A landmark piece of Preston’s history came under renewed attack when lead thieves struck in the dead of night.
Civic experts have voiced fears about the future of the derelict St Joseph’s Hospital – known locally as Mount Street – following a midnight raid on the roof.
Three men have appeared in court charged with stealing lead from the Grade II-listed Victorian building.
After they were sentenced at the city’s magistrates’ court, a leading conservationist said he was “very worried” the old hospital, where singer George Formby died in 1961, could now be on its last legs.
“I’m afraid this is just another nail in the coffin for Mount Street,” said Aidan Turner-Bishop, chairman of the Preston and South Ribble Civic Trust.
“I suspect it will just gradually deteriorate now and crumble. Someone will claim it’s a health and safety risk and it will have to be demolished.”
Last year, a group of youths were spotted smashing windows in the building and the year before, the Evening Post reported it had been damaged by rain and fire.
Jamie Brown, 30, of Goldbourne Street, Deepdale, Preston, appeared in the dock with Jamie Richardson, 35, of Croft Way, Longridge, and Mark Fry, 30, of Mimosa Road, Deepdale.
All three pleaded guilty to theft from the derelict hospital, which was used to treat injured soldiers during both world wars and was the maternity unit where tens of thousands of Prestonians were born.
Brown was jailed for seven weeks, while Richardson and Fry received six weeks suspended for 12 months.
Philippa Jones, prosecuting, told the court the men were seen throwing heavy items off the roof, before loading them into a waiting Citroen car.
“Witnesses who work close by heard noises coming from the derelict building,” she said. “They saw shadowy figures who appeared to be throwing heavy items into the car park below.
“One witness phoned the police. One man was seen to approach a Citroen car. He starts the vehicle and drives it near the location.
“Officers located the vehicle and say it was heavily laden down with lead. The lead was completely covering the boot and back seat.
“Such was the weight that the vehicle’s suspension had been lowered significantly.”
No cash value has been placed on the stolen lead, but it is another blow for the complex, built in 1877 by Maria Holland for the benefit of the poor.
A plan to convert it into 82 flats, granted in 2004, stalled in the economic crisis.
The hospital closed when the last sisters left nursing in 1982. It later became a care home, but that was shut down around 2007.
Since then businessman David Gornall, of Mount Street Ltd, who has owned it since 1988, has spent £20,000 on work, the court heard.
But the building has been earmarked by the Victorian Society as “at risk”.
Mr Turner-Bishop added: “The plan to redevelop it seems to have stalled. And while we wait for news on what the future holds, it is continuing to rot away.
“Preston City Council can’t do anything because they don’t have any money to spend on a project like this. But something needs to be done because we risk losing a wonderful building.
“It needs money spending on it, lots of money. If it was developed as apartments they would be attractive and sell very well. It would revitalise that area as well.”
The Evening Post was unable to contact Mr Gornall yesterday.