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Showpiece spire cracks

13 September 2013

THE spire of what is believed to be one of the finest medieval churches in England faces immediate demolition after huge cracks appeared in its base.

Engineers fear that the 179-foot tall spire of St Mary de Castro, in Leicester (above), could collapse at any time, and the Grade I listed building has been fenced off to protect the public. Services have been transferred to the nearby St Nicholas's.

Officials at St Mary's, however, which Nikolas Pevsner described as "a showpiece of late-Norman sumptuousness", have yet to raise the £200,000 needed to dismantle the spire, which dates from 1400, or consider plans to find an estimated £800,000 to rebuild it.

They have known about the cracks for some time, but the structure had not been considered dangerous. Last year, it was reinforced with steel bands, but an inspection by engineers from Leicester City Council earlier this month found that its condition had deteriorated quickly, with 18ft-cracks in four of its eight sides.

The co-ordinator of the restoration appeal, Rosemary Mason, said: "Once the dangerous part has gone, and everything has been made safe, then we can go back. We have said six months, but we shall have to wait and see."

She blamed repairs in 1916, on the spire's top 40 feet, which used a heavy mortar that caused it to sway. "It is pressing down, and has created cracks in the lower sections," she said. "The top piece has to come off before the winter. "We are looking to English Heritage to help us - or anyone else. Our aim is eventually to replace the entire spire in new stone; we will not accept that it will not go back up one day."

The church is reputedly where the body of Richard III lay after his death at the Battle of Bosworth, in 1485. It has seen an upsurge in visitors since his skeleton was unearthed in a car park in Leicester.

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