the church recently received Heritage Lottery Funding, and a £20,000 National Churches Trust Repair Grant in July, and scaffolding began in September.

Grant aid from the National Churches Trust, Historic England, and other funders, is a key reason for buildings being removed from the list, however this takes time to put in place.

A spokesperson for Historic England explained: “The number of Places of Worship on the register has been creeping up over the last few years. This is because we have been working with partners from all denominations to better understand the condition of our places of worship.

“However, it is fair to say that the deteriorating condition of these buildings nationally reflects a trend well publicised relating to the declining numbers in congregations, with smaller groups of people often struggling to look after their individual churches.”

A spokesman for the National Churches Trust said: “England has some of the most beautiful churches and chapels to be found anywhere in the world. Keeping them in good condition remains a major challenge for cash strapped congregations, especially in rural areas where the number of worshippers may be extremely small.

“Solutions include providing more money for repairs through schemes such as the Government-sponsored Roof Repair Fund, making it easier for churches to carry out regular maintenance, thereby preventing the need for expensive repairs. It is also important that church buildings are open on a regular basis and used for community activities as well as for worship so that more people have a stake in their future.”

Despite the rise in places of worship at risk, the total number of entries on the register — which this year includes 16 pubs, nine rock art sites, and a tunnel — fell slightly to 5254 from a total of 5341 last year. Historic England also met its 2018 target to reduce by 15 per cent the number of entries on its 2015 list a year early. A total of 528 buildings were added to the list this year.

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