A medieval church saved by Beamish Museum from demolition will be officially opened by the Right Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham.
St Helen’s Church had been attacked by vandals and was due to be knocked down until Beamish stepped in. The church was dismantled stone by stone and transported to the museum, where it has been lovingly rebuilt in the Georgian landscape.
The church, originally from Eston, near Middlesbrough, was being officially opened at Beamish today (Thursday, 12th November) by Bishop Paul.
The celebrations will continue this weekend (14th and 15th November), involving the church’s former congregation and surrounding community, who have been involved in the project.
Richard Evans, Beamish’s Director, said: “After years of painstaking restoration led by Beamish’s own building team we are truly proud to be officially opening St Helen’s Church, from Eston in Teesside, this week. I can’t think of a better way to mark the start of our Christmas at Beamish season.
“As a rule Beamish never collects important listed buildings such as this – we only acted to save St Helen’s Church after it became terribly vandalised and permission was granted for it to be demolished. For more than 10 years the church lay in storage at Beamish – waiting for the day it would be brought back to life in the museum.
“To see it today, nestling in our 1820s area of the museum, is just incredible. It has literally risen out of the ashes and looks fantastic, as if it has always been there. We hope visitors will enjoy the building – and the stories that it tells from the community of Eston.”
Bishop Paul said: “I was delighted to be invited to open the this historical church. Beamish plays a really important part in allowing everyone to discover something of the heritage of the region and to step back into history to experience life as it was more than a hundred years ago. I always enjoy visiting Beamish, but today was particularly special. I hope that St Helen’s can again become a centre piece of the community as it once was.”
Beamish collected the church in 1997 and it was stored until there was funding and the opportunity to rebuild it. Work began in 2011 in the museum’s 1820s area, next to Pockerley Old Hall and Waggonway and corresponds to an 1822 rebuild of the church.
The church features Georgian box pews of the right age and style which were donated by St Andrew’s Church, in Wiveliscombe, Somerset, after finding out about the project from a news report. The pews have been painted with the names of the real people listed on the St Helen’s 1824 pew rental list.
Jim Rees, Beamish’s Assistant Director Development, has been involved in the project from the start.
He said: “This is the oldest and most complex building ever moved by Beamish.
“It’s a beautiful building and it’s been an enjoyable project. One of the things I’m really proud about is that because it’s been so accurately moved, we’ve moved the building’s history with it.”