Back to basics - conserving Holy Trinity Sunderland

Holy Trinity was vested in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust in 1988. Since then, almost £500,000 has been spent on repairs. However, it is the well-meaning, but ill-advised repairs that were undertaken before vesting that are damaging the fabric.

Advert for Holy Trinity, Sunderland placed by Redundant Churches Fund (Westender, April 1992)

In 1935, the sub-floor voids to the nave were filled. A 100mm concrete base was installed, followed by a layer of bitumen laid with timber flooring. Elsewhere, concrete pavings were installed. This seal forces ground moisture through the perimeter walls and timber panelling.

Salts disintegrating internal surfaces

Insufficient rainwater goods and drainage to the full perimeter of the building exacerbate this. Where drainage exists, surfaces fall towards the building, channelling more water into the walls.

Downpipes stop short of ground and no external drainage

In the 1930s, the rainwater goods were adapted to form an overflow ‘weir’, whereby blocked gutters or outlets overflow via a lead spitter. However, when this occurs rainwater spills on to the brick façade. The downpipes all stop short of the ground and splash back on to the building.

The apse roof is gutterless. The ‘dripping roof’ discharges directly on to the ground from high level, enabling wind-driven moisture to fall onto the brick surface. The result of this is that the apse is now falling away from the main building.

Cracks in apse

The majority of external ground levels fall towards the building. These surfaces are hard paved and there is no surface water drainage to the perimeter of the church.

In 1935, a zinc-oil paint was applied to all surfaces to arrest the spalling brickwork. However, the brickwork had been pointed with cementitious mortar, so rather than evaporating through bricks, water is disintegrating the brickwork. The internal walls to the nave were patched with cement.

Peeling paint decorates the entire interior

This manifests itself internally by in the damp rotting timber structures, the crumbling plasterwork and the blistered, bubbling paintwork. It is also seen in the corroding ironwork, which has led to the fracturing and collapse of internal details.

The issues above are fundamental to the health of any building. Yet, they have been unresolved for decades. The situation is now at a crisis-point. If these basic repairs cannot be undertaken, we risk losing an important piece of Sunderland’s – and England’s - history.


Holy Trinity church, Sunderland is collapsing. It is a Grade I listed building. It is one of just two Grade I early Georgian churches surviving in the northeast of England. It has been on the Heritage at Risk register for several years and has been nominated as one of the ‘7 Most Endangered’ buildings in Europe. Click here to visit the appeal page.