Restoration lifeline for historic church

ROOM WITH A VIEW -- Coun John Wilmott (Lab), of Hucknall, peers out from one of the windows in the renovated tower -- DISPIC NMAC12-2348-5
ROOM WITH A VIEW -- Coun John Wilmott (Lab), of Hucknall, peers out from one of the windows in the renovated tower -- DISPIC NMAC12-2348-5

IN the grounds of Old Annesley Church stands an intricately carved statue which pays tribute to Commander George Chaworth-Musters.

Little known to many people, Commander Chaworth-Musters was at the forefront of South American exploration during the 19th century and became so highly regarded that the people there crowned him King of Patagonia.

Now, as the Old Church is officially re-opened after months of painstaking restoration, historian Dick Starr is on a mission to raise the profile of Commander Chaworth-Musters, who he believes could become as well-known as Lord Byron, D.H.Lawrence or even Robin Hood.

Dick, who worked as a handy man for the Chaworth-Musters family of Annesley Hall in the 1960s, said: “He was the first European to travel right through South America and he lived there for two-and-a-half years. That’s when they made him ‘king’.

“He was 37 when he died and as he was dying at a hotel in the south of England he kept saying ‘Annesley’, ‘Annesley’, so his brother decided to bury him in a spot overlooking Annesley Hall and the beautiful park.”

At Saturday’s church re-opening, members of the public were given the chance to find out more about the rich history of the 900-year-old landmark as well as see the results of the sensitive restoration project involving the Heritage Lottery Fund, Ashfield District Council and English Heritage.

Describing the process, the council’s heritage officer, Denis Hill, said: “There has been a massive amount of work done to replace the blocks of stone and the spiral staircase of the tower has been completely replaced.”

The Norman church also has strong links to Lord Byron who would go up to the site, frustrated at his doomed attempts to woo Mary Chaworth-Musters.

He believed that his failure stemmed from the fact that his great uncle, the fifth Lord Byron, had killed Mary’s great uncle Lord William in a duel at London’s Star and Garter Club in 1765.

Dick says: “She held it against him so he used to throw stones over the Chaworth graves saying they had cursed him. He was very highly strung.”

Eastwood author D.H.Lawrence also alluded to the church in his 1911 novel ‘The White Peacock’.

The church closed in 1878 following the sinking of Annesley Colliery and it was replaced with the new Annesley All Saints Church, which was nearby. It then fell into disrepair.

Dick says: “The decline came in the 1960s. I came up here when I was a lad and I worked for the family. It deteriorated in the 1980s although the statues were shifted to the new church for safety because they were exposed to the weather here.

“In the early ‘90s there was a piecemeal attempt at working on it and they did a reasonable job. But now we have been lucky enough to get funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.”

Meanwhile, visitors to the church on Saturday said they were pleased to see the results of the restoration.

Deputy leader of Ashfield Council, Coun John Wilmott (Lab), of Hucknall, said: “I’d like to thank English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund because without their help this wouldn’t have happened.”

Alison Richards, from Hucknall, said: “I’ve known it for donkey’s years when it was over-grown. It looks brilliant — it needed doing.”

And Shelia Robinson, treasurer of the Hucknall Tourism and Regeneration Group, added: “We have been producing radio programmes for Acacia Radio (based in Annesley) and a lot of people haven’t been here before.

“The change is amazing. It’s so clean.”

Given its history, it’s not surprising that there have been tales of ghostly activity at the church and hall and a special ghost tour took place on Saturday evening as part of the celebrations.