Historic Wiltshire church re-opens after help from Nash’s Conservation team

5 July 2019

After the theft of its lead roof, an historic property in Wiltshire has been re-roofed and re-opened thanks to a solution put forward by Nash Partnership.

The Grade II* listed St Michael’s Church in Tidcombe had fallen victim to the theft of a massive amount of lead from the nave and aisles, which disappeared over night in October. The church was previously the target of a lead theft in 2011 when lead from the south aisle was taken. The number of church roofs being taken within the Salisbury Diocese is now in double figures, with four roofs taken in one week (Marlborough News, 16 October 2018) and  another stolen shortly after.

The PCC had raised funds for essential maintenance work, but while the scaffolding was up to complete the repairs, the roof’s lead was stripped by thieves. In common with many churches, the insurance cover against lead theft is very limited and whilst scaffolds were up the lead roof was uninsured.  Estimates suggest the lead would have raised £5-£6k in scrap value, but renewing the lead would cost about £65k in material costs.

Tidcombe church is exceptionally exposed  because it is located in an isolated community, is not overlooked and has few neighbours. The geographic isolation means that even if called, police or private security consultants cannot attend site quickly.  Following advice from the Diocese, our heritage team worked closely with the PCC to set out the case to put to the DAC and the Local Authority Planning Authority for the church to be re-roofed in an alternative material to lead.  We submitted documents setting out the case to the statutory consultees including The Victorian Society, The Georgian Group, the Society for Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), Ancient Monuments Society and the Council for the Care of Churches. It also received important support from Historic England.

After considering other alternatives, we submitted an application to use terne coat stainless steel as a replacement due to its long life, appearance (close to lead once it patinates) and negligible scrap value. As a result of the quick action by all, the PCC was able to obtain grant funding as well as private donations and appointed a contractor (R J Mouldings) in February. Thanks to this solution, St Michael’s Church in Tidcombe was re-opened recently by the Bishop of Ramsbury, with support from the parishes n the same arch-deaconry.

Leading the team on the faculty application was Nash Partnership’s Conservation Team Leader Bruce Clark. Commenting on the terne coat steel solution, he said: “Lead theft has been a growing national problem for churches and domestic properties alike now for many years, with insurers often limiting cover after a first theft, reflecting the scale of the issue. The information now available online about buildings makes it easy to identify potential sources for lead theft. Churches are vulnerable because they can go days without  occupation, with large quantities of leadwork often hidden from view. Theft is increasingly by organised professional gangs who are often willing to work in daylight and return to take the new roofs once lead is replaced.”

Bruce continued: “We were pleased to come up with a solution that was able to meet the client’s funding programme and was carried out within a good timescale, with the roof stolen and back on within six months. The successful outcome for this project is a reflection on the dedication of the team. The PCC and contractor were able to respond very quickly in what were difficult circumstances, they were able to avoid the consequential damage from rain that others suffered with the result that the church has been able to recover its position at the heart of the community.”

Bruce Clark – Photo by Mark Ashbee