Introduction Interiors 1 Interiors 2 Churchyards Exteriors

Church InteriorHistoric Church Maintenance - Interiors 2

Past generations have left us a wonderful legacy of churches built to the glory of God and to ensure continuity of worship into the future. These distinctive buildings grace our towns, villages and countryside. Their custodians are their congregations who have a responsibility to pass on this significant part of our heritage to future generations.

The principal problem for churches is moisture, the root cause of rot and decay. Routine care and maintenance can prevent the onset of decay which if ignored can cost huge sums to rectify. In 2000 the Ulster Historic Churches Trust (UHCT) distributed a Maintenance Schedule for Churches and Good Housekeeping Guide to every church in Ulster. Supplied in a blue box file it provides a straightforward guide to establishing a maintenance regime. Additional files can be obtained from the UHCT at a nominal cost and a list of useful published material on conservation and maintenance.

The interior of the church contains a variety of artefacts of wood, paper, stone, metal and glass which contribute to the history of the building and supply interesting archival material linking the church to its community. All these materials require different care and maintenance to ensure they can be enjoyed by future generations.

In Ireland we have a wonderful inheritance of stained glass which enlivens interiors and delights congregations. Glass is a vulnerable material and it is important that a detailed photographic record is made of each window and kept with other parish records. The inner surfaces of stained glass are usually painted. These surfaces are highly vulnerable to damage and should not be touched; stained glass cleaning must be left to specialists. There is a natural cycle of decay for both lead and putty of approximately 100-150 years depending on its location. Specialist advice is essential as 'buckling' may not necessarily indicate the need for repair. The outer surface has, in many cases, 'storm glazing' added in the belief that it will protect against vandalism. However it can have harmful technical, visual and architectural consequences and, if not properly ventilated, can become a haven for plant growth. Stained glass fitted with double glazing, even if ventilated, becomes hot in sunlight. This causes the glass and lead to expand and retract and can damage the window. The best protection against vandalism are wire-mesh guards, either stainless steel or anodised aluminium, set back close to the glazing line and not carried across stone tracery or details. They should be attached using non-ferrous fixings.

The organ is one of the most important and expensive items in the church. It is vulnerable to fire, changes in temperature and humidity and the dust and dirt generated by building work. During work the instrument should be adequately protected and electrical circuits should be checked regularly. If organs are located in lofts checks for leaks should be made regularly as water penetration can damage woodwork and render the instrument unplayable. Pipe organs have working machinery which needs to be serviced at least once a year.

Church memorials are a useful source of historical information as well as adding considerable architectural interest to the interior of the church. They should not be given proprietary treatments except under professional supervision and must be protected when work is undertaken inside the church.

Some DOs and DON'Ts for the care of church interiors Church Interior



All over the country there are professionals and craftsmen who have devoted their working lives to getting things right. Seek them out, pay them for their advice and skills, it will repay you many times over. John Ruskin made an interesting point when he said: 'The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten'.

This article is part of a series of five, written on behalf of the Ulster Historic Churches Trust, offering general advice on maintenance of historic churches. For specific advice on your church consult a conservation architect or your diocesan architect.