Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Couple forced to sell home to meet nearby church's repair bills

A couple who sold their historic farmhouse to meet the costs of an 18-year battle against an ancient law making them liable for repairs to a nearby church labelled the Church of England's handling of the situation "disgraceful".

Andrew and Gail Wallbank expressed relief after Glebe Farm in Aston Cantlow, Warwickshire, fetched £850,000 at last night's auction, but will now have to foot bills totalling up to £600,000 stemming from their unsuccessful fight against the archaic covenant.

The Wallbanks have been told they must pay around £230,000 to repair the crumbling chancel of Aston Cantlow's 13th century church and also face a legal bill of around £250,000.

Speaking after they had seen the Grade II-listed Glebe Farmhouse go under the hammer at an eight-minute sale in Henley-in-Arden, the couple accused the Church of England of acting disgracefully during its efforts to force them to pay for the repairs.

Mr Wallbank said he had no regrets about battling against the obscure law, which rendered him legally responsible for repairs to the church when he inherited Glebe Farm in the 1980s.

The 69-year-old, from Carno, Powys, said: "I felt what they were doing was so wrong that we had to take a stand against it.

"It was quite disgraceful the way the whole thing was handled - why they couldn't have agreed to let us buy ourselves out (of the covenant) before I just don't know."

His wife, aged 62, also criticised the church authorities for attempting to make them pay for the repairs and then defending their actions in the courts.

"It's completely against Christian principles," she said. "As the auction was going on, I was thinking 'you are giving the church our house'."

The covenant, thought to date back at least to the reign of Henry VIII, was challenged by the Wallbanks on the grounds that it breached their human rights.

Aston Cantlow's Church of St John the Baptist stands on an ancient Saxon site and is thought to be where William Shakespeare's parents were married.

The earliest part of the present structure is the chancel, which dates back to the late 13th century and has been in need of repair since at least 1990.

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