A NEW Forest church targeted by thieves has launched a £40,000 fundraising campaign in a bid to save the building, including its magnificent mural.

Water started pouring into the 107-year-old All Saints Church in Thorney Hill, near Bransgore, after several tonnes of lead were stolen from the roof.

A wooden carving was also ripped from the bell tower of the church, which was built in 1906.

Temporary repairs have been carried out, but the Grade I listed building needs to be made weatherproof as soon as possible.

Parishioners fear the church could close unless the cash can be raised.

Some of the lead was directly above a floor-to-ceiling mural painted in 1922 by Phoebe Traquair, the first woman artist to be elected to the Royal Scottish Academy.

Traquair was noted for her role in the Arts and Crafts movement and the distinctive mural is thought to be one of only two in England.

The work, created as a tribute to Lady Constance Manners from the local landowning family, includes figures such as William Blake and Alfred Lord Tennyson, as well as local scenes depicting Avon Tyrell and Hengistbury Head.

Church warden David Crabb said the theft was followed by torrential rain and a hailstorm.

“We came in to find water dripping down a pillar and great pools of water on the floor,” he said.

Church legacy officer Bob Gee said the rainwater had come close to the mural. “To lose it would have been a complete disaster,” he said, “so we desperately need the money to pay for the repairs to the roof and ceiling.

“We can’t contemplate anything more happening to the church and desperately need the money to pay for repairs.”

He said the church would probably need around £40,000 for the repairs plus money to pay for an improved security system, and they are appealing to the community for help.

All Saints was built in 1906 in memory of Lord and Lady Manners’ daughter Mary, 17, who had died of cholera two years earlier.

Anyone wishing to support the fundraising campaign can go to bransgore.org.

Four people, including a 33-year-old Southampton man and a 13-year-old boy from Christchurch, have been arrested in connection with the theft and bailed until April 12.