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THE REDUNDANT
CHURCHES FUND
COMES OF AGE


Matthew Saunders celebrates the 21st birthday of a body which will before long be
responsible for more buildings than English Heritage.
I have the conservation world’s most eccen-
tric office in the two tower rooms of the
Wren church of St. Andrew-by-the-
Wardrobe in Queen Victoria Street, Lon-
don. My predecessor in the eyrie-cum-
sub-belichamber was the body which now
occupies the converted north aisle the
Redundant Churches Fund, which has just
celebrated its 21 years with a fairly glowing
testimonial from a one-man investigation
mounted at the behest of its joint funders,
the Church Commissioners and the Depart-
ment of the Environment.
I always think of the Fund, in its cor-
porate identity, as a rather bashful friend, its
light firmly under a bushel, performing its
statutory tasks without fuss or great expen-
diture and with a studiously iow profile.
It was set up in 1969 as part of a com-
plete revision of the procedure for dealing
with redundant Anglican places of worship.
The Pastoral Measure of 1968, which fath-
ered it, lays down three possible fates for a
redundant church: demolition, conversion
to a new use or, where the building is too
important to suffer either of those, vesting
in the Fund. (A fourth option, that of vest-
ing in the Diocesan Board of Finance as a
controlled ruin, was introduced under the
succeeding Measure of 1983.) Churches
vested in the Fund are pastorally redundant
in the sense that they have no priest and no
congregation but the nucleus of the latter
can reformulate itself as a group of Friends
providing keyholders (some two-thirds of
Fund churches are locked) and the potential
for occasional but not systematic use. Vest-
ing need not mean fossilisation. The Fund
encourages the occasional use of its build-
ings for exhibitions, flower festivals, con-
certs and of course services (although these
require the permission of the Bishop who
will not allow the emergence of rival centres
to the "living” Church). For a temporary
period two of them have been used as night
shelters over Christmas and one has seen a
meeting of the Synod.

In 1969 funding was equally divided bet-
ween the Church and the state: 50% each.
Since then the proportions have increased
the burden on the Department of the En-
vironment so that as from 1989 its share is
70% and the Church’s 30%. For the Church
Commissioners this is a particularly good
deal for a large chunk of their proportion,
some £2.4 million in the quinquennium
that began on 1 April 1989, comes from the
sale of the site of redundant non-Fundable
churches. At its crudest this can be conser-
vation by cannibalism, with the financing of
the Fund dependent in some measure on
other disused churches being sold for the
more lucrative option of redevelopment
rather than conversion. Although perform-
ing a role much like a National Trust for
Churches (in much the same way as The
National Trust is geared in historic
buildings terms almost exclusively to the
country house), it does not enjoy the
benefit of inalienability which the Trust
won in the Act that established it in 1895.
Properties left to the Trust as investments
can and have been sold, but those passed to
the Trust for the purposes of the charity
remain in its ownership for ever. Devesting
from the Fund has so far been conspicuous
by its absence although the 1990 Review has
recommended, dangerously in my view, a
more liberal attitude. So far devesting has
broadly speaking been benign. It first took
place in 1987 when the ruins of Rickman’s
church at Birkenhead were transferred to
the local authority which intended to make
it the focal point for a broader attraction.
The most recent alienation is so far the most
worrying: the transfer of St Thomas’s, Bris-
tol, one of the greatest eighteenth century
churches in the South-West, to form a
private orchestral rehearsal centre. As
initially submitted to the City Council, the
proposal involved the shielding of the
reredos by a huge acoustical screen, the
introduction of a steel space frame within
the chancel and other visually disruptive
alterations. Changes have been negotiated
and the space frame has gone but other
aspects are unaltered and during rehearsals
the reredos will still be concealed. The use
could of course be far worse, but the case
clearly proves the unavoidability of damag-
ing adaptation that a new use can occasion in
an interior which is at present beautifully
integrated in the symmetrical balance of its
architecture and fittings. Planning permis-
sion, however, has been granted and the
transfer looks certain. The average Fund
church is older than St Thomas’s, and it is
hard to imagine how the slightly uneven
flagstone flooring, the bumpy irregularity
of the walls, the peeling limewash and the
genial sense of clutter which are the essence
of their character can be safeguarded in the
tidy mindedness that so often accompanies
conversion schemes.
After 21 years the Fund’s portfolio is an
impressive one. It now cares for outstand-
ing medieval churches such as St Peter’s,
Sudbury, in Suffolk, one of the two that
command each end of the High Street; the
ruins at Covehithe, also in Suffolk, much
painted byJohn Piper; Holy Trinity, Good-
ramgate, in the centre of York, that great
flagship of woolstaplers’ prosperity; All
Saints, Theddlethorpe, Lincoinshire; and
both of the ancient churches in the centre of
Sandwich St Mary’s and St Peter’s. St
Mary’s, Shrcwsbury, a building of almost
cathedralesque proportions, is a recent vest-
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