Ancient plots with royal ties waylay chapel access efforts

August 11, 2000

Conservationists are fighting a Durham college's plan to improve access to a local church that it uses as a chapel because it could disturb the graves of the Queen Mother's ancestors, writes Nigel Burnham.

St John's College has applied to Durham City Council to make alterations to the church of St Mary the Less, in South Bailey, which is used for training Church of England ordinands, lay workers and Methodist ministers.

It wants to make internal changes, install a disabled access ramp across the graveyard to the parsonage and create parking space.

The City of Durham Trust fears the work could disturb the remains of members of the Queen Mother's family, the Bowes, who held land in County Durham from the 14th century.

Although the trust is unsure of the site of the Bowes' family plots at the 16th-century church, which was rebuilt after a fire in the 1860s, it argues that they could be disturbed if the development proceeds. It has lodged objections to the external alterations with the city council and to the internal alterations with the Durham diocese.

Trust vice-chairman Janet Murrell called the plans drastic. "We're not sure where the remains of the Queen Mother's ancestors are. But great care must be taken to ensure that the graveyard is treated sympathetically and in keeping with its historic setting."

A spokesman for the university said the proposals were "changes it has reached with all due sensitivity".

"Providing disabled access to historic buildings is a difficult thing to do, but the college only wants to make alterations that would improve things for the people who use the church," he said.

Trust members are seeking discussions with college authorities.

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