An urgent appeal has been launched to preserve a historic Wearside church with royal links for the future.
Parishioners at St Andrew’s, Dalton-le-Dale, need to raise £70,000 to re-point the Grade II-listed church and replace crumbling stones.
“Our wonderful little church has served the parish well for over 800 years, but now it needs help,” said building fund treasurer Evelyn Wood.
“It is urgent we get this work carried out, as the church interior is very damp and 12 stones need replacing as soon as possible.
“We want to make sure that St Andrew’s continues to play a central role in parish life, but we need people’s help to keep it safe and sound.”
The origins of St Andrew’s are thought to date to the 8th or 9th century, as a fragment of an Anglo-Saxon stone cross can still be seen.
People in need have always been made welcome at St Andrew’s, but now it is the church building which is in need. We don’t want it crumbling away.Evelyn Wood, building fund treasurer for St Andrew’s Church, Dalton-le-Dale.
It was then rebuilt in Norman times – from which era the remains of a door still exist – before being rebuilt a third time in the 13th century.
“St Andrew’s has many historic artefacts, such as the zig-zag Norman door and a sunray sundial dating to before the Norman Conquest,” said Evelyn.
“There is also a small door and window once used by lepers to receive food parcels, as well as 17th century bells and even older effigies.”
The first vicar of St Andrew’s was recorded in 1180 as Gilbert de Bellingham. A “cluster” of “mainly farming” households soon grew up around the church.
It was from the 13th century, however, that St Andrew’s became an important burial site, offering a final resting place to many of the Bowes family.
“An alabaster effigy of Sir William Bowes, who fought with the Black Prince at Poitiers in 1356 and died in 1420, can be seen at the church,” said Evelyn.
“His descendent, Mary Eleanor Bowes, married the Scottish laird John Lyon in 1767. Their great-great-great granddaughter was the Queen Mother.”
St Andrew’s underwent several major changes over the years, including the addition of squared stonework in the north wall of the nave during the 14th century.
It is believed the stone south porch was a 15th-century addition, while the 1630s saw extensive re-modelling, as well as the addition of a tenor bell.
“Further alterations were carried out in 1821, which were prompted by the poor condition of the leaky old lead roof,” said Evelyn.
“The lead was replaced by Westmoreland slate, the vestry rebuilt and, according to illustrations from the time, the remains of a corbel table were removed.
“Just a few decades later, in 1907, leading architect Hodgson Fowler restored the church once again – rebuilding the vestry and 15th-century porch.”
Throughout all the changes, St Andrew’s remained at the centre of parish life, playing host to thousands of christenings, weddings and funerals.
This year worshippers will celebrate its 860th birthday, with an anniversary service planned for St Andrew’s Day – November 30 – at 7pm.
“St Andrew’s is a place I love very much and it has a special place in many people’s hearts,” said Evelyn, 81, who had been attending since childhood.
“There is a real feeling of peace in the church. I don’t know what it is, but I’m not the only one who feels that way. It is a very special place.
“That is why I am so determined to preserve it for the future. It has been part of the community for centuries - we can’t lose it now.”
Sadly, hopes of raising funds through grants and donations have so far proved unsuccessful, as has a scheme targeting 767 local households with letters.
“I wrote to everyone in the parish, but only received two replies,” said Evelyn. “Applying for grants is proving a slow process too – hence this appeal.”
Evelyn has also turned to the internet for help, launching an appeal for donations via www.crowdfunder.co.uk/standrews-church-building-fund – which runs until November 1.
“People in need have always been made welcome at St Andrew’s, but now it is the church building which is in need. We don’t want it crumbling away,” she said.
“No matter how small the donation, every little helps - and will be very gratefully received. We want to preserve, and conserve, St Andrew’s for the future.
• Further information on the appeal is available from Evelyn on 526 4246.