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'Widnes cathedral' to be restored to glory

A crumbling Grade-II* church, dubbed the 'cathedral of Widnes', is to be saved thanks to a £314,000 godsend.

Described as a 'splendid' and 'majestic' building by Pevsner, St Mary's Church on the banks of the Mersey was in danger of falling down due to erosion caused by harsh river winds and industrial pollution.

However, following a grant from English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery's Repair Grants for Places of Worship fund, a team of seven stonemasons and craftsmen has started a six-month mission to rescue the red sandstone building.

Built for £17,000 in 1910, the church in West Bank was designed by celebrated church architects Austin and Paley and boasts a 34 metre tower.

Worried church warden David Angus is glad the restoration work is finally under way. He said: 'When we discovered that some of the stone blocks on the tower were loose it was a nightmare.

'You start to worry about the risks to local residents and whether the church will need to be closed.'

But with the help of stonemason Michael Goulding, from conservation specialists Lambert Walker, it is hoped the church can be fully restored to its former glory.

He said: 'When we come to a job like this it can be like stepping back in time - we're using the same techniques and very similar tools to those that would have been used hundreds of years ago.'

'Up close you can see the care that went into each tool mark. Once our work is complete it could be another 100 years before anyone else has to come back to the job - and we want them to notice the same care and craftsmanship that we have seen.'

The firm will be rebuilding the parapet using red sandstone from the original quarry in St Bees, Cumbria, and re-pointing with a traditional lime mortar, as well as redressing hundreds of stone slabs.

The current St Mary's is the second to be built in West Bank. The original was constructed in 1858, but was closed after it subsided.

by Richard Waite

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