A PROJECT is under way to save and restore some of Bury Parish Church's historic stones, some of which date back hundreds of years.

There are a number of cracks in the ledger stones — inscribed stone slabs laid in the ground that commemorate burial places — which form the footpath leading to the main entrance of the Grade I listed building.

Church leaders are currently making funding applications to improve the pedestrian access, which has deteriorated over time.

Some of the ledger stones date back to the 1600s. The graves which they represent were moved to Bury Cemetery about 60 to 70 years ago.

Rev Julian Heaton, rector of Bury, said: "These ledger stones, with their wonderful and moving inscriptions about people who lived in Bury many generations ago, are part of our town’s heritage.

"Our plans to protect them and to make our history accessible are of value, not just to the parish but to the wider culture and heritage of our whole community."

Several hundred people visit the church each month, to attend concerts, choir rehearsals and services, enjoy an outing to the café, or attend scouting, guiding and toddler groups, to name a few.

A member of the church said it has a twofold need to provide safe access for the less mobile, for wheelchair users, pushchairs and prams, whilst conserving the heritage of the ledger stones, and potentially re-siting them.

An historian has begun researching the stones and the people who are named on them. Each ledger has been photographed and documented, so that the church has a permanent record. Both current parishioners and visitors to the site have ancestors represented there.

The estimated cost of the project is in the region of £200,000, which includes repairs to the church stone steps and walls within the grounds, improved drainage, and a new stone mounting for the sundial. Works would also involve the installation of a new interpretation panel at the south entrance to the church, featuring QR codes — a 2D barcode allowing visitors to learn more about the heritage of the site via their smartphones.

Community interest company Proffitts — Investing in Communities is working in partnership with the church and Bury Council on the project, and says the ledger stones are at "serious risk of irreparable damage."

Director Martin Proffitt said: "For generations Bury Parish Church has been a welcoming place of worship and a focus for many civic and national occasions.

"The ledger have been subjected to damage over the years, making them currently both hazardous and at risk of losing the historic text displayed on them.

"It is both a privilege and a responsibility to continue to care for and preserve this beautiful Grade I listed building.

"The church offers a fantastic range of activities and facilities for people of all ages from across Bury and beyond. We need to ensure that it can be accessed safely whilst preserving and protecting this part of its heritage for future generations."

More than 250 people have had their say on the plans by responding to a questionnaire.

Members of the public and church users are invited to take part at surveymonkey.co.uk/r/BuryParishChurch.