Neglected church shortlisted for English Heritage award

St Alkmund's Shrewsbury(Photo: English Heritage)

A church that fell into a parlous state after a century of neglect is one of the historic places of worship shortlisted for an English Heritage Angel Award.

St Alkmund's Shrewsbury, in Shropshire, was built in 1794 and is a Grade II listed building, but by 2000 it was in considerable need of repair.  The roof was leaking, and the windows were falling apart, including the iron-framed east window containing glass by Francis Eginton.  

In the following decade, the three surviving Coalbrookdale cast-iron windows were repaired, the entire nave roof was reslated and releaded, and the Eginton window was restored at a cost of £150,000.  

Toilets and kitchen facitlies were also added to the building to open it up for community use, and work was done to redecorate and improve the interior. 

The total cost of the most urgent repair work was £1 million, of which English Heritage funded £500,000.  The remainder of the cost was met by a mix of grants and fundraising by the priest and parishioners.  

The result is that St Alkmund's has been saved as a place of worship and has become a popular concert venue.  

The church is up for an award in the Best Rescue or Repair of a Historic Place of Worship category. 

The other churches nominated in the category are Saltaire United Reformed Church, Bradford, St Andrew's Church, Epworth, and St James the Greater, Melton Mowbray. 

The rescue of Saltaire United Reformed Church, a Grade I listed building, has been led by its small but dedicated group of members, who came together to form a a restoration team in 2005 to oversee the work.  Len Morris was singled out for praise for his "tireless" efforts in seeing the process through.  Work has included repairing the portico canopy and steps, as well as window frames, safeguarding the 150-year-old Venetian glass.  

The mausoleum of Sir Titus Salt had suffered water damage to the ornate plaster interior as a result of lead thefts, but the roof has now been restored using zinc instead to prevent further thefts. With the building in good condition after eight years of work, Morris is pressing ahead with plans to improve the church's facilities and disabled access.  

At St Andrew's Epworth, extensive repairs have been made to correct damp and erosion to the masonry caused by a leaking roof and poor drainage.  

The work has been overseen since 2002 by Melvyn Rose, whose role as chairman of the restoration committee has developed into a full-time voluntary position.  The building is once again in sound condition following the completion of a programme of repairs that cost £1.6 million.  

St James the Greater was put at sudden and significant risk in 2006 by subterranean and water table issues.  These exacerbated pre-existing water and drainage issues.  By Christmas, the church had been forced to close because of concerns over structural instability, with the possibility that the closure would be permanent.  

The repair work suffered considerable setbacks when the church was the victim of two separate lead thefts.  However, the small community of Melton Mowbray rallied around and raised the funds to see the repairs through to the end.  Work was finished this April and the church was reopened at the Easter Sunday service.  Now the church is fundraising to carry out the redecoration and plastering of the interior. 

The Angel Awards were founded by Andrew Lloyd Webber and are supported by The Telegraph.  The other categories are for the Best Craftmanship Employed on a Heritage Rescue, Best Rescue of a Historic Industrial Building or Site, and Best Rescue of Any Other Type of Historic Building or Site.  

Members of the public are being invited to vote for their favourite rescue.  Winners will be announced at a glittering award ceremony in London on 21 October hosted by TV presenter Paul Martin. 

Mr Lloyd Webber said: "I offer my heartfelt congratulations to the candidates shortlisted for this year's English Heritage Angel Awards who have been selected from a hugely impressive field of applicants.

"These Awards celebrate the time, energy and passion of volunteers across England who help to preserve our country's architectural heritage. Acknowledging these unsung heroes is incredibly important and has contributed to an increase in the number of sites being taken off English Heritage's At Risk register."

Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said: "When heritage experts met recently to sift through almost 200 applications they were looking for passion, perseverance and imagination as well as the scale of the challenge and how well it had been tackled. What they found was that the quality of applications this year was higher than ever. We salute all these heroic heritage rescuers who prove that people not only care about their local heritage but are prepared to get stuck in and save it.

"With the aid of English Heritage, the Heritage Lottery Fund, local authority conservation officers and countless other organisations - and sometimes simply on their own - our Angels applicants and thousands like them are tackling Heritage at Risk head on. As a nation enriched by its past, we should be truly grateful to our Angels for fighting the neglect and decay which threatens our future."

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