Lead thieves do thousands of pounds of damage to parish church and threaten rare medieval paintings and rood screen

Thieves are said to have done damage running into thousands of pounds and endangered prized medieval wall paintings and an ancient wooden rood screen when they stripped the lead from the roof of St Andrew’s Church in Pickworth last night (Wednesday).

Rev Cameron Watt, interim minister for the South Lafford Group of Parishes said this is the second of the 11 churches under his care that has been targeted within a month, with Threekingham losing the lead from its roof before Christmas.

Pickworth Church roof after lead thieves struck. EMN-200901-124758001

Pickworth Church roof after lead thieves struck. EMN-200901-124758001

He said at least half the lead has been stolen from the main roof of the building, causing a significant amount of damage to the church.

“It’s just terrible really,” he said.

“It was raining overnight so there is water inside the church as well. Any water inside is not good news.

“We are trying to move things out of the way but you cannot move the old fixed pews and the wooden rood screen.”

St Andrew's Church, Pickworth. EMN-200901-115637001

St Andrew's Church, Pickworth. EMN-200901-115637001

Most of the church dates back to the 12th century and has some of the finest medieval religious wall paintings in England dating from 1380, which were plastered over for years after roof alterations but later rediscovered and revealed. The delicately carved medieval rood screen is 600 years old and was skilfully restored in 1964.

Rev Watt said: “The wall paintings will be damaged really quickly by any watder so we are taking steps this morning to make the roof water tight as best we can, but a temporary roof is not going to be as good as the real thing.”

He said a significant part of the country’s heritage was at risk as a result.

Rev Watt said the damage is likely to run into tens of thousands of pounds and the full cost cannot be insured.

Pickworth Church - puddles of rainwater between the ancient pews left after lead thieves struck. EMN-200901-124809001

Pickworth Church - puddles of rainwater between the ancient pews left after lead thieves struck. EMN-200901-124809001

“Anything like this is a real challenge but having two of our churches targeted in a short period of time over Christmas is heartbreaking,” he commented, adding that the small community would have to find ways to foot the repair bill.

“It is not a victimless crime. We will have to look at grant applications and money from heritage bodies and fundraising.”

A Lincolnshire Police spokesman said: “We are investigating a report of a theft of lead from St Andrew’s Church in Pickworth. This was reported to have happened overnight on January 9. If anyone was in the area overnight and noticed anything suspicious they can call us on 101, quoting incident 58 of January 9.”

Pickworth villagers are thinking about setting up a JustGiving page to raise money - www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/pickworth-village-church-standrews

The medieval wall paintings at risk after lead thieves left the roof of Pickworth Church open to the elements. EMN-200901-124723001

The medieval wall paintings at risk after lead thieves left the roof of Pickworth Church open to the elements. EMN-200901-124723001

One of the churchwardens, Jenny Seddon, said: “It is very demoralising.

“The centre of the church is soaking wet, the pulpits are wet, the cushions are wet, books are wet.

“We have got to get it covered before the weather gets worse otherwise there will be more damage.

“We have got to think of how we safeguard our church.

“This is something that is happening throughout the country but Lincolnshire seems to be badly hit.

“For the amount that they have taken and the amount of money they will get for that I would rather have given them the money because it is going to cost us far more to replace and repair the damage they have done.

Sunlight shining through the exposed rafters of Pickworth Church. EMN-200901-124832001

Sunlight shining through the exposed rafters of Pickworth Church. EMN-200901-124832001

“They haven’t done it systematically because there are holes all over the place.

“It is not in one section, it is five sections of our main roof gone.”

Rev Watt said the temporary felt roof at Threeekingham Church had held up against most of the weather so far apart from a few minor leaks.

“We are in discussion with heritage bodies and funding bodies and looking at setting up a fundraising committee, but with only a couple of people involved it is too much, so I am talking to the Bishop, the Archdeacon and the Diocesan Advisory Committee about what support they can offer,” he said.

“We either do this or Threekingham church stays under a felt roof until it degrade.”

He said police investigations were ongoing, although four men had been arrested in the West Midlands on suspicion of the Threekingham theft and released pending further investigation.

The priest accepted that it was a much more widespread problem than just one gang: “It is not just going on in Lincolnshire, but up the spine of the country from Cambridgeshire to Lincolnshire and a lot in Yorkshire.”