Lavenham’s St Peter and St Paul Church is facing a hefty £150,000 bill after metal thieves ripped seven tonnes of lead from its roof.
The ‘well-executed theft’ of about 225 square metres of lead is thought to have happened under the cover of darkness on Monday night.
Reverend Stephen Earl, rector of Lavenham, said: “It’s been a very sizeable and devastating theft of lead from the north-aisle of Lavenham Church, which is a very considerable size church.”
He said the thieves broke into an adjoining field through a locked gate to keep their vehicle out of sight and removed lead from the least visible side of the church, damaging its stone parapet in the process.
They made off with a few thousand pounds worth of metal but the cost to the church is likely to be upwards of £150,000.
The crime went undetected until yesterday afternoon when rain started coming down on the church shop, book store and pews.
The roof was covered up within an hour of the heavy downpour but by then ‘an awful lot of damage’ had been done.
A couple due to marry at the church on Saturday held their wedding rehearsal among the chaos yesterday and were said to be ‘dreadfully upset’.
Rev Earl said many people were going to rally around for the clear up operation ‘so the wedding won’t be in any way marred by this unfortunate incident’.
Lavenham was the second historic Suffolk church targeted this week with £5,000 worth of lead stolen from the roof of St Mary’s Church in Combs, near Stowmarket, in the early hours of Monday morning. Repairs there are likely to cost between £100,000 and £150,000.
Mr Earl said: “Everybody needs to be extremely vigilant, churches and anywhere else where there’s lead, because all the signs are this is a professional gang.
“It would have needed several people to have shifted that amount of lead swiftly and surreptitiously, so vigilance is the message.”
“My guess is these people are in the area and there may yet be other thefts,” he added.
Lavenham church dates from around 1500 and is a big draw for tourists, having been built at the height of Lavenham’s period of prosperity as a wool-cloth manufacturing town.
A ‘massive’ roof appeal is expected to be launched in the near future.
Anyone with information about the thefts is asked to call police on 101.