AN initial £30,300 Heritage Lottery Fund grant has been awarded for the next phase of work to save St Mary’s, Banbury, Oxfordshire, the largest parish church to be built in England in the 18th century.

Art work at St Mary’s Church, Banbury. Photo: Terence Heng/St Mary’s PCC

The grant will fund investigations paving the way for major repairs to be carried out next year. St Mary’s is at the heart of its community, used by many different town groups and hosting concerts and other events as well as services. It is Banbury’s only Grade I historic building, and is one of the town’s most important tourist attractions, welcoming 20,000 visitors a year.

Banburians rallied round in 2015 to raise £60,000 to deal with a serious outbreak of dry rot, helped by a £110,000 grant from the coalition Government’s Listed Places of Worship Roof Repair Fund.  Further work is now needed to stop the rot threatening the chancel with its irreplaceable wall paintings showing Christ and his disciples.

At the same time, the Church plans to replace its 1980s glass doors, making the building more accessible, and to produce a new, updated guidebook. A team of 10 volunteers will be trained up to give tours of the historic building.

The Revd Philip Cochrane, the Vicar, said: “The grant for the first stages of the next round of repairs is great news, but it is just the next stage in a long, ongoing programme which will span a good number of years. St Mary’s is Banbury’s cathedral.  We need to get these urgent repairs done so that the building is weatherproof and where we can work on making it accessible and a comfortable place to better serve the community in the years to come.”

A funding application will take place once St Mary’s has started to progress the plans. From there the Heritage Lottery Fund may decide to award £250,000 for the whole of the necessary works to be completed.