Introduction Interiors 1 Interiors 2 Exteriors Churchyards
Christ Church, Belfast

Care and Maintenance


One morning on "Thought for the Day" the speaker asked the listener to imagine what our towns, cities and countryside would look like without a single church building. In that event we would find ourselves looking at a very bland world, devoid of much of its verticality and interest. It is not only Oxford that can boast 'dreaming spires'! Whichever road one takes into Armagh or Downpatrick, Cashel or Clones one cannot fail to marvel at the sites chosen by our ancestors to build places to worship God. John Ruskin places a responsibility on our shoulders when he points out 'What we ourselves build we are at liberty to throw down, but what other men gave their strength and wealth and life to accomplish, their right over it does not pass away with their death, still less is the right to the use of what they have left vested in us only. It belongs to all their successors.'

We will only pass on this precious inheritance, our faith as well as our buildings, to our children and grandchildren if we nurture and maintain them. There is a widespread belief that historic buildings have a fixed lifespan whereas, unless they have intrinsic design or material faults, they can last indefinitely. The proviso is that they must be well maintained and occasional repairs are undertaken as and when required. This is not as difficult as it sounds, it is a concept that has been around for a long time and makes good sound commonsense. The manifesto of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) written in 1877 urges those who care for their heritage 'to put Protection in the place of Restoration, to stave off decay by daily care, to prop a perilous roof or mend a leaky roof'.

The Ulster Historic Churches Trust, whose trustees represent the four main churches, compiled and distributed a Maintenance Schedule for Churches and Good Housekeeping Guide in February 2000 suitable for use by all denominations. There was nothing new about the document but it sets out clearly how to care successfully for a church and its contents and was designed to be proactive rather than reactive. Over a period of time a reactive policy will result in an expensive programme of major restorations whereas much of this can be avoided by proactive planning. Ecclesiastes 10 v.18 puts it succinctly 'By much slothfulness the building decayeth and through idleness of the hands the house droppeth through.'

The Maintenance Schedule for Churches and Good Housekeeping Guide recommends that a strategy is agreed and specific duties delegated to individuals. By making particular people responsible for carrying out tasks and recording their actions duties are shared and loads lightened. Some of these duties will require the services of a professional but most can be carried out by a practical member of the congregation. Quinquennial inspections require professional involvement and provide essential advice and guidance on areas needing particular attention or repair. It is essential that these matters are attended to so that the stitch in time principle can be brought into operation.

Maintenance cycles may be considered under three categories:

There are a number of publications available on maintenance but one by the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC) and SPAB specifically designed for historic buildings A Stitch in Time is readily available. It advises:

Christ Church, Spanish Point



This article offers general guidance only; for specific advice contact a conservation architect or other relevant specialist.
© Ulster Historic Churches Trust 2004