RUMOURS that one of the oldest churches in Barnsley was set to close its doors to the public have been quashed by a Reverend – who revealed that a ‘major refurbishment’ is in fact underway.

The current Grade II*-listed St Mary’s Church building, which is based in the heart of the town centre, was completed in 1822 – and last year celebrated a landmark anniversary.

St Mary’s has been carrying out services, marriages and funerals for far longer than the building has been in situ – with records of a church on the land going back as far as 1180.

One of the oldest churches in the borough, the foundations of St Mary’s are thought to date from the eighth century. But its age is showing and over the last few months church bosses have become aware of a leak in the vicar’s vestry roof – where the clerical robes are stored along with altar candles and crosses.

Rev Phil Maries, the rector of the Central Barnsley Benefice, said: “The damp patches in the vestry have turned to mould.

“At first, we thought it was mildew type mould and had somebody in to get it sorted. This person advised us that it was not mildew but a type of mould commonly called black mould, but its actual type is Stachybotrys chartarum, also known as Stachybotrys atra. We were advised that this type of mould can cause severe health problems because it releases mycotoxins.”

This can lead to issues such as body aches, pains, headaches and nosebleeds – prompting Rev Maries to close the church on Sundays.

But this led to rumours circulating online that the church was closing its doors for good – much to the confusion of those who still attend.

“While people would not normally go near this room during a service, I have taken the decision to close the church for normal Sunday services temporarily so that no one is exposed to the mould as a health and safety measure,” he added.

“It has also given us the chance to get the vestry emptied and start to treat the mould. The treatment that we have been given to spray on to the affected areas does not have a pleasant smell.

“Our plan is to make the vestry safe for the civic services that are booked in for early November and that we can be back in for Christmas for normal church service. The normal Sunday congregation are happy to worship at St Mary’s sister church St Paul’s Old Town because they appreciate that having the church closed on Sundays for the next few weeks means that we can get this problem resolved much quicker.”

This will all form part of a ‘major refurbishment’ at the church – with new gates being installed at the site on Wednesday following a spate of antisocial behaviour.

“People will notice the new gates that have just been installed at the main entrance to church to try and stop the antisocial behaviour that is becoming a major problem for us in that area,” he said.

“Why people believe the church doorway should be used as a toilet area is beyond me. Over the summer we had repairs done to the church tower.

“We had work done on the drainage channels around church and new covers put on the air vents.

“Again, this had been done to stop this area being used a toilet area and the old Victoria drainage channels were a health and safety risk because you could easily fall into them.”

It’s hoped that the new refurbishment will bring the church in line with the ‘same standard’ as the rest of the town centre – but funding could become an issue.

“St Mary’s is grateful to the council for the funding they have given us towards some of these projects and of cause the donation from our regular congregation towards this work,” he added.

“We have a long way to go with fundraising and the figures just for up grading the church heating system are eye watering. Next year we have a few fundraising ideas already pencilled in to help raise the money we need – these events would not be happening if the church was going to be closed permanently. Our aim is to make St Mary’s a church that reflects the improvement that have been made in Barnsley town centre over the last few years.

“If St Mary’s is to continue to be seen as Barnsley’s Civic Church, then we need to bring it up to the same standard as the rest of the town centre.”