An Introduction: Roofs at Risk

29 Sep 2023

Following the recent launch of our Annual Appeal, Roofs at Risk, we are launching a new monthly blog series that will introduce you further to varied types of roofs and their splendour as well their challenges.

Vital conservation work of CCT. Why it matters.

The continued care of the fabric of historic church buildings is central to everything we do. Alongside empowering and engaging communities, the CCT, and its dedicated heritage contractors and specialist advisors partners, strive to lead the way in the maintenance of church roofs across the country.

By making sure our church roofs are weatherproofed and watertight, the Conservation team at CCT both preserve the church for future generations and save thousands of pounds in the longer term.

Due to the exposed nature of historic roofs, they are prone to risk that often come without advanced warning. One such threat is extreme weather. It is essential to maintain roof coverings to prevent water ingress that may lead to damage of the roof timbers and internal finishes.

Maintenance visits are a key way that CCT conserves our historic churches and take place twice a year. Regular maintenance is central to our approach to conservation. As written in CCT’s Conservation Policy:

“With proper repair and maintenance the life of most kinds of buildings can be extended almost indefinitely. This certainly applies to the Trust’s churches. At its simplest, preservation is care through prudent maintenance – the slow and continuous replacement of that which has decayed and the protection of that which would otherwise decay. The Trust thus places great emphasis on effective maintenance to prevent the causes of decay and thereby reduce costs.”

Regular roof maintenance is an important part of this continued repair work. Our churches cost on average, £2,500 per year, to keep in good order and in a safe condition for visitors to come and enjoy.

During each CCT maintenance visit, roof slopes are inspected and the following takes place:

•             Parapets, eaves gutters and valleys are cleared;

•             Slipped tiles are re-nailed or secured with a copper wire ‘tingle’;

•             Broken or missing tiles (including ridge and hip) are replaced;

•             Flashings at vulnerable areas such as junctions are maintained;

•             Emergency tape repairs are undertaken to metal roofs.


Roof types in CCT’s care.

We care for a growing collection of church buildings of significant architectural, historical, cultural, and artistic importance. The variation of roof types across our 357 churches is extraordinary and range from thatched, slate, lead and tiled. The two examples below highlight just a snapshot of outstanding historic roofs and their fascinating histories. These two sites show the regional variation of the Churches in CCT’s care and that each historic building is unique, valued and has to be considered carefully.

All Saints Church, Alton Priors – Wiltshire.

All Saints Church in Alton Priors dates from the 12th century. It is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade II* listed building. It was declared redundant in 1972, and was vested in the Trust in 1973. The church was built of limestone and malmstone rubble in the 12th century, but has undergone several major refurbishments since.

The interior of the church is lime-washed and barn-like, with big rustic roof trusses and open timbering. The chancel arch is all that remains of the church's distant Norman past. The rest of the church dates from late medieval times.. The church still contains Jacobean choir stalls, unusually tall communion rails and a 1590 tomb. A mysterious trapdoor conceals a buried Sarsen stone (a sandstone block). The presence of the 1,700-year-old Yew tree in the churchyard, suggests it was a sacred site long before the church was built.

All Saints' suffered a tragic lead theft in 2015 and we have continued to raise money to repair the damage with generous support of the local community. In 2017, Professor Margaret Faultless spearheaded a fundraising campaign that resulted in the local community, along with supporters of Music for Awhile, raising an additional £15,000 to install an emergency roof and alarm system at All Saints’ following the significant lead theft.  

Thanks to the community’s efforts, funds were quickly raised to install a rubberoid membrane temporary roof, when the lead was stolen from the north side of the nave. This fundraising also paid for the alarm system and security lighting.

St Mary’s Church, Thornton-le-Moors – Cheshire.

St Mary's Church dates from the fourteenth century onwards, and is believed to be on the site of a pre-Conquest church. It sits in a village close to the Mersey estuary, near a small nature reserve.

The church recorded at ‘Torentune’ in Domesday Book is believed to have stood on the same site as the present church. The remains of an Anglo-Viking cross discovered in the foundations of the chancel would probably have been standing in the village when the Domesday commissioners came to make their assessment. Although the church is now dedicated to St Mary, there is a historical reference to it as St Helen’s.

The building that survives today is a mostly 14th-century structure and is built predominantly from distinctive red Cheshire sandstone. The church was enlarged in the 16th century, including the addition of the tower to the western end of the south aisle and the Elton chapel at its eastern end (now housing an impressive organ). A period of dereliction followed with graffiti of the 17th and 18th centuries indicating renovation work of that date. The 19th-century restoration was spearheaded by Canon Barker. Following a disastrous fire in 1909 the tower was largely rebuilt.

St Mary’s Church was placed in the care of Churches Conservation Trust in 2009. A once in a generation programme of repairs was then completed at a cost of £40,000 to bring the church into good repair.

Sadly, St Mary’s was  recently the victim of a lead theft and thieves stole the lining to a valley gutter. CCT then quickly made temporary repairs, however these cannot be expected to last much longer putting the condition of the interior of the church at significant risk.  Current estimated costs for these repairs are around £35,000.

How you can help save our churches.

In the last year alone, we have been able to complete fundraising projects with communities and have continued important regular cyclical maintenance work. By ensuring historic roofs such as St Mary’s and All Saint’s are maintained these buildings can continue to be used and inspire current and future generations.

By donating towards this year’s Annual Appeal, you will contribute to our emergency and planned roof repair projects and help save these fascinating buildings. To donate today please go to or call us on 0800 206 1463.