Raising the roof at St Peter’s church in Heysham
PUBLISHED: 00:00 03 October 2014
One of the country’s most historic churches is to be given a new old roof. Paul Mackenzie explains
JMW Turner knew a thing or two about good views and there is no question that his painting Heysham and Cumberland Mountains would look very different if the church had a modern slate roof. Its thick stone tiles make St Peter’s look like a part of the landscape and that will still be the impression a year from now when the roof has been replaced.
In fact if Turner were to return once work has been completed at the church he would find the view has altered very little since he set up his easel here just over 200 years ago.
St Peter’s has had a new north aisle added since then but the church still squats on the hillside overlooking Morecambe Bay, although there are rather fewer cowherds and milkmaids in Heysham these days.
And while the modern day villagers may not work the land or add life to landscape paintings in quite the way their ancestors did, they have played a valuable role in preserving the view by helping raise the money to pay for vital renovation work.
Parochial Church Council secretary Sylvia Welberry said: ‘Some of the thick stones on the roof are now splitting and flaking so water is getting in and causing damage. The total cost will be around £260,000 and the villagers have come together really well, there has been a great deal of local support from churchgoers and non-churchgoers.’
This has not simply been a matter of raising the money and fixing the roof, though. St Peter’s is a Grade One listed building where villagers have worshipped for well over a thousand years and English Heritage and the Ancient Building Trust insisted the new roof should be identical to the old one.
Sylvia added: ‘We think the stone used on the roof came from a quarry in the Trough of Bowland which closed many years ago. Fortunately we have found that the stones on the church hall roof are the same and we have been given permission to replace the roof of the hall with slates.
‘The church is going to have a hat on for about nine months while the roof is replaced. The job is complicated by the fact that the roof is so heavy and we are going to have to take all the plaster down inside the church and replace that. Hopefully the work will make the roof good for another 200 years.’
Work is underway already on replacing the roof of the church hall and refurbishing its interior which has remained largely unchanged since it was converted from stables in the 1970s. The renovated hall will have new toilets, catering facilities and a parish office as well as a function room.
And while parishioners will enjoy all that’s new in the church hall, many of the hundreds of visitors to St Peter’s church are drawn there by its history and ancient artefacts. It was built in about the eighth century, at around the same time as St Patrick’s chapel, the ruins of which stand just a few yards away.
Among the treasures on show in St Peter’s are a Roman altar and a stone which is thought to have covered the grave of a crusader but arguably the most impressive relic is the Hogback Stone. Thought to have once covered a Viking leader’s grave, the stone was discovered buried in the churchyard in the early 19th century and was brought into the church in the 1960s.
Church guide Neil Hastie said: ‘It is ornately decorated with carvings depicting Norse mythological stories and characters. On one side is the tale of Sigmund who escaped death at the jaws of a wolf and on the other side the legend of his son Sigurd the dragon slayer.’
While much of the money for the renovation work has been donated by the people of Heysham and others with a connection to the church, more is still needed.
For information on other fundraising activities, or to donate, go to heyshamparish.co.uk
While you’re there
Archaeological research has found that people have lived near the seaside village of Heysham for about 12,000 years. There are many historic sites around the village timeless beautiful views across Morecambe Bay.
The Heysham Heritage Centre has displays and information on much of the village’s history, and enthusiastic volunteers on hand to share their knowledge of the village.
There are cafés and a pub and the rocky seashore offers some wonderful spots for picnics.
The village is now synonymous with the nuclear power station, a huge grey box of a building visible from many miles away.
Ferries sail from Heysham port to the Isle of Man, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
The village is home to Lancashire’s finest window display which features a Mesolithic flint tool, gas regulators priced at £2 each, a pair of life size plaster feet, bottles of wild nettle cordial, a collection of knitting needles and a mini steam iron.