PARISHIONERS with a Grade I listed church have had to burn a medieval pew and the wooden floor that it stood on, as they struggle to raise funds to fight an infestation of dry rot. About 2000 Victorian tiles have also been destroyed, as they are riddled with fungal mycelia.
The small congregation of St Peter and St Paul, Weston-in-Gordano, in Somerset, now faces the task of raising at least £50,000 to fix the problems. The church, which dates from the 12th century, has an electoral roll of 34 and a regular congregation of about 20.
Chronicling their situation in a letter to The Daily Telegraph this week, the churchwarden, John Bridges, and the PCC treasurer, Ian Robinson, wrote: “Our congregation is few and ageing fast. We would welcome help and financial support from anywhere, but . . . neither Church nor Government is able to meet the extent of our material needs.”
Mr Bridges said on Wednesday: “We are looking to do some fund-raising in the village and from external sources. It is not covered by insurance — it would have been if it was caused by a water leak, but it was not. Dry rot was first diagnosed in June.
“We have had fungal outbreaks before, but we didn’t realise it was dry rot; it didn’t fit in with our knowledge of the bug, and we treated it ourselves. But when it started expanding quite furiously, we pulled in the experts. We have been advised by the diocese of Bath & Wells all the way through.”
They had to burn one pew immediately, and another six are expected to be condemned. The ground beneath the floor is now awaiting treatment. “The church was closed immediately the rot was diagnosed,” Mr Bridges said. “It was very unsightly; there was a health hazard, and we didn’t want to spread spores to the rest of the building.”
The church also contains a timber psalm-singing gallery — believed to be the last in use in Europe — a medieval design specifically for use on Palm Sunday; but it is believed not to be affected by the rot.
A diocesan spokeswoman said: “Removal of pews and tiles has been a necessary step to prevent further damage to the building. While rare, damage on this scale is, none the less, hugely disheartening, especially to those who care for and worship in the church.
“St Peter and St Paul’s is now being advised by experts, and every decision taken has been informed by this specialist instruction. The diocese has specialist advisers who will support the church community as they grapple with this challenge, including advice and guidance on fund-raising to help them meet the costs of the maintenance work.”