Become a Friend

Stave off decay

Author: Rachel

One of our founding members, John Betjeman, wrote a regular column in The Telegraph in the 1950s. In 1952 he wrote, “Time damages an old building as effectively as bombs. Gutters have to be kept clear, interiors heated and ventilated, small repairs carried out before they become big repairs”.

This is sound advice and something the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) have been championing since 1877. Betjeman was a life-member of since his twenties, so would have been familiar with SPAB’s Manifesto, where SPAB co-founder William Morris spoke of the need to “stave off decay by daily care, to prop a perilous wall or mend a leaky roof”.

In 2002, the SPAB launched National Maintenance Week as a means of reminding – and encouraging – those who own and care for historic buildings (really buildings of all ages) to undertake some simple tasks to ensure their buildings.

At the Friends of Friendless Churches we take maintenance seriously. It is the ultimate example of ‘a stitch in time’.

Twice a year the churches in our care benefit from routine maintenance. At this time of the year – as leaves fall from trees and inevitably end up in gutters – it is doubly important.

The primary function of a building is to provide shelter from the elements; as such, they are designed to shed water. Roof slopes run at angles to channel rainwater into gutters which lead to hopper-heads and down-pipes. These carry water down into the gulleys and ultimately, the drainage system. Flashings (lead or mortar) protect the structural or material junctions, which may be more vulnerable to water penetration.

Many of our churches don’t have rainwater goods. In these instances, the deep eaves throw water away from the building. Details such as hood-mouldings, string-courses — even window sills — though often employed as decoration, primarily protect a building by expelling water away from the wall surface and openings.

When we undertake routine maintenance, these are the things we look out for and address:

Maintaining roofs is essential in keeping rainwater out:

Slipped tiles are re-nailed;
Broken or missing tiles are replaced;
Emergency tape repairs are undertaken to metal roofs;
Flashings at junctions are inspected.

Rainwater goods are the hardest working part of a building.

Gutters, downpipes, gullies can become clogged with leaves and moss (and even the occasional plastic bag or crisp packet). Swan-neck downpipes are particularly prone to this. If these elements become choked with debris, rainwater cannot be channelled into the drainage system. Instead, the water backs up and spills out over the wall surface. Our rainwater goods are cleared regularly to ensure they are functioning correctly.

Ironwork is inspected for corrosion. Paint protects metalwork; we check that paintwork is intact. If not, we make add this to our schedule of repair for when the weather improves.

Open mortar joints can let water in too. We look for these and again make a plan for this to be dealt with when weather conditions allow.

Maintenance isn’t rocket science. Maintenance isn’t glamorous. But oh boy, is maintenance important!