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Lead stolen from South Yorkshire's oldest church

Lead stolen from South Yorkshire's oldest church

Thousands of pounds worth of lead has been stolen from South Yorkshire's oldest church - St Peter's in Conisbrough.

Five panels of lead measuring 10 x 5 feet were taken from the roof in June 2010.

This is not the first time lead has been stolen from St Peter's, the oldest church in South Yorkshire and one of the ten oldest in England.

A couple of attempts were made in June 2010, causing damage to stonework and stainless steel which was used to repair the roof from the theft of lead in 2009.

St Peter's in Conisbrough is the oldest church in South Yorkshire and one of the ten oldest in England
St Peter's in Conisbrough is the oldest church in South Yorkshire and one of the ten oldest in England

Thieves then returned and stole five large panels of lead over the weekend of 19-20 June 2010.

"I don't know how much the scrap value of the lead itself is worth, but the repairs are going to cost a lot of money," says Reverend Alan Griffiths, vicar of St Peter's. "We really need to replace all the lead on the roof so we don't have recurrences of the same problem. That will cost something like £20,000.

"I'm horrified that we have this ongoing problem. It's not only us - lots of churches across the country have lead stolen. These people have no respect either for a church or for an ancient building. It's sad."

Church warden Peter Henderson says that from the scale of the job the thieves must have known what they were doing:

"The amount of lead taken from the main roof this time is well over a tonne, it's got to be an organised job - they're professional thieves. They're straight up, strip it off, straight down.

"Nobody sees anything, or if they do, they're frightened to contact the police."

St Peter's is the oldest church in South Yorkshire, built in the Saxon period (740-750 AD). The church served as a Minster (mother church) to around 17 other churches from Harthill to Goole. Around 1450, it became much as it is today.

Smart Water

Many churches now use Smart Water to identify their property: "The lead should be traceable if it's handed in at a local scrap yard - but I don't think that's likely," says Reverend Griffiths.

Stained glass window at St Peter's church in Conisbrough, South Yorkshire
Some of the windows at St Peter's in Conisbrough contain reused 13th century glass

Luckily, damage to the interior of the church was prevented because the roof was covered in tarpaulin before rain could get in: "If there had been a downpour, there could have been considerable damage inside the church too," says Reverend Griffiths.

Insurance companies have had to cut back on paying out for lead theft because the problem has become so common.

"We will have to find the money from elsewhere," says Reverend Griffiths. "Some money fortunately will come from reserves, some will come from a legacy that was left a few years ago which we would have liked to have spent in other ways and we will also have to do some fundraising to supplement that."

Vandalism in Conisbrough

The village of Conisbrough is on South Yorkshire's tourist trail - attracting visitors to its fine Norman castle, an English Heritage site.

Other vandalism includes the smashing of stained glass windows and damage to ancient furniture during church open days. Sadly vandalism doesn't stop at the church; the rest of Conisbrough village has also suffered:

"Last week all the railings by the Welfare Field were pulled down after the England World Cup match," says Reverend Griffiths. "We open the public toilets for a few weeks and then they get vandalised so they have to be locked up again."

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