A gothic church at risk of collapsing has been saved after a judge refused to order its immediate demolition – describing it as a ‘jewel in the Fens’.
The 173-year old St Paul’s Church at Eastville is considered a danger to the public and was closed to worshippers in 2007.
However, chancellor Mark Bishop, a judge of the Consistory Court, ruled that he was not satisfied there was no other option to save it and gave it a reprieve from demolition.
His decision goes against advice from English Heritage which says the extent of damage to the church could be categorised as serious and there was concern the chancel arch and cross beam supporting the main roof could collapse.
But Mr Bishop, who visited the church himself, said: “On my site visit to the Church on 25 June I inspected the church both inside and outside.
“It was clear to me that it has been a much loved parish church as evidenced from the artefacts left inside with the dedication of book cases and a children’s corner. It would be a tragedy if it was necessary to demolish this Victorian jewel in the Fens.”
He said that it was obvious that although the church has been closed for some years, the churchyard continues to be a focus for this community, noting a very recent burial in 2012 and a significant number of well cared for graves.
He ruled that emergency demolition of the whole church could only be authorised if it is necessary in the interests of safety or health and, as it is a Grade II listed building, it is not practicable to secure safety or health by works of repair.
He continued: “I am not satisfied on the material placed before me at present that it is not practicable to secure safety or health by works of repair. At present on the material before me I cannot be satisfied that demolition of the church is the ‘minimum measure immediately necessary.”
He added that, according to the reports, it remains unclear what is causing the damage.
Urging the church authorities to act with haste, he said: “Obviously, there are very serious problems with this church, and the diocese must now move to draw up a plan of necessary remedial measures to secure the chancel arch from collapsing and taking other necessary steps to repair the church. Advice from specialists must be taken.
“The diocese must take these next steps with urgency, as I am sure all realise. If a plan is adopted for remedial measures and works of repair, then a faculty application will need to be made in the usual way. If the works involve the outside of the building then planning permission will be required, too. I stand ready to make any necessary emergency orders if this is required.”
He had been asked to make an emergency order, without the need for the full Consistory Court “faculty”
process, on the basis that demolition of St Paul’s was necessary in the interests of safety or health.
He said that, if a full faculty is sought, the procedure is ‘quite different’ and he would be required to be satisfied, amongst other things, that another church is to be erected on the site to take the place of the demolished church.
In a preliminary ruling in April, he said that the evidence put forward by the church authorities of the risk posed by the building’s possible collapse was compelling and he was minded to accept it, adding: “I am most concerned about the threat to members of the public particularly of course those that live close by.”
However, at that point he adjourned the application for English Heritage and the Church Buildings Council to be consulted. And now, on the basis of that has reprieved the church from demolition, at least for the time being.
St Paul’s Church is a small early Victorian gothic church built in flat fenland 12 miles north-east of Boston.
It was the last of six churches built under the Fen Churches Act 1816 and was completed in 1840.
The Church ceased to be used for worship in around 2007 because there were signs of movement in the structure and the congregation could no longer support the financial burden of maintaining the building.
The next church in Midville is going through a closure process and the congregation now worship in New Leake.