Conservation of Lichens on a Historic Chest Tomb
St Andrew’s Church, Hampton, Evesham, Worcestershire
The British Lichen Society, www.britishlichensociety.org.uk
The Trustees of a medieval chest tomb were concerned about the state of the tomb and wished to do conservation work in order to look after it appropriately. This was to include cleaning the tomb which is covered in lichens and mosses. The tomb is a monument to a local farmer named John Martin.
In May 2013, the secretary of the PCC sought advice from the British Lichen Society’s diocesan representative for Worcester diocese, Eluned Smith.
A lichen survey was arranged and carried out on behalf of the British Lichen Society by Ivan Pedley and a report was prepared for the PCC and communicated to the Trustees. The survey and also lichen species list are attached.
The report concluded that, considering its age, the 300-year-old tomb was in good condition. An outstanding total of thirty-three species of lichen was found on the top limestone slab alone, a testament to the long years of undisturbed growth. Some of these lichens are rare in the county context, making this tomb an important habitat for lichens. Removing them would be damaging not only to the lichens but to the stonework as well and would be wholly inappropriate.
Works which could be carried out without damaging the lichens were:
- Spalling due to frost has produced cracks in the sandstone faces which could be stabilized with suitably tinted lime mortar.
- One side is blackened from historical coal soot which could be cleaned with water however, doing that could increase subsequent erosion and perhaps it should be left as a historical record of past life.
- Regilding of the inscriptions.
The PCC and Trustees accepted the recommendation that while certain conservation work could be carried out on the sandstone slabs forming the walls of the tomb, the limestone base and top should be left untouched (this is where most of the lichens are found).
Conservation work, which included pointing and regilding of the inscription, was carried out in Sept 2013 to the satisfaction of all concerned.
Members of the British Lichen Society are happy to give advice to PCCs on the conservation of lichens in churchyards and in most instances surveys will be carried out on a voluntary basis although travelling expenses are required. Advice can be sought by contacting the BLS diocesan representative for the diocese. The names of these representatives can be found on the British Lichen Society website www.britishlichensociety.org.uk and following the links Activities – Churchyard Surveys – Diocesan contacts.
The importance of churchyards for the conservation of lichens cannot be overestimated. The diversity of rock substrata and micro habitats available in God’s Acre provide a unique environment for lichens. The importance of churchyards increases in lowland England where natural rock outcrops are rare.Of the 2000 or so British species, over a third have been found in churchyards and more than 600 have been found growing on churchyard stone in lowland England. Many of these lichens are scarce and some seldom, if ever, occur in other habitats. Many churchyards are found to have well over 100 species. Cleaning tombstones or monuments (particularly using hard brushes and/or chemicals), relocation of tombstones, laying flat tombstones deemed to be unsafe, all cause damage to the lichen flora – not just the individual lichen itself but the whole lichen community can be impoverished. Other issues damaging to lichens are excessive shading from trees/shrubs (particularly on the south wall of the church), and leaving grass cuttings on kerbs, low chests and ledgers as lichens need light to flourish.
Conclusions and Next Steps
if work is to be carried out which might impact on the lichen flora of church buildings, memorials, or boundary walls, the advice of a member of the British Lichen Society should be sought. If this is done early in the ‘planning’ process it is usually possible to reach a satisfactory conclusion for all concerned.
As Ivan Pedley says in his report on this tomb, ‘It is easy to destroy three centuries of ecological continuity, impossible to recreate it again, and I am certain that John Martin, a farmer close to the natural beauty of the Worcestershire countryside, would be in agreement if he could speak today.’
For the full Lichen Report view the attached: Lichen Report–The John Martin Chest by Ivan Pedley
For the full species list see the attached: Lichen list for churchyard and tomb
Caring for God’s Acre Action Pack sheet:
Section B Sheet 7 Learn About Lichens