Country houses for sale

The beautiful church where one of ‘Laurel and Hardy’ was christened is up for auction at a guide price of £110,000

St Peters Church in Bishop Auckland will need an owner with courage and vision, but this building could become something truly extraordinary.

Every so often, an opportunity comes onto the market which makes us sit back and wonder open-mouthed how such-and-such a property can be for sale at so-and-so a price.

Last year, for example, this quite astonishing 20-bedroom castle was put up for auction with a guide price of £500,000:

The property we’re looking at today isn’t quite so enormous – but then again, the guide price at the forthcoming Hunters auction is £110,000 for the church and £75,000 for the church hall – an astonishingly low £185,000 in total.

What’s more, while great swathes of Ribbesford were almost completely dilapidated as it went under the hammer, this 8,200sq ft property in Bishop Auckland very much appears to be in pretty good nick.

Pretty good nick, that is, if you’re looking to buy a church.

St Peters was originally built in 1875 and is a Grade II-listed building — but permission to convert it into a home should be straightforward since plans have previously been approved.

Should the new owner decide to use those plans as a basis for redevelopment, the church will eventually become a stunning six-bedroom house.

Obviously any prospective buyer would have to do their homework about the property before bidding, and apart from anything else there are covenants in place restricting exactly what can and can’t be done.

That said, the agents, Hunters, confirm that, ‘the Council have previously indicated that they would be supportive of the demolition of the choir vestry to provide some space between the church and the [church] hall.’

The hall is included: it’s over 3,200sq ft over two floors and comes with permission in place for conversion into flats.

Putting practicalities aside, though, this really feels like an opportunity for a dreamer to create something spectacular. The Gothic arches, windows and vaulted roof are the sort of wonderful features which we can imagine being incorporated carefully into the living space.

There’s also a bell tower with stone spiral staircase (surely this could become a perfect home office?) and choir and clergy vestries away from the main church itself.

There’s also some interesting history in the church. Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy fame was baptised here in 1891 and a plaque by the font commemorates the occasion.

How much will St Peters go for in the end? It’s hard to say, since it’s been looking for a buyer for a little while. Originally the church and church hall were listed separately; then the church without church hall was put online with a guide price of £110,000; subsequently, an online auction for the church and church hall together then appears to have ended without meeting the reserve. Now, bids are being accepted once more, with a guide price of £185,000. The closing date is 25 July.

St Peters Church and Church Hall in Bishop Auckland are for sale via auction through Hunters — see more details and pictures.