Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Archaic Church Laws

We all love all those quaint Norman churches in honey-coloured stone scattered through the English countryside. The ones set in a picturesque fields surrounded by lop-sided gravestones outside equally pretty villages.  

Whilst doing research for my next novel, I discovered there is a downside to those Medieval founded churches; an ancient church law which still applies.

The words Chancel Repair Liability must strike terror into many an English [and Welsh] village dweller. What it means, is that if your Parish church is in need of building repairs, and what church built between the 11th – 15th centuries isn’t? – householders whose properties were historically built on church land can be compelled to pay the cost – no matter how much that might be. 

In Medieval times, when rectors received a tithe from the parish, they were responsible for church repairs. When Henry VIII started dissolving monasteries in 1536, rectory land was sold and the chancel repair liability passed with it. It may not be a legal requirement to attend C of E services any more, but in some parts of England and Wales [not all] the law of Chancel Repair Liability has not been changed and word is – it won’t be any time soon. 

Last year, thirty households in a Worcestershire village within a three mile radius of a church which has its origins in the Twelfth Century, received letters informing them they would have to meet the cost of church repairs. The houses are scattered across the village, as the properties date back to previous layouts from hundreds of years ago, so not everyone is liable. 

A thirtieth share of any sum may appear manageable, but this church is Grade I listed and when English Heritage get involved - and they must - and demand things like hand-made copper nails, vast amounts of money can be eaten up pretty quickly.  Parochial church councils have until the end of this month to get the Land Registry to put chancel repair liability onto the deeds of these thirty properties, or the cost of any repairs falls to the church and cannot be enforced against householders. I'm sure I am not alone in hoping they fail to do this.  

This archaic law reared its head in 2003 when a couple from Aston Cantlow, Warwickshire, after a seven year battle, were ordered to pay more than £187,000 for repairs to a church, which fell within land they inherited. 

The minister involved in the thirty householders incident said that she 'hoped the villagers would not have to pay' – in which case why doesn’t the church simply waive the law? 

Source Articles


Alison Stuart said...

Fascinating post, Anita. As someone heavily involved in the upkeep of two heritage listed church buildings dating from the ancient 1870s (Australia works on a different time scale!), the thought of trying to maintain a 12th century church fills me with horror. Our own Church diocese, coupled with Heritage Victoria and the local council is enough...hmmm wonder if the ancient laws apply to us and we could levy the local citizenry????

Petrea Burchard said...

That's scary. I'd lose my home if I were forced to pay such sums. Surely they can't want to force people from their homes?

Anita Davison said...

You would like to think so wouldn't you Petrea, but apparently not in some cases.

Jennifer Pittam said...

Oh dear - and the church is so very rich, as an organisation at least. Makes my blood boil quite frankly. I love our ancient heritage buildings but those sects that meet in a cinema or similar have a point at times!

Lainey said...

This is happening to me right now - the church through local PCC registered an interest on my property rendering it unsaleable! My blood is boiling - how dare they resurrect this archaic law to extort money out of ordinary people!

Anita Davison said...

Lainey - I am so sorry and know exactly how you must feel. We were quite a way to buying a 17th Century property recently which came under this threat - which is what it is. Our solicitor suggested we take out indemnity insurance - at £200 per month! Needless to say we cancelled our offer. Oh and they didn't tell us anything about it during the searches either - I found it in my own research and alerted him!