Conservationists are launching a new bid to safeguard medieval paintings at hundreds of East Anglian churches. They fear rood screens painted in the 14th - 16th Century are under threat from damp and woodworm.

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Pilot scheme at 10 churches

Work will begin shortly on rood screens at St Helen’s, Ranworth; All Saints, Thornham; St Mary’s, North Tuddenham; St Michael’s, Barton Turf; St Mary’s, Tunstead; St Agnes, Cawston; St Nicholas, North Walsham; St Mary’s, Elsing; St Mary the Virgin, Belstead; St Mary’s, Yaxley.

The Bishops of Norwich and St Edmundsbury will be present for the launch at an international conference on protecting religious buildings, being held at Westminster Abbey today.

Challenges of the Conservation of Artworks in Churches is being organised by the Church of England’s Church Buildings Council, which is chaired by the Anne Sloman OBE, formerly the BBC’s chief political adviser, who lives in North Norfolk.

Vital artworks include the estimated 400 rood screens found in churches across Norfolk and Suffolk, which represent the largest collection of 14th - 16th Century paintings on wood in the United Kingdom.

Particularly fine examples exist at Ranworth, in the Broads, and Thornham, in North Norfolk.

Mrs Sloman said: “Our aim is to create a conservation plan for these precious screens, looking at why they are deteriorating and what can be done to prevent further deterioration, and to show funders, parishes, heritage professionals and the wider public what can be done, and how to find practical ways of raising funds for the future care of the panels.

“We also hope to draw out some practical guidelines and principles for conservation which will help the hundreds of other parishes with similar artworks in their care. “We will also be working with Cambridge University and the Hamilton Kerr Institute to develop a more ambitious plan for the care of the whole collection in the future.

“We hope that opportunities will develop for conservation students and all the information collected will be archived in the Church Buildings Council’s library at Westminster to provide a valuable point of reference for other churches and academic bodies.”

Dr Pedro Gaspar, the Church Buildings Council’s senior conservation officer, has drawn up an outline conservation plan for the screens.

Some £40,000 of funding has been awarded from the Headley Trust to undertake a pilot project on a representative sample of screens in Norfolk and Suffolk.

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