“…and a nave with en suite facilities”

Proposals on the installation of toilets in churches

The report in the Daily Telegraph Vicar sparks row with parishioners over ‘undignified’ church toilet plan has again raised the issue of the installation of toilet and kitche facilities in historic churches. Whilst the story produced popular copy for the paper, the circumstances and parishioners’ objections are far from new. In one of our earlier posts we reported on Re All Saints Thornage [2013] Norwich Const Ct, Ruth Arlow Ch, which concerned the conversion of the existing vestry into a “toilet and tea-point” (separate units!), together with the provision of vestry facilities within the base of the tower. Whilst such conversions are not uncommon, the Chancellor commented that these were “relatively basic facilities of the type now expected by modern congregations” [15]. 

Indeed, and in this case the rationale was to encourage wide use of the church building throughout the week, the church being the only community space within the village and used by its small congregation just once every fortnight. Two objections, typical of such cases were raised: a practical one concerning the potential interference of the necessary drainage with graves in the churchyard; and another on the appropriateness of the conversion, since the 1920 vestry was constructed in memory of those lost in World War I.

St. Mary the Virgin Wotton-under-Edge with Ozleworth

The Ecclesiastical Law Association summarizes Re St Mary the Virgin Wotton-under-Edge with Ozleworth [2017] ECC Glo 3 as follows:

“The proposed reordering works included removal of some pews; alterations to the low wall between nave and chancel; creation of storage units in the Berkeley Chapel; raised platform in front of the choir and new nave altar; display cabinets near font; servery; toilets; glazing of tower arch and a new screen wall in front of the tower. The object was to provide a more welcoming and useful space, especially for large gatherings. There were several objectors to the proposals, but no parties opponent. The Deputy Chancellor granted a faculty for all the works.”

Astute readers will observe that apart from the single use of the word “toilet”, it does not feature in the ELA summary of the major issues of the case. However,  in the full judgment, Section G considers “The Introduction of two toilets in the tower lobby with associated drainage works, a raised floor, and a ramp and step”, paragraphs 133 to 158. The Telegraph seized upon the three paragraphs within this section that addressed the comments of those who opposed the installation.

The comments of the objectors were notable in downplaying the (legal) requirements on accessibility and limited baby changing facilities, and their suggestion that “lavatories in a church is a current fad” [143]. Whilst accepting that “the modern generation’s need … to have immediate access to toilet facilities”, other complainants submitted a list of objections [144], the strangest of which was “toilets attract children”. This complaint, and that on the unnecessary nature of a toilet appear to be straight quotations from Gary Alderson’s Writes of the Church, attributed to the fiction character “the esteemed Major J Dumpling, of Tremlett”, who also expanded on the alternative currently available in most churches with a churchyard. 

Of more importance, perhaps, is the technical complexity of such a project and the adoption of a professional approach to its execution. This is evident from the shortcomings of the petitioners in the material provided to the court and the clarifications sought: the questions sent to the petitioners in order to supplement the initial, limited information; their inadequate response to these questions; and the conditions attached to the faculty to overcome these deficiencies.

On the first point, the Deputy Chancellor sought more detailed information on the technical/engineering aspects of the scheme, v infra, and was therefore surprised on receipt of the response:

“Whilst the water supply to the proposed works was fully considered in the outline designs prepared for the Faculty petition, this has not been documented in detail. To provide evidence in support of our answers to the Deputy Chancellor’s questions, we have had to engage our architect to prepare additional detail drawings and supporting text…” [137].

Subsequently, the petitioners provided inter alia “a limited bundle of documents…with a freehand drawing for the new route of the foul water drain (which has been reconsidered and is different to the route shown on the earlier plans)” [138], and “a very rough sketch of the route for fresh water to be piped [to the church]” [139].

In view of the shortcomings in the material before the court, approval of this part of the scheme was made conditional on the provision of more precise information[158]. This included: a formal plan to replace the sketched plan for foul water drainage and input of fresh water (b); a fully detailed specification for the fresh water supply and for the provision for sound proofing of the piping (c); further discussion with the sewerage undertaker, and the securing of any necessary permissions prior to commencement of the works (e); and retention of an archaeologist to carry out a watching brief during the excavation for the sewer (f).


It is not unknown for petitioners (and even their professional advisers) to under estimate the detailed information necessary for a consistory court to reach its decision on the petition. However, with regard to the installation of kitchen and toilet facilities, there is a substantial quantity of good advice which is readily available: Waste Water from Churches, Gloucester DAC;  Toilets and Kitchens, (with useful photographs and links to recent examples)  Diocese of Chester; Guidance: Installing toilets and kitchens,  Diocese of Exeter; and Loos and Pews, and Toilets from the National Churches Trust

In addition, the information sought from the petitioners in Re St Mary the Virgin Wotton-under-Edge with Ozleworth serves as a very good check list for those embarking on such a project, viz.

(1) information about the route by which water was to be brought into the church; (2) calculations about water pressure and the location of any cistern; (3) a clear plan of the route for the water pipes; (4) queries about water metering; (5) the precise route for foul water drainage; (6) details about the point of exit of the foul water drainage from the church, confirmation that there would be no internal excavation under the tower, and the effect on the structure; (7) whether permission had been obtained to link to the main sewer; (8) confirmation that planning permission in relation to the drain was not required; (9) the result of consultation with the Town Council, who are responsible for the maintenance of the churchyard, [136].

Insurance is also an important factor, and the Deputy Chancellor directed that prior to the commencement of any works, confirmation of full insurance cover for the works, including any risk of subsidence caused by creating the hole for the foul water drain or for introducing fresh water conduit pipes through masonry, was to be provided to the DAC.

Contrary to the assertions of the objectors, the Deputy Chancellor was satisfied on the inadequacy of the present situation for the modern and proposed usage of the church:

“[156]. … Access during bad weather, outside daylight hours, by those with limited mobility or by children, accompanied or otherwise, is clearly unsatisfactory, if the church is to pursue its aims. I am satisfied that the particular area of the church affected does not have such architectural or historical significance as to be adversely affected by this change”.

The objectors appeared to have little appreciation of the needs of fellow members of their congregation, and also did not consider how the introduction of the proposed changes would make the church more welcoming to others. The National Churches Trust comments:

“Having at least one toilet in your church increases your potential for welcoming visitors and your wider community into the building. It is also a useful facility for worshippers!

It is estimated that nearly a third of the UK’s church buildings do not have toilet facilities (NCT Survey, 2010), and that listed buildings are generally the least well equipped. In a recent survey (ComRes, December 2015) 34% of those asked said that toilets would encourage them to visit a church, chapel or meeting house”.

Toilets in religious buildings are not a new feature: the 1858 window on the life of St Frideswide in Oxford Cathedral by Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones, included a depiction of a “modern day flushing toilet”, and John Wesley’s Chapel of 1899 on the fringes of the City contains an example of the work of Thomas Crapper, the acknowledged pioneer in this area. As Chancellor Arlow pointed out, these are “relatively basic facilities of the type now expected by modern congregations”, not forgetting choristers who rehearse for a couple of hours before a major service, or priests rushing between the services  of their many congregations.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "“…and a nave with en suite facilities”" in Law & Religion UK, 16 February 2018, http://www.lawandreligionuk.com/2018/02/16/and-a-nave-with-en-suite-facilities/

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