News & Insights // A couple, forced to sell their family farmhouse after an ancient law left them liable for repairs to their local church


A couple, forced to sell their family farmhouse after an ancient law left them liable for repairs at their local church, are facing financial ruin.

Andrew and Gail Wallbank were burdened with a £230,000 repair bill after their local church invoked a law dating back to the reign of Henry VIII. Whoever owns the Glebe Farm in picturesque Aston Cantlow, near Stratford-upon-Avon, is still legally responsible for the upkeep of St John the Baptist church.

“We had been told about some ancient law regarding chancel repair liability, but were assured it was a dead law which wouldn’t affect us,” said Mrs Wallbank.

“Then one day we received a letter from the church warden informing us we were liable for repairs. We were shocked to say the least.”

The 800-year-old agreement listed Glebe Farm’s proprietors as “lay rectors”, after the church sacrificed 2.75acres of land to the farm in exchange for “repair liability” in the future.

The couple inherited the farm from Mrs Wallbank’s father in 1990 and were presented with the bill soon after. They contested the case for 18 years but finally lost in the Court of Appeal last December. The property will now head to auction as the only option left to recoup the church’s bill and the £250,000 the couple have spent on legal fees.

“We are in a Catch 22 situation. We can’t afford to drop the price of the house because we need that money to get out of the repair liability. Without that money we will be very lucky to get a buyer,” said Mr Wallbank.

The house will be auctioned on October 20th this year.