Restoring the faith

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A village church will hold more than wedding day memories for one Lancashire bride.

Not only did Trish Whitehead treasure tying the knot at Becconsall Old Church of All Saints, she also helped save the historic building.

The church on Becconsall Lane, Becconsall, was built in 1764, replacing an old timber structure which had served as a mariners' chapel.

It was paid for by the subscriptions of farmers and the local lord of the manor, Sir Thomas Hesketh, supplied the bricks with which it was built.

Sunday services fell by the wayside at the church in 1926 when another church was built in the village, but a long-standing tradition of holding an annual service in July at the site on Sea Sunday continued to celebrate the work of mariners.

That tradition was suspended in 1975 when the building became too unsafe and the Sea Sunday service was forced out of doors in a nearby field.

But new life was breathed into the church when it was taken under the wing of the Churches Conservation Trust which launched a 90,000 restoration project in 1997.

Hesketh Bank resident Dorothy Trippier was instrumental in setting up the Friends of Becconsall Old Church group, which ensured that the momentum of the project continued.

Over the course of two years, the church was transformed from its dilapidated state, with broken windows being replaced, the rotten roof repaired, the bell reinstalled and two rows of the original pews restored to illustrate the simplicity of their design.

Trish married her fiance Keith Hayes at the ceremony on Saturday. Their friends Justine and Gerald Morton travelled from Perth in Australia to take up the respective roles of matron of honour and best man. Trish, who lives in Hesketh Bank and is a member of the Friends of Becconsall Old Church, said: "It was a terrific privilege to be able to get married in the church.

"We had to get a special licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury to hold the wedding ceremony there. We were absolutely thrilled to be granted it."

Trish and family members also helped to decorate the church with flowers.

Mrs Trippier said: "It was an exceptionally beautiful wedding and it was lovely to see Trish getting married at the church. The last wedding there must have been a long, long time ago."

The Friends of Becconsall Old Church now has around a dozen members and a network of around 50 friends.

Last year, the group's fund-raising efforts, coupled with a government grant, enabled electricity to be installed for the first time at the church in a 10,000 project.

This will ensure that events such as exhibitions, talks, lectures and demonstrations can continue all year round.

Barbara Clusky, events organiser for the Friends of Old Becconsall Church, said: "Previously, we could only use the church between May and September as it was cold and dark in the winter. We decided we could get some heating and lighting.

"We had musicians who needed an electronic organ and we used to have to plug a 100-metre cable in at the nearby boatyard and run it right across the graveyard to provide any power.

"Now with the electricity, we can have a Christmas concert at the end of November and we can do more or less anything."