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New theatre and museum could open at Victorian church in Sheffield

St Matthias Church in Stocksbridge
St Matthias Church in Stocksbridge
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A cavernous Victorian church in Sheffield could become a new cultural hub, housing a museum, theatre and even a ticket office for a proposed new railway service.

St Matthias Church in Stocksbridge closed last month, with a special farewell service held by the Bishop of Sheffield, the Right Reverend Dr Pete Wilcox, after the size of its congregration dwindled from up to 1,000 during its peak to as few as 15 worshippers.

The church closed last month

The church closed last month

It was anticipated the building would probably be sold and converted to flats, but proposals have now emerged to preserve it for the community as a visitor attraction.

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It is envisaged the church could provide more space for Stocksbridge Museum and Heritage Centre, which has outgrown its existing premises at the town hall.

The building could also act as a permanent base for the Steel Valley Beacon Arts theatre group, which until now has had a nomadic existence.

In the long run, it might house a ticket office for the proposed railway service on the existing line between Sheffield Victoria and Stocksbridge.

The stained glass windows at St Matthias Church

The stained glass windows at St Matthias Church

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Talks are believed to be at an early stage, but the theatre group is understood to be enthusiastic about the idea, which also has the backing of Stocksbridge & District History Society, which runs the museum, along with Don Valley Railway and the new South Yorkshire (Woodhead) Heritage Railway group, who are working together to revive passenger services on the last-surviving section of the old Woodhead line.

Dennis Pindar, who chairs the history society, said: "We would support any plans to provide a larger space for the museum to display more of the objects we have, and it would be great to combine that with a new theatre in a cultural takeover.

"If it's converted into apartments it would be lost forever, which would be a great shame given it was built for the people of Stocksbridge."

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The arts group declined to comment on the proposals at this stage.

Chris Bell, of Don Valley Railway, said the church seemed like a natural choice for a ticket office should a new passenger station open at Stocksbridge, given it backs on to the existing line.

The Diocese of Sheffield said church commissioners would now take the lead when it comes to deciding what happens to the building.

"They will look at alternative uses, and a meeting date has been set towards the end of the summer/early autumn," added LJ Buxton, communications manager for the diocese.

St Matthias Church on Manchester Road was built in memory of Samuel Fox, who founded the nearby steelworks, and was consecrated in 1890, three years after his death.

The church has more than 500 seats and is noted for the quality of its stained glass windows.