Guidance to churches on flooding

On Sunday 27 December, the Diocese of York published links to guidance for those whose church is at risk of flooding, or has been flooded; the Church of England has prayers for people affected by flooding, here, which recipients of the guidance were encouraged to use.


The 2-page Checklist for church properties to prepare for flooding prepared by Ecclesiastical Insurance focusses on simple actions that can be taken to reduce the damage a flood may cause, but also includes practical advice on drying out and cleaning up property and undertaking any repairs or replacements after flood damage. It highlights: the importance of making a photographic record of areas or items affected by flood water; retention of damaged items until advised by the insurers; ensuring that any emergency works comply with Listed Building legislation, if appropriate; health and safety issues associated with contaminated flood water.

Historic England (HE) produced Flooding and Historic Buildings in April 2015, and this is a more comprehensive document. Whilst the Ecclesiastical check list addresses all church properties, the HE guidance relates to all historical buildings; it notes “Older buildings (generally those built before 1919) are constructed quite differently [from] modern buildings in that they are able to absorb and release moisture, rather than exclude it, and as result need a different approach for flood remedial work.” The HE document warns:

“In some cases, the building and insurance industries’ standard procedures for making buildings habitable again after a flood can be damaging to the special architectural or historic interest of listed buildings. Some loss adjusters, recovery contractors and builders operating in this field have very limited knowledge and experience of dealing with historic buildings or the protection given to such buildings by legislation.”

However, the Ecclesiastical check list is specific to churches, and states:

“We have a range of specialists who can provide advice on drying out and cleaning up your property and undertaking any repairs or replacements.”

Examples in the HE document include a number of images of flooded churches:

07: Tewkesbury Abbey surrounded by floodwater (#7) where “there was a good understanding in the past where to build to avoid flooding”;

08: St Margaret’s Church Kings Lynn, which has a long history of flood events;

26: Furnishings from a flooded church which have been carefully stacked and labelled and protected prior to refitting;

30. Church floor being dried under polythene following removal of pews;

39. St Michaels and All Angels Church at Tirley, Gloucestershire,

and a case study of Burford Church, Oxfordshire: the Grade I listed church was flooded to a depth of about 450mm in the summer of 2007, when the adjacent River Windrush broke its banks after torrential rainfall.


Whilst the issue of flooded churches is outside the normal remit of L&RUK until remediation falls within the faculty jurisdiction, the above links may be of use to those who have suffered flood damage as a result of recent weather conditions, and others in high-risk areas who wish to introduce preventative measures.


On 29 January, Archbishop Sentamu issues a statement on the floods indicating that as Cumbria faces the continued misery of repeated flooding, the City of York and its environs are experiencing water surges on a scale not seen since 2000. As a consequence of raising the Foss Barrier large parts of the city were inundated. St Mary’s Church by the riverside in Tadcaster has been badly affected, along with many local homes and businesses.

Although the undercroft at Bishopthorpe Palace was flooded again, the Archbishop noted “we are fortunate … that back in the 13th century they built with flooding in mind, such that when the water subsides it soon washes through the original flood drains made for the purpose”. More importantly, he noted:

“[w]ith climate change, things may not be on the scale here as elsewhere, such as in the South Pacific … whole island populations are preparing to leave their homes for good. However, these experiences certainly drive home for everyone the need for urgent action, both locally and globally.”

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Guidance to churches on flooding" in Law & Religion UK, 31 December 2015,

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