Urgent appeal launched to save Lancaster landmark

Marketing Officer Jessica Robertson, Conservation Projects Manager Dawn Whitton, volunteer Terry Parsons and Community Fundraiser Mahalia France-Mir
Marketing Officer Jessica Robertson, Conservation Projects Manager Dawn Whitton, volunteer Terry Parsons and Community Fundraiser Mahalia France-Mir

An urgent appeal has been launched to save one of Lancaster’s most significant historic landmarks.

The Grade II Listed St John The Evangelist Church is under threat from a serious case of dry rot, which is spreading through the building causing plaster to fall from the ceiling and window frames to break up because they can no longer support the weight of the stained glass.

The missing keystone at St John's Church

The missing keystone at St John's Church

Historic England has now raised St John’s to category A on the Heritage at Risk register, making it Lancaster’s most significant heritage asset under threat.

The Churches Conservation Trust (CCT), which owns the building in North Road, says it needs to urgently raise £28,000 to prevent further damage and buy the building more time.

To fully eradicate the dry rot and repair the roofs, tower and glazing could cost over £450,000, but emergency work is desperately needed to hold back the spread of fungal attack. In 2015, Storm Desmond left the building, built in 1754, flooded under two feet of muddy brown water.

The air inside the church is now extremely damp and musty, and mould can be seen growing on the Gillows furniture and pannelling.

Dry rot inside St John's Church

Dry rot inside St John's Church

One stained glass window has already been removed because its frame buckled during a storm.

Dawn Whitton, Conservation Projects Manager at The Churches Conservation Trust, said: “The church was painstakingly cleaned and dried out following the floods, but further outbreaks of dry rot caused by rainwater ingress are now causing serious and rapid deterioration.

“As well as a leaking roof and open joints in masonry, the building’s gutters become clogged with leaves from the surrounding trees almost as quickly as they can be cleared.

“If we don’t act quickly, the beautiful interior with its priceless Gillows furniture could be lost forever.”

The dry rot in the vestry of St John's Church

The dry rot in the vestry of St John's Church

Without intervention, the building’s future is in serious doubt, she added.

The church has also been the victim of vandalism, with some of the stained glass windows being smashed, while a “keystone” fell out in 2014 at the rear of the building, further jeopardising its integrity.

Dry rot is wood decay caused by certain species of fungi that digest the parts of the wood which give it strength and stiffness.

It begins as a microscopic spore which can resemble a fine orange dust, and if the spores are subjected to enough moisture they will begin to grow fine white strands known as hyphae. This will eventually form a large mass known as mycelium, and the final stage is a fruiting body which pumps new spores out into the surrounding air.

There is a particularly bad spread of dry rot in the church’s vestry.

The CCT said it had longer term plans for the building, which could see it being used as a music venue, while the grounds, which are owned by Lancaster City Council, could be used for events, and a place for people to sit out in the summer. There are also plans for “hard hat events” to show people around the building, and gain further support, and the CCT is appealing for more volunteers to get involved.

The CCT has now launched an appeal to find the money, but work to tackle some of the worst of the dry rot is due to start soon.

To support the appeal, text ROTS28 £3 to 70070, or visit the CCT website: https://www.visitchurches.org.uk/get-involved/give/support-a-campaign/lancaster-stop-the-rot.html. If you would like to help out with fundraising initiatives, email mfrance-mir@thecct.org.uk.