A campaign has been launched to persuade Cheshire West and Chester Council to convert an 11th century Scandinavian church into a Viking heritage centre.
Karl Nield, from the group Viking Chester, is encouraging everyone to sign the petition in St John’s Church in a campaign to ‘Save St Olave’s’ – a small disused and crumbling church in Lower Bridge Street.
The initiative is supported by Professor Stephen Harding from The Centre for the Study of Viking Age, University of Nottingham.
Viking Chester spokeswoman Isabel Alonso said: “Viking Chester is keen to find a new future for the building as a ‘Viking Heritage Centre’. The group is keen to work with interested parties across Chester and beyond to find a solution for the building including Big Heritage, University of Nottingham, Cheshire West Museum Service, two groups from Norway and anyone else who is interested in saving the building.
“The public can show their support by visiting www.vikingchester.com and signing the online petition or by visiting St John’s Church by the amphitheatre and signing the paper-based version of the petition. To get more actively involved in the group and the campaign, please email Isabel Alonso, marketing co-ordinator at Viking Chester on firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Viking Chester is currently working up an outline business plan for the building and hope to have meaningful discussions with the local authority this autumn.”
Council chief executive Steve Robinson has previously revealed the council is planning to sell St Olave’s with interested parties invited to bid for the property but now the council claims its priority is to fix a bulging retaining wall which has been held in place by propping for at least six years. Other options, including community use, are not ruled out.
Council spokeswoman Rachel Ashley said: “We are continuing to seek a viable and cost-effective solution to repair the wall. Once this is resolved we will be in a position to consider the future of St Olave’s Church. We are open to exploring all possible options.”
The church was founded in the 11th century. Its dedication is to Saint Olaf, a Norwegian king. At the time that the church was founded, the area around Lower Bridge Street was largely occupied by Scandinavians, and it is thought this is the reason for the dedication.
The present church building dates from 1611. In 1841 the parish of St Olave was united with that of St Michael’s, and the church closed.
The building was restored in 1849 by James Harrison and converted into use as a school. It was declared redundant by the Church of England on October 3, 1972. It has since been used as the Chester Revival Centre, a Pentecostal church and as an exhibition centre. It is currently used as a storeroom by Cheshire Records Office.
The council says a sensitive solution is required for the bulging wall which may well retain medieval elements with the material behind likely to contain human burials.
Last month the annual ‘mini-pilgrimmage’ took place between West Kirby and St Olave’s in Chester to mark the borough’s Viking connections.