More repair work planned for historic Penwortham churchyard

South Ribble Council has applied to it’s own planning bosses for permission to rebuild a historic wall at St Mary’s Church in Penwortham.

Wednesday, 23rd June 2021, 3:45 pm

Both the church and the retaining wall in Church Avenue, are Grade II listed.

The wall, which runs 90m, is made of a mixture of rough stone rubble, stone, and brick. The whole of it is dressed with sandstone capstones with iron railings, which are said to be in “varying degrees of condition”.

The proposal is to dismantle sections and rebuild with new foundations - including new piling - to stabilise the wall along the top of a slope.

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Rev Chris Nelson at St Mary's Church, Penwortham
Rev Chris Nelson at St Mary's Church, Penwortham

The application comes after vicar at St Mary’s, Rev Chris Nelson succeeded in a 13-year-fight to get South Ribble Council to maintain the church yard.

>>>Read about Rev Nelson's fight here.

Burials were discontinued in the churchyard in May 2000, save for further burials in existing graves and vaults. At this point, SRBC were served notice, as required by law, that the duty of maintenance of the closed churchyard passed to them.

But from 2000 to 2019, Rev Nelson said not one headstone survey was carried out by the council, despite it being an annual requirement, and the only maintenance was grass cutting.

In that time, a headstone fell on an elderly visitor to the churchyard, fracturing three toe bones, gashing her leg, and causing a three-day stay in hospital, and around 50 headstones were laid flat after an emergency 'push' test.

In July 2014 the churchyard was inspected by stone mason Brent Stevenson, who wrote to Rev Nelson stating he was “extremely concerned” about the state of many headstones and recommended the old section be closed off immediately and access pathway from the river side closed.

In June 2019, Mr Stevenson again visited again, and in correspondence with the vicar, said he was “very surprised” to see that virtually no safety work had been carried out in five years since his last visit.

In a report to SRBC, he said: “I have carried out safety inspections in many churchyards and cemeteries in Lancashire, and St Mary’s Penwortham churchyard is by far the most dangerous place. I am not exaggerating by saying that this place is where an accident is waiting to happen”.

Rev Nelson said that when Labour took control of SRBC in 2019, and he contacted Council leader Paul Foster, an agreement was made to carry out work.

Work has already been carried out securing dangerous gravestones.