CHURCH leaders have condemned vandals who struck at St James the Less in Iron Acton and tried to start a series of fires.

A 400-year-old wooden pulpit was also damaged in the incident, which could now force the parochial church council to lock the building when it is not in use.

Mike Wheeler, one of the church wardens, said attempts had been made to light fires in a number of areas within the church but they had gone out before any flames took hold.

Envelopes left for donations had been thrown to the floor and set alight, which burned a patch of carpet, and other fires started among the pews and underneath the 1624 pulpit.

A light was smashed, candles scattered and finials - sculptured features - broken off the pulpit.

Mr Wheeler said: "As far as the damage is concerned, the attack on the pulpit was the most serious. It just couldn’t be replaced.

"We hope we can get it fixed locally without having to get specialist help."

The vandalism is believed to have happened between lunchtime and about 6.30pm on Saturday, August 11. Until now, the church had been left open for visitors but Mr Wheeler said that arrangement might now come to an end as a result of the vandalism.

He said: "We’ve always been very proud of having the church open from dawn to dusk and don’t really want to lock it up."

Avon and Somerset police said the incident was being treated as arson and investigations were continuing.

Anyone with information should either dial the non-emergency number 101 or contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.