In March 1963 a fire started by some schoolboys swept through the Parish Church in Eastwood destroying the nave, roof and all of the interiors.
Only the church tower was saved and still stands today, as a beacon of hope to people living in the surrounding area.
Four years later, in 1967 St Mary’s Church was rebuilt in a modern style with fine acoustic qualities making it an ideal venue for choral and other musical events, alongside regular Christian worship.
And now 50 years on, a celebration weekend of events will mark this very special anniversary.
Between Friday September 22 and Sunday 24, the church will be open to the public for viewing floral displays, church records and photos of a special timeline of activities and events held by the church over the past 50 years.
Church warden John Keech said: “The formal opening of the rebuilt church took place on the Saturday September 23 1967, and our celebrations in September will be exactly 50 years to the day since that event.
“We will also formally open of our newly re-ordered church with a different altar and new carpetiing and new seating.
“We’ve been looking at giving the church a bit of makeover for a while and this year seemed like the right time to do it.”
The other church warden, Woodliffe Wright, saw the church burning down back in 1967.
“I can remember standing watching it.
“It was at night. I used to do youth work at the Eastwood Lads Club and I came out of there at about 10pm and it was fire.
“There were a lot of people coming out of their houses, stood in the street watching it.
“It was huge. People could apparently see it for miles around.
A group of three to four youths had broken into the church and piled the hymn books high before setting them alight.
Mr Wright said: “I remember the next day the church was just in embers.
“They couldn’t save anything apart from the tower, and I don’t think they were insured very well so it was decided they should pull it down.”
Mr Wright, who has been a church member for 40 years, said the arsonists were charged and sent to prison.
Church member Barbara Daykin said if anybody has any memories or photoghraphs that can be used for the celebration weekend, they would love to hear from them.
“We want to put out feelers out for folk to get in touch with their memories of that day it burnt down and the following years, weddings years ago and so on.
“We would love folk in the town who were married or baptised in 1967 to get in touch and celebrate with us, or perhaps we could borrow pictures to display in church as part of the celebrations.”
A new stained glass window in the vestibule, recently made by a local glass group ESCAPE, will also be dedicated during the weekend.
“It’s a tree with 50 leaves on it depicting the 50 years and there’s a picture of a dove of peace.
“One or two people have cut a leaf out of glass for it at workshops that the group held,” said Mr Keech.
In addition to a special service of celebration and rededication by the Bishop of Sherwood, the Rt. Reverend Tony Porter, the church will host an evening choral concert by the Eastwood Collieries Male Voice Choir and the Underwood Rock ‘n’ Soul Singers.
On Friday afternoon, there will be a unique opportunity for Bishop Tony to meet with children from the local schools.
The newly built church back in 1967 was the fourth church to be built on the site.
The first went up in the 1200s.
St Mary’s Priest in charge is Rev David Stevenson.
Last week your Advertiser reported that two Peregrine Falcons had taken up residence at St Mary’s, with the congregation now trying to raise money for special nesting boxes with CCTV.
Church member Dorothy Wright said the congregation was very excited to have the visitors, and said it was the second year now that they had nested there.
“It’s wonderful. They’re there most days,” she said.
“We get a lot of interest and they’re keeping the pigeons away.
“This is the second year they have come. We have been in touch with the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, and they have been out to have a look, and they have verified they are falcons.
“They suggested we could have a nesting box on the tower with a camera linked up to a screen and we thought it was a great idea.
“We are now looking to raise some funds for this and hopefully if all goes well we can start putting it up in November.
“We can’t do it until then because they’re a protected species and we don’t want to disturb them.”
Programme of Events
Friday, September 22
10am until 12noon
The church will be open for viewing of the floral displays, church records and a time line presentation of activities and events over the past 50 years. Light refreshments will be available.
1.30pm until 2.30pm
Meet the Bishop. A chance for the children from local schools to come along and meet Bishop Tony and take part in other activities.
A choral concert featuring Eastwood Collieries Male Voice Choir with The Underwood Rock ‘n’ Soul Singers.
Saturday, September 23
10am until 2.30pm
The church will be open for viewing of the floral displays, church records and a time line presentation of activities and events over the past 50years. Refreshments will be available.
A special service of celebration and re-dedication with the Bishop of Sherwood, the Rt Revd Tony Porter.
Sunday, September 24
A special service for everyone.
A service of Holy Communion.