Heysham church enjoys return to former glory

St Peters Church, Main Street, Heysham, opened it's doors to visitors to see the restoration work that is being carried out.
St Peters Church, Main Street, Heysham, opened it's doors to visitors to see the restoration work that is being carried out.

Sitting proudly on Heysham cliff top, St Peter’s Church is on its way to significant restoration.

After months of setbacks, hard labour and fundraising efforts the eighth century church is progressing to its final stages of completion.

St Peters Church, Main Street, Heysham, opened it's doors to visitors to see the restoration work that is being carried out. Parish Secretary Sylvia Welberry, right, was one of the first, with Architect Zoe Hooton and Site Manager Craig Halliwell up on the roof.

St Peters Church, Main Street, Heysham, opened it's doors to visitors to see the restoration work that is being carried out. Parish Secretary Sylvia Welberry, right, was one of the first, with Architect Zoe Hooton and Site Manager Craig Halliwell up on the roof.

Described as the “second oldest church in Europe” the Grade 1 listed building has been worshipped in for more than 1,000 years.

So when work began to fix the roof in September last year it was predicted to be a delicate job requiring careful construction and communication with English Heritage.

The roof has been deteriorating for nearly 20 years and water began to escape through the building early last year.

It was replaced with traditional slate with oak pegs being replaced with internal roof plaster.

People leave an imprint in the building, it is attached in their lives

Sylvia Welberry, parish secretary

Stone tiles were taken from the adjacent church hall roof to replace damaged stone on the main church roof. Approximately £250,000 has been spent on a new church hall and an extra £250,000 is needed to complete restoration.

Specialist conservation contractor William Anelay, who worked on Westminister Abbey, has overseen the project alongside Harrison Pitt Architects and John Coward Architects.

Richard Wooldridge, of Harrison Pitt Architects, said: “St Peter’s is one of Lancashire’s oldest places of worship, dating back to the Saxon period, so it’s of great historical and architectural significance.

“Work of this nature has to be handled sensitively and through consultation with a range of building heritage experts to ensure we maintain the authenticity and character of the building’s original features.”

St Peters Church, Main Street, Heysham, opened it's doors to visitors to see the restoration work that is being carried out. Parish Secretary Sylvia Welberry was one of the first, with Site Manager Craig Halliwell  atop the bell tower.

St Peters Church, Main Street, Heysham, opened it's doors to visitors to see the restoration work that is being carried out. Parish Secretary Sylvia Welberry was one of the first, with Site Manager Craig Halliwell atop the bell tower.

During restoration work extensive damage was discovered to the bell tower.

Lime mortar will be used to restore the bells which date back to 1870 and it is expected to cost an extra £10,000.

Craig Halliwell, site manager from William Anelay, said: “The first phase was to take off the roof which was the major cost of repair but it was in pretty good nick.

“The second phase is to put it back on and complete the restoration. This is what we are used to working on with old buildings, there is a lot of care involved.”

St Peters Church, Main Street, Heysham, opened it's doors to visitors to see the restoration work that is being carried out. The bells

St Peters Church, Main Street, Heysham, opened it's doors to visitors to see the restoration work that is being carried out. The bells

Funds have been coming in from far and wide, not just from the community but also across the globe in Australia and America.

Sylvia Welberry, parish secretary, said: “We have done really well and thanks goes to everybody who has supported us.”

Andrew Osborn, Reverend of Parish of St Peter’s said: “We are thankful for all the people in the community who have got behind it.

“They have done a brilliant job with the hall and it is a bright look for the future.”

The church stands proudly in the village and has played host to many historical moments and memories within the community.

For local resident Harold Burgess the church has been a significant part of his life.

Mr Burgess, 73, who is a member of the parish church council and is responsible for health and safety for the church has been attending since the late 1940s.

For him the church holds five generations of memories as his grandparents, parents, children and grandchildren have all attended. Harold’s family are all buried within the grounds. He can remember the days when his mother, Ada, led the way by torch-light to attend early communion services.

He said: “My mother used to take me down as a child after the war, we used to have to go down with a torch.

“My parents had a boarding house and with having a boarding house the only time we could go to church was during the winter months.

“When I would have go to 8am communion with my mother we used to go down through the village were there used to be a walkway that comes out of the Royal Hotel, now it is illuminated but we used to have to shine a torch to find our way.

“I think the church is the second oldest in Europe.”

Marie Hastie, 78, has been going to St Peter’s for 14 years and for her the ground is always a point of call if she needs help.

She said: “The church is a second family for me, it is so old you can feel the people here and you can feel the prayers soaking through the walls.”

Sylvia Welberry has been involved with the church for 30 years and also has fond memories.

She said: “It is such a beautiful, peaceful place.

“People leave an imprint in the building, it is attached in their lives, it is a part of them.

“The millennium was a particular good memory for me, there where beacons across the bay, it was the most beautiful day and prayers were said by the sea.

“The sea was like glass and it was a super day, these things stick in your mind.”

It hasn’t always been an easy ride for construction work which is due to be completed in June.

The roof was damaged further when lead was stolen allowing further water to pour into the alter.

Shortly afterwards garden equipment worth £4,000 was stolen last year which put a further dint into the completion date.

It was the second burglary to happen to the church within 12 months.

But that didn’t stop the church as the community pulled together and donated garden tools and pieces of slate to help their beloved building.

Now the new church hall sits on Heysham hill waiting for its partner opposite to be completed so the builds can be worshipped in for another 1,000 years to come.