Worth Matravers church closed and facing half a million pound repair bill

The church in Worth Matravers near Corfe Castle, has been closed for safety reasons and is now facing a repair bill of half a million pounds, after a routine survey revealed serious problems with the roof.

St Nicholas of Myra church, in the centre of the Purbeck village, was shut to visitors and worshippers in late September 2021.

Church authorities are hoping it will be able to reopen in time for Christmas, with netting and scaffolding in place as a safety precaution.

St Nicholas Church
St Nicholas Church
St Nicholas Church
St Nicholas Church

Scaffolding was put in place after a survey revealed serious corrosion to the roof

“Rather worse than we had initially thought”

A project team has been set up to appoint an architect to oversee the repairs and to focus on the challenge of raising in the region of £500,000 to completely rebuild the roof.

Former churchwarden Hugh Cochrane said:

“The situation is rather worse than we had initially thought. Obviously, we have got a massive fundraising task ahead of us.”

St Nicholas Church
St Nicholas Church
St Nicholas Church
St Nicholas Church

Repairs and renovation could cost £500,000

“Roof condemned as unsafe”

In the meantime, services have been taking place in the village hall or St James’ church in nearby Kingston.

The associate minister with responsibility for St Nicholas church, the Reverend James Mercer, said:

“To have the roof condemned as unsafe is of course a blow to both the church and the wider community.”

Rev James Mercer
Rev James Mercer

The Reverend James Mercer is in charge of a number of churches including St Nicholas

“Considerable challenge”

He added:

“St Nicholas has been a focus for Christian worship for a thousand years. Today it is a place that hosts creative and traditional liturgy, music and conversation.

“We have the considerable challenge of raising funds to ensure St Nicholas continues to serve its community for centuries to come.”

St Nicholas Church
St Nicholas Church
St Nicholas Church
St Nicholas Church

Dating from the Norman era, the church was renovated in the mid nineteenth century

Salty coastal air

The church dates back to Norman times, and even has an earlier blocked Saxon doorway.

The roof was rebuilt in the mid-nineteenth century, when the whole church was restored. But it has now reached the end of its life and has been declared unsafe and in need of urgent reconstruction.

The Victorian nails holding the heavy Purbeck stone roof in place are seriously corroded from the salty coastal air and the wooden battens are rotten.

St Nicholas Church
St Nicholas Church
St Nicholas Church
St Nicholas Church

Safety netting will be put up inside to protect from any falling masonry

Explore options for ‘carbon neutral’

The rebuilding project will involve re-laying the stone slabs on the roof, renewing wiring inside, and installing LED lighting throughout, as the project team explores options to enable the church to move towards being carbon neutral.

It will also be an opportunity to design and install interpretive material relating to the history of the church, community and church grounds.

Among those buried in the churchyard is Benjamin Jesty, who died in 1816, and is credited with being the true father of vaccination. He is believed to be the first person to have used cowpox to inoculate his wife and family against smallpox in 1774. This was long before Dr Edward Jenner, who is historically recorded as discovering vaccination.

St Nicholas Church
St Nicholas Church

Benjamin Jesty, considered the inventor of vaccination, is buried in the churchyard

“Open for the Christmas period”

The church officially combined last month into the Benefice of St Adhelm, including St James’ church in Kingston, St George’s church in Langton and St Edward, King and Martyr in Corfe Castle.

Hugh Cochrane said:

“We don’t think there’s any great risk at present from falling masonry and the netting we put up should be adequate to allow the church to get back to normal while repair work is carried out.

“We would very much like to be open for the Christmas period.”

St Nicholas Church
St Nicholas Church

The church hopes to reopen for Christmas

Further information

For ways to help support the restoration project, contact the church steward Liz Hoad via email

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