Written by Eric Carter
The first site visit on the study tour was Hepstonstall Methodist Church (grade II*) and its neighbouring Sunday school building (unlisted but in the setting of a listed building). The church dates from 1764 and is said to be the oldest Methodist chapel in continual use (although apparently Yarm Chapel also makes this claim!). Originally the building was an interesting octagonal shape as approved by John Wesley, and used in a number of other Methodist chapels, but was extended in 1802. The Sunday school was built in 1891. Both buildings have significant condition problems.
The chapel suffers from general dampness due to its terraced setting on a steep hillside and lack of ventilation and heating, which has resulted in rot and decay. At the time of our visit an area of ceiling plaster had fallen down having become detached from its lath backing. The church has a dwindling and ageing congregation with a lack of resources, however a HLF grant has been obtained and the plan is that, in addition to repair works, a toilet, kitchen and servery will be installed. Also, some pews will be removed to allow a more flexible space for activities all resulting in a much more versatile building. Works are due to start mid-April 2017.
Last year the church congregation voted to sell off the Sunday school building which is in poor condition and has some structural problems. A local community group propose reuse of the building as community space on the upper floor with the lower floor converted into a holiday let.
Whilst we learn a lot on the MA course about the history of buildings and the theory about their conservation, this sort of site visit highlights real life problems of finance, long-term sustainability and the challenges of making old buildings accessible for all. Hepstonstall Chapel provides an illustration of how most old buildings can only be conserved if we accept that they can be sympathetically adapted for new uses so that they can earn their keep in the real world.
The YCAA would very much like to thank the stewards, churchwardens, contractors, the Reverend Cathy Reardon of St. Michael’s Church and, above all, Richard Storah for organising such a wonderful day and being so welcoming of us. Thank you.