CAMPAIGNERS are up in arms at the news that the 18th century Masbrough Chapel could be auctioned for a fraction of the £125,000 it sold for a decade ago.
The community group Friends of Masbrough Chapel is concerned that if the historic building is sold too cheaply its new owners might not care properly for it.
The chapel site had been in the hands of a receiver for a year and a firm of Leeds estate agents has been trying to sell it.
However, the receiver has now placed the chapel, which was sold for £125,000 ten years ago, in the hands of Sheffield-based Mark Jenkinson Auctioneers for auction on May 18, with a reserve price of only £25,000.
This price is said to reflect the complexities of the site–including an access agreement which designates the burial ground as a public open space and a sitting tenant with a further four years on an occupational lease.
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The Friends group has written to Rotherham Borough Council to ensure that it secures the future of the site, which has unparalleled significance in the industrial history of the town.
Eileen Hyland (63), secretary of the group, said: “Our committee feels very strongly that the only way forward to protect Rotherham’s heritage would be for the council to purchase it.
“Since our formation in 2002, we have co-operated with the council at every opportunity and have been put in the unenviable position of watching the site deteriorate before our eyes because of the inaction of the council.
“We need to protect and nurture this remarkable piece of history.”
The group’s website gets many inquiries from this country and abroad from descendants of people buried in the chapel burial ground.
Unfortunately, sometimes they have to be told that the gravestones of their ancestors have been stolen or buried under rubbish and undergrowth.
The council has cleared flytipping from the burial ground several times over the past year and the site is enclosed by wire fencing to try to prevent more.
The Walker Mausoleum in the grounds of the chapel, which is one of only three of its kind in the country and contains plaques commemorating members of the Walker family, is not affected by the sale.
It recently suffered vandalism of the roof and is shortly to undergo repair by a Sheffield firm engaged by the borough council.
There were court battles between the council and the previous owner over the 1968 access agreement but he was never charged over the duty of care he had to a listed building.
The Friends are worried that any new owner would continue this “mistreatment” until the building was in such a state that only the land would be left.
A spokesman for the borough council said that the authority was fully aware of the concerns of the Friends group, having received recent correspondence from it.
She added: “The authority does realise the importance of the Masbrough Chapel and Mausoleum and over the years has spent many hours trying to resolve the issue. We will consider the situation before responding to the Friends group in the very near future.”