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Ancient vault discovered beneath village church

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AN ancient vault, believed to have been undisturbed for almost 130 years, has been discovered beneath All Saints Church, Thelwall.
It contains the tomb of the former Lord of the Manor, James Nicholson , his wife Elizabeth and those of his parents.
The discovery was made as a result of investigations into the cause of a crack running the full length of the East End Gable of the church – necessary as part of a development project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Churchwarden Mike Horne, a member of the church conservation team, said anecdotally the cause of the crack had always been attributed to a vault under the chancel which predated the building of the present church
Searches of the archives in Chester revealed a document dated 1857 which confirmed that the then new chancel building was to be built over, but not disturbing the vault belonging to the then Lord of the Manor, James Nicholson.
Mr Horne said: “Suspecting that the entrance to the vault was in front of, or next to, the Nicholson Memorial Cross at the east end of church, we cleared away the path and surrounding ground to reveal a stone slab six feet by four feet by four inches thick, weighing about half a tonne.”
Permission was obtained from the archdeacon and the parochial church council and, under the supervision of the church architect, members of the conservation team removed the stone slab to reveal a staircase leading under the east end of the church.
“Mike Cooke and Dave Ashbrook were the first to enter the vault, and what we found astonished all of us. A very well constructed arched brick built tunnel led four metres under the chancel to a reach the vault itself, which again was arched and brick lined.
“The vault was occupied by the bodies of James Nicholson, his wife Elizabeth, and by the bodies of James’ parents Peter and Lucy. It is most likely that the vault had been sealed on James’ death in 1889 and not opened since.”
The vault was six inches deep in water, but the brickwork was sound, and after pumping out the water, the structural engineer was satisfied that there had been no movement and that there was nothing to be concerned about on the structural side.
The vault itself was measured and photographed and when the work was completed the team withdrew and the stone slab replace. The following day the path was replaced then by 5pm with all work completed we withdrew from the vault, replacing the stone slab. The next day the path was relaid
Mr Horne added: “It is now very hard to picture the scene and to believe that a large void exists below our church. “
A heritage weekend is to be held at All Saints Church on the weekend of October 13-14 as part of celebrations to mark the 175th anniversary of the present church. Photographs of the vault will be among items during two days of events at the church and at Thelwall Parish Hall.

Inside the vault

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