BBC presenter in Petworth chapel fight

Residents listen to presentations at the Save the Chapel meeting. CONTRIBUTED PICTURE
Residents listen to presentations at the Save the Chapel meeting. CONTRIBUTED PICTURE

MORE than 60 people went to a meeting to discuss the future of the chapel in the Horsham Road Cemetery, Petworth.

And the derelict chapel has even found celebrity endorsement.

At the meeting in St Mary’s Church on November 13, residents put forward ideas for funding, uses for the building and, most importantly, ownership.

Marianne Suhr is the former presenter of BBC2 series Restoration, and a regular visitor to Petworth.

She contacted the campaign group trying to save the chapel, and said: “I have been reading about the Petworth Chapel and I’m really saddened by its plight.

“Buildings such as these are so easily lost – a little benign neglect rapidly escalates into structural collapse, and the building becomes almost impossible to save.

“The real tragedy is that such buildings can’t be replicated in this modern age and anything that replaces it will have none of its character, charm or atmosphere.

“A few thousand pounds carefully spent now to preserve the chapel roof could stave off decay, until a viable use is found.

“I am quite sure failure to act now will be an enormous cause for regret to future generations of Petworthians.”

John Bird, one of the forerunners in the campaign, said: “The cemetery is a sacred place and with better access and tidying, it could be a lovely place for reflection.”

Estimates for repair work stand at £200,000-£300,000.

Ownership should lie, many said, with the church, the council, or the Leconfield Estate.

But not everyone wants to see the chapel restored. One man said: “Can we just let it do its own thing – be a monument?

“We are in a national park and everyone seems to be building. It is a waste of money.”

The Revd Tim Wright said the chapel was not the property of the church, and ‘never has been’. “We cannot take responsibility for anyone else,” he added.

A historic buildings officer from the South Downs National Park said ‘ownership must be established’.

Campaigners will seek legal advice and John said: “We will write to all possible owners and get them to renounce ownership so that the chapel can belong to the people, for the people.”