Redecoration of Places of Worship

In any proposals for redecoration, you need to take account of any evidence of historic decoration. This can be done by investigating the fabric and through documentary research.

Work in medieval churches can reveal important wall paintings, covered over for centuries. If you're unsure, we recommend that you get an assessment of their potential existence before removing any surfaces.

Before carrying out redecoration works inside a listed building, you should check whether you need to get permission. You may need listed building consent or consent from your denominational advisory body.

Image of the surface peeling off an archway in a church.
Note that some modern paints contain plastics which form a skin on the wall surface, trapping damp and leading to blistering of surfaces. Traditional coverings such as limewash permit greater evaporation and can be safely used on masonry or plaster. © Historic England
Image of the surface peeling off an archway in a church.
Note that some modern paints contain plastics which form a skin on the wall surface, trapping damp and leading to blistering of surfaces. Traditional coverings such as limewash permit greater evaporation and can be safely used on masonry or plaster. © Historic England

Changing decorative schemes

Renewing historic decorative schemes or restoring lost schemes can have a beneficial effect on the interior of a place of worship. It is, however, possible for incorrectly specified redecoration to seriously damage the building and historic features.

We strongly recommend that you seek the advice of an architect or surveyor with experience of historic interiors before carrying out redecoration. This will help to ensure that appropriate materials are used and applied in the most effective way.

See our Interiors of Places of Worship page for more information on basic principles of making changes.

Materials

Few pre-20th century historic places of worship have a damp-proof course, so let any moisture in the walls evaporate naturally.

Many modern paints contain plastics which form a skin on the wall surface, trapping damp inside the wall and leading to blistering plaster and paint. We do not recommend that you use these over masonry, old plaster or any painted schemes of decoration. Such paints are also hard to remove. Traditional coverings such as limewash permit greater evaporation and can be safely used on masonry or plaster.

We would discourage the removal of plaster or historic limewash from walls or ceilings for purely aesthetic reasons. If plaster has been removed in the past, however, you may wish to replaster or limewash. This can lighten the interior, reduce heating bills and improve the setting of wall monuments.

New works of art

You may wish to commission a new work of art for your place of worship.

Your Statement of Significance can help you to assess the impact of any new work both visually and physically. You will need to take into account the design of the work, its relationship with significant elements of the interior or exterior and how it will be fixed. We also recommend that you consider the significance of any fabric or fixed objects which will need to be removed.

You'll need to get permission for any permanent, fixed additions to the building from the appropriate denominational body or local authority. You are also likely to require denominational consent for temporary artworks or exhibitions, even those that do not involve permanent alterations (for instance, the installation of display systems or lighting).

Was this page helpful?

Next steps