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Thieves Steal Entire Roof of Historic Medieval Church

Nancy Bilyeau
Photo by Gary Mudd
Photo by Gary Mudd

They posed as workmen and acted with stealth –a group of thieves removed the entire lead roof of a beloved 14th-century church in Houghton Regis, Bedfordshire, in England.

The soaring roof of the Grade I-listed All Saints Church is not visible from the ground. The theft was discovered on October 2, 2018, when a cleaning person saw daylight through the ceiling. Debris was then spotted on the floor too.

About 20 tonnes of lead was taken. It is feared that the cost of replacing the lead could be as high as £100,000.

The church said the insurance would not cover all the repair costs, according to the BBC.

Photo by Gary Mudd
Photo by Gary Mudd

Treasurer Joyce Bullock said: “I don’t know how we are going to pay for it,” adding: “I just pray every day that nothing else happens.”

Inspector Nick Masters described the theft as “audacious” and he asked any residents with CCTV to check their footage, the Daily Mirror reported.

“We suspect the people responsible may have been going backward and forwards to the church for a prolonged period of time,” Masters said. “Due to the sheer quantity of lead taken, it’s unlikely that it happened over a few days. It’s likely that the people responsible were driving trucks or vans so they could transport scaffolding or ladders in order to access the roof of the church, and may have posed as tradesmen.

Photo by Gary Mudd
Photo by Gary Mudd

Churchwarden Margaret Tyler told the media the theft was “heartbreaking” but a wedding and harvest festival service were still going to take place.

Gary Mudd, who lives in the village, said, “I feel stunned–the morals of the thieves are appalling.”

Photo by Gary Mudd
Photo by Gary Mudd

The site of the church is of great historical interest. According to its website, the church is one of the very few in Bedfordshire to be mentioned in the Doomsday Book (AD 1086), which records that it was held by William the Chamberlain, who also held Luton Church.

In 1121 Henry I gave the village of Houghton Regis and surrounding land to Robert Earl of Gloucester, his illegitimate son. William, the son of Earl Robert, granted the early (Saxon) version of the church to St. Albans Abbey in 1153.

“The main body of the current All Saints’ was built in 14th century in the Rectilinear Gothic style, whilst the tower, the roof and the ceiling of the nave were remodeled in the 15th century,” the website says.

All Saint’s Church in the village of Houghton Conquest Photo by Gary Mudd
All Saint’s Church in the village of Houghton Conquest Photo by Gary Mudd

All Saints’ tower is a “fine example of Rectilinear style accessed via a staircase in the southwest turret, and crowned by castellation.” The cross above the tower is a later addition, to which a weathercock was then added in 1750.

The tower also houses six bells, a spacious ringing chamber, and a beautiful Victorian stained glass window by Underhill of Exeter above the west door, flanked by medieval canopied niches.

Robert, Earl of Gloucester played an important part in English history. Obeying the wishes of his father, he supported the claim to the throne of his half-sister, Matilda, who was the only legitimate child of Henry I at his death.

A cousin, Stephen, tried to claim the throne and take it away from her, saying a woman could not rule England. A civil war ensued, with some of the nobles supporting Stephen and some Matilda and her half-brother.

A capable military leader, Gloucester, commanding at the head of her forces, won from Stephen most of western England and southern Wales. In February 1141 he captured Stephen at Lincoln and imprisoned him in Bristol.

Gloucester died in 1147.

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One parishioner told the media, “It’s an historical building and it’s wanted and loved by the community, whether they’re religious or not. A small community like this isn’t going to be able to raise the funds in five minutes.”