Recent consistory court judgments – June

The judgments in June included cases relating to reordering“church treasures” and other salesexhumation and churchyards and burial. The relatively uncontroversial complete demolition of an unlisted church and its replacement by a new building was considered in Re St. Philip the Evangelist Dorridge, whilst Re St. Michael & All Angels Stockton will be of interest, both technically and legally, to churches having pre-Victorian roof tiles in need of replacement.

The unexpected return of the small corpus from a crucifix following its theft from Coombes Parish Church led to a consideration of its future safe-keeping; in  Gorilla’s head leads to return of church relic we supplemented the consistory court judgment with a summary of the complex police investigation, initiated by the enforcement of environmental regulations. The earlier Re St. Michael & All Angels Stockton also considered what was regarded as a “church treasure” – in fact none of the items considered in this case.

In Re St. Paul Woodhouse Eaves the chancellor determined that in the absence of a bishop during a vacancy in see, he could authorise the installation of an aumbry in the church. In Re All Saints Shawell the petitioners sought the disposal of “children’s pews” of varying sizes, and unusually the chancellor made proposals “not suggested in the paperwork on this petition” for consideration by the petitioners and their architect.

The shortest and possibly least controversial judgment of the month, Re St Michael Cornhill, was perhaps one of the most significant since it granted permissions for the burial of ashes within the church crypt. As in May, an older case was made available in electronic form in view of current interest in the issues under consideration – in this case, access to premises adjoining a churchyard. Re St. Martin le Grand York [1988] York Const. Ct, Coningsby Ch. is also reported at [1990] Fam 63 but before readers rush to download the case from the ELA web site, they should be aware that the judgment is 96 pages long and the file is ~8MB in size

This month we have also posted on Churchyard Regulations – the practicalities of enforcement, the Risks of disregarding the faculty jurisdiction and proposals for An end to quinquennial inspections?

Reordering, extensions & other building works

Installation of aumbry

Re St. Paul Woodhouse Eaves [2016] ECC Lei 1 The issue before the Chancellor was whether, in the absence of a bishop during a vacancy in see, he could authorise the installation of an aumbry in the church. After reviewing the law and current practice, [paragraphs 8 to 22], he determined that this was possible, since: he considered that he was entitled to assume that the reservation of the sacraments is lawful; if the bishop has power to license a practice such as the reservation of the sacraments, then as his Diocesan Chancellor, Official Principal and Vicar-General, he had a like power to do so; and he do not believe that an express licence was necessary, whatever may have been the position in the past: the law today is that the reservation of sacraments is not illegal. Faculty granted. [top]

Reroofing and replacement of tiles

Re St. Michael & All Angels Stockton [2016] ECC Cov 5 An earlier faculty had been granted for the re-roofing of the chancel of the Grade II* church, subject to a condition that such of the existing tiles as were in good condition should be re-used, with the addition of new tiles matching the existing ones in colour, shape, size, and texture. The petitioners now sought an amendment of the faculty to allow for only new tiles to be used. The Diocesan Advisory Committee did not agree to the removal of the condition, saying that a wholesale replacement of the tiles would involve a significant loss of historic fabric in circumstances where this was not necessary. Some test drilling of a number of tiles was undertaken. The Chancellor refused to remove the condition. [top]

Demolition of church

Re St. Philip the Evangelist Dorridge [2016] ECC Bir 1 The petition proposed the demolition of an unlisted Victorian church building and its replacement with a multi-purpose church centre and hall. The scheme had been granted planning permission, and approval for its demolition had been given by the Bishop of Birmingham. Whilst the heritage bodies had expressed misgivings, only the Victorian Society submitted written objections; there were also lay objectors.

The Chancellor determined that the future of the church’s mission and its congregation would best be served by a new building, rather than by adapting and maintaining a building which would involve high maintenance costs in the future, if retained. Faculty granted.[Plans on church’s website] [top]

Removal of pews

Re St Mary Cottingham [2016] ECC Yor 1 The Chancellor granted a faculty for the removal of six rows of pews and new flooring; this constituted Phase 1 of a proposed comprehensive reordering at the west end of the church which would to create some consistency in floor levels and provide more circulation space at the west end of the church. Phase 2 includes the removal of a further eight rows of pews, which will reduce the seating capacity from around 380 to around 210. [top]

Re All Saints Shawell [2016] ECC Lei 3 In this Victorian church with a “slightly surprising” Grade II* classification, the petitioners sought to remove some of the pews and in their place install a disabled-access toilet and a new servery. Whilst the chancellor expressed his agreement, there was a difficulty in relation to eight or nine of the pews which were identified as being “children’s pews”, themselves of diminishing size, with the smallest at the back. Chancellor Blackett-Ord’s view was that the area now occupied by the children’s pews should be cleared of those pews to enable the disabled-access toilet and the servery to be installed, as is proposed, but that some at least of the children’s pews should be preserved. For this he made proposals “not suggested in the paperwork on this petition” for consideration by the petitioners and their architect, and to return to the court with a written statement of why they disagree, or a new drawing embodying the suggestions in order that the petition can be treated as amended to reflect that plan. [top]

