The religious zeal of the Victorians and the wealth of God-fearing philanthropists left London with a surplus of churches, and it’s not unusual to find these buildings now pressed into service as arts centres, pubs or restaurants. The combination of declining congregations and the massive need for new homes in the Capital has meant that it is even more common to find churches converted into residential dwellings. It’s a valuable revenue stream for the Church of England, which is nevertheless keen to ensure the survival of these buildings even as their use evolves. We explore the advantages and pitfalls of buying such properties.
As lofty spaces with high ceilings, often ornate and unusual original features and large windows, church conversions attract a lot of interest from buyers. Sensitive conversions will make the most of these aspects, whether the church has been converted into a single residence or flats.
But after the wow factor inspired by spectacular architecture and spacious living areas has subsided, you could find unforeseen problems, such as windows that don’t open or areas that are hard to heat, so be sure to look closely at the practicalities of the space before you sign on the dotted line.
Rules and regulations
There can also be some extra restrictive clauses in church title deeds – for instance, relatives may have rights of access to burial sites or external work may be prohibited or heavily restricted – so make sure your solicitor goes through everything with a fine toothcomb.
Make them an offer
If you are interested in buying a disused church and converting it yourself, check the Church of England website where closed churches are listed. Converting a religious site can be a lengthy legal process and involves planning permission, listed building consent and approval from the Church authorities for deconsecration. Any Grade I listed structure needs additional approval from English Heritage before any alterations can take place.
Call in the experts
Unconverted churches may have structural issues, poor plumbing or wiring; especially if they have been left unused for a considerable period of time. It is therefore wise to find a surveyor that has experience dealing with period and historic buildings before embarking on your conversion project.