Barley Manor Heritage is based in Exeter, and Richard Hardy knows all about old building restoration. He asks all those who care for church buildings to keep the gutters, water systems and down pipes clear of sludge annually.
He and his team have been working on churches needing repair between Exeter and Southampton for 18 years. They have worked on every kind of repair for churches and ancient buildings – metal work, lead work, roofs, repairing brickwork, stone work restoration, stained glass, damp and rot treatment.
But Hardy is keenest to bring to attention a church’s “water systems” - its roofs, gutters, gullies and down pipes. Water systems are the external but often hidden parts of a church which don’t hog the limelight like windows, aisles, pillars and reredos. But it is vital, he says, that roofs and gutters work efficiently and are kept unblocked and in good repair all the time. He says, "We found a dead seagull in a church gutter the other day, doing a nice job as a barrier for rain water."
Hardy reckons, sadly, that half the churches he works for do not have their gutters cleaned every year. “The best time to sort gutters,” he says, “is when the last leaf has fallen in late October/early November. Ideally, depending on the trees surrounding the church, it could be good to have a quick check in the spring.“
This innocent looking greenery can be lethal to church walls over time
Hardy is keen to yank out the purple buddleia which is forever turning up on church roofs with hundreds of other weeds. He admires this indefatigable menace its success in growing in no soil at all, braving every frost and drought while with determination drilling into the joists of stone work.
A good investment
These dull duties of search and clear in a church are a good investment. If ignored, in less than five years this oversight can endanger the general wellbeing of a church, explains Hardy. “I say to all the vicars and rectors I work with, please do yourself a favour and don’t forget to clean your gutters every year!”
Just as at home, damp inside a church is often linked to poor maintenance of gutters and water systems. Gutters and pipes can overflow down the brick work, saturating it and creating green stains. Salts can blister the interior surface and inflict overall damp.
The good news is that to have Barley Manor Heritage or similar firms come by and clear out the leaf and muddy detritus from these nooks and crannies does not cost that much – under £400 plus VAT for a smallish church for the first year. If it can become an annual event, the cost is even less because all is well.
Sycamore and ash trees nestle in the gutter
Getting the right equipment
The advantage of hiring a professional to check a church’s roof is that they will have the right equipment. Ladders for any great height are now frowned on, but a mobile scaffold works well for many maintenance jobs. Hardy has to use scaffolding and sometimes hydraulic platform ‘cherry pickers’ for bigger churches – “The pickers cost £300-£400 a day”.
Long term, Hardy feels that unexpected strong weather bringing heavy rain downpours we have been seeing this century, with links to global warming, may become the norm and that many church officials may have to resign themselves to upgrading their water systems.
“I hope churches generally become more aware of the need to keep everything as in good condition as possible - a stitch in time. One of the advantages of having an annual roof and gutter check is that, like a doctor’s check-up, you may be able to spot other issues at the same time.”
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