Re St Matthew Salford Priors [2016] ECC Cov 4 Proposals were made for reordering, related principally to the south aisle of the church which is wider than the nave. The church has a Grade I listing, and is described as “heavily pewed”. [c.f. the “densely-pewed” church in Re St Margaret Old Catton [2013] Norwich Cons Ct, Ruth Arlow Ch.] The main proposal was to remove the pews from the south aisle and replace them with stackable, chrome-framed, upholstered chairs, in order to provide greater and more flexible use of the south aisle, the church not having a church hall. The Chancellor was satisfied that the benefits to the church of replacing the pews outweighed any harm caused by their, and therefore granted a faculty for the replacement of the pews. A faculty was granted subject to the choice of a different type of chair.  [top]

Church Treasures/Sale of Paintings &c/Loans

Re St James the Great Flockton [2016] ECC Lee 4 The Chancellor granted a faculty: to give retrospective approval to the internal redecoration of the church already carried out; and to permit the disposal of miscellaneous artefacts from the church, including a bier, a “spare” reredos, a number of redundant pews, a “spare” lectern and a side altar. The DAC had recommended that: the PCC investigate if the bier could go to a museum; and secondly, that the reredos, altar and lectern are offered first to other churches in the diocese before being placed on the open market.

The Chancellor notes [6] “this is indeed a straightforward matter which has become needlessly protracted and over-complicated … Getting the petitioners to focus on these two discrete matters has not been easy, notwithstanding the issuing of two sets of directions outlining what they were required to demonstrate”. Consequently, despite the views of the Priest in Charge set out in a 55-paragraph document, the matter was dealt with by written representations, rather than by a hearing, as he considered that none of the items could be described as a “church treasure”.

In order to assist in the presentation and determination of future petitions, Chancellor Hill indicated the matters which petitioners need to address in disposal cases such as these [36], viz.

  1. Does the item constitute a ‘church treasure’ properly so described? If so, the more formal process will apply. If not then,
  2. What is the history of the item?
  3. What is the connection (past and present) of the item with the church?
  4. If the item was a gift, has the donor (or any surviving family members) expressed a view as to its proposed disposal?
  5. If the item was given in memory of an individual, have that person’s surviving family members expressed a view?
  6. What attempts have been made to find an alternative home for item in another church, a local museum or civic building or some other appropriate location?
  7. What is the monetary, aesthetic, artistic or heritage value of the item?

Re St. James the Great Flockton [2016] ECC Lee 4


Re Coombes Parish Church [2016] ECC Chi 5 The Chancellor granted a faculty to permit the loan to the Chichester Cathedral Treasury of a figure of Christ, believed to have been part of a crucifix made in Limoges in the 13th century. The Chancellor had previously granted an interim faculty allowing the Archdeacon to remove the figure to a place of safety, following the theft of the figure and its subsequent recovery by the Police. [Link to post] [top]


Re Coventry Road Cemetery Bedworth [2016] ECC Cov 1 The petitioner wished to have the cremated remains of her father exhumed from the cemetery at Bedworth and have them reinterred with the remains of her mother, already interred in a cemetery in Nuneaton, where three adjoining plots had already been reserved for family interments. The Chancellor determined that this was an appropriate case to allow the removal of remains to a family grave, within the guidelines laid down in Re Blagdon Cemetery [2002] Fam 299. [ top]

Re St Nicholas Kenilworth [2016] ECC Cov 2 The Chancellor determined that exceptional circumstances existed to justify the proposed exhumation of the cremated remains of a young man from the churchyard in Kenilworth for re-interment in the same grave as his late parents (or in the next grave) in a churchyard in Norfolk, the Chancellor noting similarities between the circumstances in this case and those in the case of Re Blagdon Cemetery [2002] Fam 299. [top]

Churchyards and burial

Approval of memorial

Re St Peter Lawford [2016] ECC Cov 3 The petitioner requested permission for a memorial in the form of a small York Stone boulder with a slate plaque on its front face, in memory of her late husband. The memorial was ostensibly outside the churchyard regulations and the Diocesan Advisory Committee did not approve it. After considering the principles to be applied when deciding whether to allow a memorial outside the regulations, the Chancellor decided that this was an appropriate case in which he should grant a faculty. [top]

Burial of ashes in church crypt

Re St Michael Cornhill [2016] ECC Lon 4 Implicit in the petition for “the adding of an inscription to one of the floor tiles in the sanctuary to mark the interment of the late John Gaze Esq”, was approval for the burial of the ashes of the deceased within the church. The chancellor noted that the prospect had been raised with him informally prior to the death of Mr Gaze, and subsequently after his death when he indicated that this would be unlikely unless there were exceptional circumstances. In Changing Churches – A practical guide to the faculty system, (Bloomsbury, London 2016), Charles Mynors states [13.7.6]: “there is no legal bar to a faculty being granted for the disposal of cremated remains beneath the floor of a church. But such proposals are only rarely permitted – generally in the case of a former vicar and not always even then”.

A site visit revealed a memorial on the wall of the nave to Thomas Goldney Choirboy, Parish Clerk and Deputy of the Ward of Cornhill” which was considered to be “a similar precedent to the late Mr Gaze”, for which a corresponding position for a memorial plaque was avaialable. The chancellor determined that since it was still possible to access the crypt, the deceased’s cremated remains could be interred there and a plaque installed. [Re St Michael Cornhill [2016] ECC Lon 4] [top]

Links to the Ecclesiastical Law Association web site

At the end of 2018, the ELA web site was rebuilt using a more up-to-date framework; however, one consequence was that it is no longer practicable for us to include direct links to the site; from September 2018, therefore, the L&RUK site has held copies of all new judgments reviewed; for cases prior to this date, these can be accessed directly from the ELA web site.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Recent consistory court judgments – June" in Law & Religion UK, 4 July 2016,


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