Summer of Crime

02 Aug 2017

Historic churches. They sit there minding their own business. As they have sat for centuries. Watching the world around them change to an almost foreign place. They wait for someone to heave open their creaky doors, slide a warm hand over worn stone and breathe soft life in to the cool, dusty air.

They do not expect to be woken in the depths of night. Awoken to sounds of shattering glass or to light pouring through the roof timbers.

Wall-safe break in, St Mary's, Burham


Over three days at the end of July, three of our churches were attacked. Lead was ripped off the roof of St Mary’s, Shrewsbury – right in the centre of the town. Lead was stripped from the rural church of St Andrew’s, Northover. Leigh chancel, which recently featured in Poldark, had its interior vandalised.

At Shrewsbury, the vestry roof was the target. The vestry houses a small café, which provides much needed revenue to keep this great building running. At Northover, to gain access the thieves pulled off a metal window guard and smashed a stained glass window. At the 13th century chancel at Leigh, the altar rail was destroyed and the interior graffitied.


Lead theft at St John the Baptist, Parson Drove


These events come hot on the heels of lead thefts at our medieval churches in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire earlier in the month. There are attempted metal thefts where we wait in fear of return and the devastation that will bring. Of course, in addition to these are the regular reports of vandalism – smashed windows, wall-safes hacked from walls and fires.

Wall-safe theft, St Mary's, Barton Bendish


Some of these acts have a motive. The introduction of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act in October 2013 hoped to put an end to lead thefts. However, lead prices are rising once again. Possibly driven by the demands for vehicle batteries. This makes the risk of stealing metal more lead.

Others are seemingly mindless – destruction for ‘fun’.

Destruction of masonry, St Botolph's, Skidbrooke


The time and money it takes to repair all of these is immense. Sometimes reaching to hundreds of thousands of pounds. In most cases, this money simply does not exist. Emergency and temporary repairs for incidents such as those above eat in to the scant budgets for long-term repairs. It puts our other buildings – those not directly damaged – at risk.

Of course, theft and vandalism of churches is not new. It’s been so widely reported that it is almost an accepted fate. This should not be the case. Our small collection is representative of what churches all across the country face and fear.