Advice & Guidance

Towers and Steeples

BellcoteExternal faces: The external faces of towers, spires, steeples and bellcotes are rarely accessible to those without specialist skills and equipment but still need to be inspected and maintained.

You can use your binoculars to examine these areas from ground level. You may also be able to gain a useful vantage point from a nearby tall building.

Action point: If you have a tall tower or steeple, talk to your professional advisor about the possibility of having it inspected by a steeplejack once every five years.

A good steeplejack can carry out a thorough inspection and will be able to identify any areas that may need further attention. Ensure that the steeplejack uses a digital camera to record the condition of the steeple and any problem areas. Copies of their report should be kept with your logbook. You should also discuss their findings with your architect or surveyor.

Lightning conductorLightning protection systems: The provision of a lightning protection system will not prevent the occurrence of a lightning strike. The purpose of the installation is to direct the current discharged from the strike to earth safely, protecting the structure and its occupants from the effects of the strike. Fires arising from lightning strikes can be minimised by ensuring that the lightning protection system is always in working order.

The continuity of the conductors can be broken during building repairs or ground excavations. As the conductors are often made of copper they are also currently vulnerable to theft. If lightning conductors are disturbed or stolen, they should be repaired immediately.


It is worth remembering that places of worship with a faulty lightning protection system are at more risk than those without lightning conductors.

Action point: Ideally you should carry out a visual check of your lightning protection system regularly to check that it has not been removed or tampered with. You should also consider having your lightning conductor system independently tested at least once each year. You can find out more about the need to properly test your lightning protection system in our quick guide.

Flagpole: Check that the flagpole is secure and that the fixings are in good condition and free from rust. If the flagpole penetrates the roof covering, check that there is a flashing in place to help protect the junction from the weather. 

Tower stairInternal spaces: Access to towers or spires can sometimes be difficult but it is important to be able to inspect each level to spot potential problems. Your architect or surveyor may be able to provide guidance on making access safer and easier but remember that you may need to obtain permission for any alteration works.

Where the tower or spire contains a working set of bells particular dangers are present, so you may need to think carefully about how and when access is obtained.

Towers with telecommunications installations may also be subject to certain restrictions regarding access.

Action point: If possible, check the condition of any ladders in the tower and make sure that handrails and lighting are in working order. You may also need to clear away any debris and droppings left by birds. Small amounts of bird droppings can be removed by hand providing you consider the risks and take appropriate precautions. This might include wearing rubber gloves, a face mask and safety goggles. If deposits are substantial, you may need to call in a specialist cleaning team.

Pigeon Pigeon droppings

Action point: Make sure that windows and louvres, are bird-proof before the nesting season begins in March but take care that you do not disturb any bats. Wire mesh is generally stronger than netting and will last longer. Remember that ventilation is also important so don't block up openings completely. Your architect or surveyor will be able to advise on how best to bird-proof your place of worship.

Bells and clocks:  These important fixtures also need to be maintained.  Visit our bells and clocks page for guidance on their care.

© SPAB 2010