WORK is well under way on a £750,000 project to breathe new life into a former New Mills chapel by converting it into a community arts centre.
Builders and conservationists have begun the painstaking task of refurbishing and restoring the Victorian Grade II Listed St James the Less, on Spring Bank – a process which has already sprung a few surprises.
The church building is to be transformed into a studio and performance venue, the former vestry will be redesigned to accommodate toilets and washrooms, while a new-build annexe at the rear will accommodate bar facilities and a multi-use function room.
Leading the project is the St James the Less Preservation Trust, which purchased the building from the Diocese of Derby when it closed as a place of worship.
Chairman of the trust, Philip Kendall, said: “The biggest part of our funding comes from the Heritage Lottery Fund who are really interested in the heritage of the building.
“The fact we want to turn it into an arts centre is by the bye to them; what they want is for it to be shown in its heritage form as much as possible. That’s why anybody coming here, who knows nothing about the history of the building, will still get a sense of it as a church.
“But as far as its future is concerned, it is well on its way to becoming a multi-functional arts centre.”
The church of St James the Less is attached to the alms houses of St James’ Square, all of which was built in 1880, paid for by John and Mary Mackie. The church was dedicated to Mary’s parents, James and Martha Ingham.
As part of the ongoing work, which is scheduled for completion in November, conservation specialists Crick-Smith, from Lincoln University, have been meticulously peeling back the layers of paint and plaster from the walls to unveil the original Victorian decorative scheme.
This work has uncovered stretches of elaborate stencilled wall covering, including one of six beautifully gilded angels where the altar was once sited.
“It would be impossible to restore the interior to its original 1880s glory, as much of the scheme has already been obliterated by subsequent patches of re-plastering,” explained Mr Kendall.
“However, when restoration is complete, the conservators will reinstate the original decorative scheme on the entire west wall in order to show what it would have looked like originally. It is hoped also to keep a sample patch of the original colouring on show elsewhere in the building.”
Other features of the building to be conserved include six stained glass windows by C E Kempe, the celebrated Victorian designer, along with intricate wall panels which are the remnants of a full polychrome decorative scheme by the Powell Brothers of Leeds.
Mr Kendall added: “The Mackie’s didn’t want second best, they wanted the best. The stained glass windows are gorgeous. They are, in themselves, little treasures.”
The official opening of Spring Bank Arts Centre is scheduled for early 2012.