News & Insights // BBC News - Couple must pay £200k church bill


A couple have been ordered to pay more than £200,000 for repairs to a church, which falls within land they inherited after the death of an elderly relative.

A High Court judge said sheep farmers Andrew and Gail Wallbank, of Carno, Powys, must pay £186,969, plus VAT.

It was the climax of a seven year legal fight, with the couple considered "lay rectors" on the Warwickshire farmland.

The £95,000 cost to renovate St John the Baptist, Aston Cantlow, has more than doubled since the case began.

William Shakespeare's parents, John Shakespeare and Mary Arden, are believed to have married in 1557 in the church, part of which dates from the 13th Century.

A series of legal challenges led to the House of Lords in June 2003 over the work, commissioned by the parish council of Aston Cantlow and Wilmcote with Billesley.

Mr and Mrs Wallbank, aged 66 and 59, are liable for the costs under the 1932 Chancel Repairs Act.

The Wallbanks own Glebe Farm, Aston Cantlow near Stratford-upon-Avon, which includes a field called Clanacre.

This is classified as rectoral property and makes the couple "lay rectors" of the parish.

After the latest hearing, Mrs Wallbank said: "The Church of England has made it inevitable that we will have to sell Clanacre Farm. The law is in a mess."

She also accused the church of "not living by its teaching" and of hiding behind an "archaic law".

Mr Wallbank said they were caught in a vicious circle because no one would buy the farm with the church repair liability attached to it.

But to get rid of the liability they would have to pay money up front for repair costs that might arise in the distant future.

At the High Court hearing in London on Monday, to assess the extent of the couple's liability, Mr Justice Lewison reached the final figure on some, but not all items in the repair schedule.

Vicar of St John the Baptist, Father David Addley, said he was pleased the issue had been resolved.

"It's been hanging over us all this time. I'm pleased it's at an end."

He added that the church had a number of structural problems that needed attention.

"The roof above the chancel is quite heavy and the walls are beginning to bulge and this has implications for things like the windows."

© BBC 2007