Extreme weather warning: Britain's heritage buildings feel the heat – and cold

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Experts fear they are fighting a losing battle as increasingly erratic conditions take their toll

The curators responsible for preserving Britain's historic sites already have to cope with falling subsidies and the effect of the economic gloom on visitor numbers. Now they have another problem: our increasingly extreme and erratic weather.

Freezing temperatures, drought and torrential rain are all proving increasingly damaging to sites that, in some cases, are almost 1,000 years old.

Earlier this month, parts of the roof of St John the Baptist Church in Woodhurst, Cambridgeshire, collapsed, with masonry falling from the chancel, causing damage that will cost up to £40,000 to repair.

Experts said the problems were caused by the drought's effect on soil that is found particularly in the east of England. The trees close to the walls of the Grade II-listed building sucked up too much water from the ground after two years of low rainfall, causing the clay to contract. This moved the foundations, and the walls cracked.

Ian Harper, an architect with English Heritage said: "The problems with the drought's effect on the clay have emerged recently and we haven't worked out how to prevent it."

Finding funding for the necessary repairs is becoming increasingly difficult. "Every year we have a grants programme and every year there are about twice the applications we can fund. This is becoming more of a problem. It has been developing over the past 10 years," he said.

Other churches have been affected in similar fashion. St Mary's, in the village of Mundon, Essex, had to undergo significant repairs as a result of clay shrinkage, which led the building's foundations to start "falling apart". The restoration work, following a £140,000 grant from English Heritage, averted the collapse of the chancel and preserved its Georgian murals.

In the Church of St Andrew, at Abbots Ripton, also in Cambridgeshire, the arcades were found to be moving on the foundations, causing cracks. Without repair work, it is likely that the whole building will collapse, Mr Harper said.

St Andrew's Church at nearby Wood Walton, which was recorded in the Domesday Book, is also facing serious problems. "We think it is due to the climate. It may be just two or three years aberration, but the climate has definitely had an impact," Mr Harper said. Two years ago the building was put on the Heritage At Risk register and no longer opens regularly.

The most recent Heritage At Risk register was published in August. There were 5,828 entries, with 3 per cent of Grade I and II-listed buildings deemed to be threatened. Although the effect of increasingly extreme weather is difficult to quantify, many list erosion and weathering as a problem. English Heritage says its budgets have been "significantly reduced" due to Government spending cuts.

While drought has become an issue in some parts of the country, the cold winters of 2009 and 2010 also caused serious problems at several sites, including Castle Acre Priory in Norfolk, a monastic site dating back to 1090, and the 12th century Framlingham Castle in Suffolk.

Mr Harper said: "The frost is a real issue. In the past two severe winters, hard frost caused huge damage to standing ruins in the east of England. The chalk in the stonework deteriorates. We understand the process and know we can't stop it."

In Norwich, the medieval city walls have suffered damage as a result of the salt used on the roads in cold weather.

The National Trust has also pointed to a rise in threats from extreme weather – specifically torrential rainfall.

Sarah Staniforth, museums and collections director for the organisation, said: "The weather is much more extreme in the UK than it used to be. Between 1985 and 2007 I have never had to turn out due to emergency flooding. It has been four times since then."

Five years ago, flooding damaged a series of rooms in Calke Abbey in south Derbyshire. At the time, the site's property manager, Stewart Alcock, said heavy rainfall "is one of the big climate impacts threatening our built heritage".

Later that year, the severe flooding in Tewkesbury affected several National Trust properties, including Basildon Park. The 12th century Tewkesbury Abbey also had water come in through the doors. In 2009, the devastating floods in Cockermouth, in the Lake District, hit the birthplace of William Wordsworth.

National Trust employees had to wade through waist deep water to salvage the collection of furniture, artworks and documents. The floods also affected properties at Fell Foot, Low Wray Campsite and Ash Landing.

Ms Staniforth said: "Our emphasis must now be on prevention. We are trying to put aside more [money] than we ever have before to deal with this issue."

At risk the sites that are suffering

St John the Baptist in Woodhurst, Cambridgeshire

Calke Abbey in Derbyshire

Framlingham Castle in Suffolk

Tewkesbury Abbey

Castle Acre Prioryin Norfolk

Norwich City Wall

William Wordsworth's House

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before