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News: Bill Bryson warns of winter impact on historic churches


One of England's many beautiful churches which are under threat this winter, as experts warn of the impact of extreme weather
© James Kerr
  • The National Churches Trust reveals record number of funding applications for maintenance this year and the hidden toll winter takes on church buildings

  • As some forecasts predict one of the coldest winters on record, restoration experts warn of the impact of extreme weather on these ancient buildings

  • St Leonard’s, Shoreditch, known as the ‘actors church’ thanks to its close connections with Shakespeare and Elizabethan theatre, and All Saints, Oxfordshire, home to a stunning William Morris interior, are among the nationally significant churches that have suffered rainwater damage

  • Days out with Bill Bryson, Michael Palin and Bettany Hughes will go under the hammer in the Trust’s ‘Save our Churches’ online auction to help keep churches safe and open.

Bill Bryson today urged the country to protect its church heritage, as restoration experts at The National Churches Trust warned of the impact of extreme winter weather conditions. He said caring for historic churches is a matter of ‘national responsibility’ and that they are ‘Britain’s wonders of the world’ and should be protected.

Bill Bryson is a Vice-President of the National Churches Trust and will join Michael Palin and Bettany Hughes in its new ‘Save our Churches’ charity auction this month raising funds to help pay for urgent repairs to historic churches.

Winter weather including rain, snow and wind can severely damage church buildings. St Leonard, Shoreditch, known as ‘the actors church’ thanks to its close connections with Shakespeare and Elizabethan theatre, and All Saints, Midddleton Cheney (pictured left below) , an Oxfordshire church and home to a stunning William Morris interior and Pre-Raphaelite stained glass (pictured right below), both Grade I Listed buildings, have both benefitted from recent grants from the Trust to deal with rainwater damage. They are amongst 900 other churches currently on the Historic England ‘Heritage at Risk’ register.

Bill said: “Nothing embodies a quintessential Christmas like a historic church in the snow. But winter is when these ancient and often fragile buildings are most at risk of serious damage from snow, ice, wind and rain. Keeping churches open in winter and protecting the fabric of these irreplaceable buildings is a huge challenge and we should regard it as a matter of national responsibility.

“Historic churches are Britain’s wonders of the world, yet they are more at risk from winter weather than people realise. I urge the British public to help protect historic churches as we enter the winter months.

“Don’t let this be the last Christmas we can visit some of our beautiful church buildings, many of which have been open for over a thousand Christmases - the winter would be bleak indeed without them!”

Bill will lend a hand to help the UK’s historic churches by offering four heritage lovers a chance to join him for tea, cake and conversation at a top London restaurant, one of the lots on offer in the National Churches Trust ‘Save our Churches’ online auction. Also going under the hammer to raise funds for urgent church repairs are a personal guided tour from Monty Python star Michael Palin and going on location with award-winning historian, author and broadcaster Bettany Hughes on her latest filming project.

New figures released by the National Churches Trust, a charity committed to preserving and maintaining church heritage, confirm a dramatic rise in applications for essential maintenance and repair work. Last year, they received a record 593 applications for grants with its funding helping to remove 23 churches from the Historic England ‘Heritage at Risk’ register. Since 2007, the Trust has helped over 2,000 UK churches and chapels with heritage grants.

This year has seen a big increase in demand for its maintenance grants up by 37% so far. It has also been fighting to prevent escalation of damage by helping churches tackle essential maintenance tasks, such as keeping gutters clear, masonry repairs and lime mortar repointing before these turn into bigger problems.

Richard Carr-Archer, Surveyor Emeritus of York Minster and Trustee of the National Churches Trust, said: "The stonework of historic churches such as wall, towers and spires are often damp in the winter months. If temperatures drop, the stone will then freeze. When a thaw sets in, the stone expands and can break up, causing pieces to fall off. Freezing temperatures can fracture pipes in a church, releasing many gallons of water, damaging masonry and plaster and interior fittings and forcing churches to close”.

“Even without snow and ice, the impact of climate change is seeing wetter and windier winter weather. Higher levels of rainfall in the UK, such as the 20% increase seen in Scotland since the 1960s, with more cycles of wetting and drying, cause damage to timber and stonework and stronger winds and more frequent storms threaten roofs, towers and spires.”

The National Churches Trust ‘Save our Churches’ online auction is now open until midday on 22 November.

For more information and to participate in the auction, visit


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