A decision to limewash the clock tower of a 15th century church has been defended by the authorities despite a resident’s claim it amounts to ‘desecration’ of the building.

The tower of St Oswald’s church in Askrigg is suffering from serious damp problems and the Anglican Diocese of Leeds intends to limewash over the exposed stone in work approved by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA).

The authorities, along with Historic England, say this is the most appropriate process to protect the Grade I listed building from the elements and prevent further damp.

However, not everybody is happy with the decision due to the visual impact the bright limewash will have on the building which stands in the centre of a village made famous by the James Herriot BBC TV series All Creatures Great and Small.

Darlington and Stockton Times: A patch of lime wash on the clock tower of St Oswald's Church, Askrigg Picture: Northern EchoA patch of lime wash on the clock tower of St Oswald's Church, Askrigg Picture: Northern Echo (Image: Northern Echo)

The wash will cover the tower’s natural stonework with a bright white layer and villager Peter Brooke said: “Residents of this historic village and visitors have been appalled at what is viewed as an act of desecration that will blight not only the church, but the whole village.

“The ancient village of Askrigg is renowned for its beautiful stone buildings that blend into the Upper Dales landscape, and it has been suggested the proposed works will be like placing a lighthouse in the middle of Upper Wensleydale.”

Mr Brooke also said that the decision to allow the limewashing had been ‘made behind closed doors’ by the YDNPA and residents would like Diocese representatives to meet with them and explore an alternative solution.

A spokesperson for the Anglican Diocese of Leeds responsible for the church said the proposed work has been through the rigorous processes of consultation required for a Grade I listed building.

Darlington and Stockton Times: St Oswald's Church, Askrigg Picture: Andrew WhiteSt Oswald's Church, Askrigg Picture: Andrew White (Image: Andrew White)

This includes a 28-day public notice period, where paper notices are posted up on site, inviting comments from any interested member of the public.

The spokesman added: “Changes which affect the appearance of a Grade I listed church are not permitted easily, so the case for the need to protect the building from water ingress and damage resulting from its exposed position was very carefully weighed before permission was given.

“External rendering is a traditional process appropriate to an historic building, as confirmed by various local and national specialist conservation experts consulted.

“Information regarding the historic development of this specific church was also taken into account, specifically the physical and documentary evidence suggesting that the tower would have been rendered prior to the 19th century.”

Darlington and Stockton Times: The limewash is much brighter than the original stone of the clock tower Picture: Northern EchoThe limewash is much brighter than the original stone of the clock tower Picture: Northern Echo (Image: Northern Echo)

A spokesperson for the YDNPA confirmed that alteration works to the tower were carried out in the 19th century including the removal of its lime render and possibly limewashed finish.

He added: “The lack of this protective coating exposed the stonework to wind driven rain.

“Planning permission to render the tower stone walls with lime mortar and finish with lime wash was granted on July 4, 2019.

“The decision was delegated to the head of development management as the Parish Council did not comment and the application was not called in by a ward member.

“The application was advertised by way of a site notice and neighbours were notified."

Historic England states that rendering is the least intrusive of the only effective remedies to the severe damp penetration.

A spokesman said: “The YDNPA made it clear the applicant could have a lime render the colour of the stonework so it would not stand out and that if they wished to add a limewash, a pigment could be added to tone it down, subject to approval.

“The careful choice of the final limewash colour would ensure the minimum amount of change to the appearance of the tower which would continue to blend into the general village landscape so there would be no harm to the Askrigg Conservation Area.”

Darlington and Stockton Times: The clock tower of St Oswald's Church, Askrigg Picture: Northern EchoThe clock tower of St Oswald's Church, Askrigg Picture: Northern Echo (Image: Northern Echo)

A document about the project on the church website states: “The church has tried to keep the parish informed of what is happening to the tower, including the reasons behind the project. 

“In addition to the statutory notices required as part of the planning permission processes for both the National Park and the Faculty, there have been articles in the local newspapers, parish newsletter and various meetings and briefings; the latest was on July 29 at the church, when villagers were invited to look at the patches and ask questions. Feedback and comments were requested on the patches, via the village Facebook messenger group and by notices. Every annual Parish Meeting has reported on the project and its progress.

“To date, the church has not received any letters objecting to the plan. However, there are a number of voices within the community who remain unhappy with the decision to render and the PCC remains committed to listening to all stakeholder opinions.

“As yet, no contract has been entered into for this work.

“It is intended to hold a meeting in the near future for residents to hear again the reason for the project and a chance to ask questions from the experts involved.”