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Church’s hidden history saved for the future

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Located off the busy A608 by Sherwood Business Park, near to the M1 motorway, it may surprise visitors to Annesley Old Church just what a peaceful and beautiful spot it occupies.

Nestled behind the trees that line the road, and with views over the Nottinghamshire countryside, stand the ruins of this historical gem, which dates back over 900 years and has links to literary legends Lord Byron and D.H. Lawrence.

In its tumbledown state, the Grade I listed monument could be easily forgotten, but a group of hardworking local residents are making sure that its historical significance is documented and what is left of the church is protected for the future.

Having formed the Friends of Annesley Old Church, they have been part of a three-year long project which will come to an end later this year when its Heritage Lottery funding runs out.

The project’s aims were to not only repair the church’s crumbling stonework but to make it more of a community facility for local people.

They have succeeded on both fronts.

Friend Barbara Parkin said: “There was such a lot of interest for this. It had got to the point where it needed something doing so we decided to get the group up and went for the Heritage Lottery grant.”

Fellow group member Sue Hardy added: “The church was not in a terrible state but the main aim of the project was to save the tower because it is listed and also to make it more accessible for people to come up here and enjoy it.

“People have come up here for years, but a lot of people don’t know it is here.”

Parts of the church, officially called All Saints Church, date from Saxon and Norman times but the majority of the building dates from the time of the Black Death in the 12th century. It has been slowly falling down ever since the 1940s.

Said Friend John Saint: “Over time it has changed and things have been added on but it still retains a lot of the architectural design that would have been here in the 15 and 1600s.”

Specialist stone and building techniques have been used to repair the existing walls and new steps built have been built inside the tower as part of the project.

Information boards have been put up around the site to inform visitors and new benches have been installed giving people somewhere pleasant to sit.

But the project also reaches beyond the physical improvements, with some of its most important work being the historical research and community engagement that has been done.

A monument to Annesley Hall resident Commander George Chaworth-Musters - famous for his epic trek through Patagonia - stands next to the church, and a DVD about his life and explorations was filmed as part of the project.

A research document about the area is currently being produced and a new website, which will give a detailed history of Annesley, is being created at www.annesleyheritage.co.uk.

A remake of an old locally-made film, The Annesley Vampire, is to be filmed this summer.

Said Dr David Amos, who has led the project for Ashfield District Council: “The history within two miles from here is absolutely fantastic.

“There’s the industrial history, the motte and bailey castle, the 900-year-old deer park, as well as the literary links.

“But the main thing that we have done is bringing the church into community use.”

Community events held as part of the project have included the annual folk festival, ghost hunting events, guided walks and bus tours and a Christmas Carol service.

Last weekend it hosted a literary event that saw readings of Annesley-inspired stories and poems read in the grounds of the church.

These all help educate people about the church - something that Friends member Chris Kidger has also benefited from through her involvement.

“I have learned such a lot since I have been on this project,” she said.

“I knew the church was here but I didn’t know much about it.

“You learn about history at school but it’s all dates they throw at you. When you start to learn about people, it brings it to life.”

Sue Hardy said that the project has helped to raise the church’s profile and that even after the funding runs out, Friends members will meet informally and continue to organise events.

“There will always be something here because we all love the place,” she added.

 

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