Drought causes 12th-century church to crumble

  • Church walls have cracked because nearby trees have sucked all moisture from the soil
  • Parishioners have appealed for help as the repair bill could reach £40,000

By
Rob King

11:16 EST, 9 March 2012

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11:55 EST, 9 March 2012

A 12th-century village church is crumbling away because of the drought that has caused problems across large parts of England.

Worshippers at St John the Baptist church, in the Cambridgeshire village of Woodhurst, were stunned to find large pieces of masonry had fallen from its chancel.

An ecclesiastical architect later found the damage was caused by nearby trees, whose roots have spread in search of water after two years of low rainfall.

The roots have taken so much water that the dry clay soil has retracted, causing the church walls to move and crack.

Parishioners believe the damage will cost as much as £40,000 to fix and they fear the church will have to close unless the village sees more rain.

Rubble: Part of the church is sealed off because of the danger of falling masonry

Rubble: Part of the church is sealed off because of the danger of falling masonry

Church treasurer Neil Farbon said: ‘We have been monitoring the situation and it is getting worse.

‘We have had two years of very low rainfall and there is not enough moisture in the soil, so cracks have started to appear.’

Mr Farbon, 40, said the damage had even put his wedding in jeopardy.

He is due to marry his partner of 15 years, Annabel Armstrong, 39, in the church later this year.

But the wedding may be cancelled if the Grade II-listed building – made of rubble, mortar and flint – falls into greater disrepair.

Falling away: The Grade II listed building is crumbling because nearby trees have sucked moisture from the soil, moving the walls

Falling away: The Grade II listed building is crumbling because nearby trees have sucked moisture from the soil, moving the walls

Mr Farbon said: ‘I am meant to be getting married there in May so I’m not sure what’s going to happen now.

‘We’ve been told it is usable as long as there is no further damage so we’re keeping our fingers crossed.’

Mr Farbon said the damage was discovered on Tuesday.

‘Someone
went around to try to manage one of the graves and the top of the chancel had just fallen away,’ he added.

‘We had a day of rain on Sunday and it was too much for the weakened structure.

‘There is now a pile of masonry on the ground.

‘The church is still deemed to be safe to use, but any further damage may mean that is no longer the case.

‘We
have to get some scaffolding sorted out and put a covering over the
affected area, but it’s not just a case of going up with a ladder.

‘We need to call in experts.’

The cracks in the walls are not the church’s only problem.

Part of its flint facing is also damaged, caused by years of weathering.

Mr Farbon said he expected the repair costs to come to between £30,000 and £40,000.

The
church attracts only a handful of worshippers on a typical Sunday, so
the villagers are looking for contributions from elsewhere.

‘Like most small village parishes, we struggle to keep the church open,’ Mr Farbon said.

‘Quite what we’re going to do, I don’t know.

‘There are certainly funds, trusts and foundations that will be getting an application from us soon.

‘For a small parish church it’s an enormous amount to raise.’.

The bark that bites: It could cost £40,000 to repair the damage caused by trees to St John the Baptist church

The bark that bites: It could cost £40,000 to repair the damage caused by trees to St John the Baptist church

Shirley Firth, church secretary added: ‘The congregation is very shocked.

‘Last year was a very dry year and it has made it much worse.’

Miles of roads are also cracking up after the driest winter for 92 years.

Some rivers and groundwater levels are now lower than during the drought of 1976, as areas of eastern England recorded only a quarter of the average rainfall for February last month.

Here’s what other readers have said. Why not add your thoughts,
or debate this issue live on our message boards.

The comments below have been moderated in advance.

I’d say drought is an excuse for poor maintenance!

I hope they can get it fixed as it’s a very beautiful building.

What a shame wish I could give them some of our plentiful rain!

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