A CHURCH once loved so much by King Richard III that he gave it his royal seal of approval, is hoping to secure more than £300,000 to share its heritage with the community.

St Mary's Church, in Barnard Castle, dates back to the 12th Century and has become an important landmark in the town.

It is perhaps most famous for its connections to Richard, Duke of Gloucester - later Richard III - who was a benefactor of the church during his time as lord of Barnard Castle from 1477 to 1485.

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Often portrayed as a tyrant and accused of killing his own nephews to secure the crown; The Northern Dales Richard III group have also uncovered a softer side to the king which includes his love of the town and the church in particular, which bears his own seal of a Boar.

It is this heritage, along with many other stories including the part it played in a cholera epidemic, that the church's parochial council hope to tell if they are successful in their application to the Heritage Lottery Fund's Our Heritage fund.

However, Reverend Alec Harding said essential work was needed on the building as a new tower installed by the Victorians had disturbed the structure of the Grade I listed building and a crack was now visible through the west end of the church.

Work on the windows and grills surrounding them will also need completing.

Rev Harding said: "Really what we are about is trying to restore what is a precious asset to the town."

He added: "The Heritage Lottery Fund has reduced the number of funds, so now there is no longer a specific fund for churches and the knock on effect from that is that parish churches, like our own, are up against big hitters like the Bowes Museum and Beamish, who have fundraising teams and professionals doing the work.

"So it's always a big ask for a little church to put together applications but that said, the Heritage Lottery is very supportive of the North-East."

The church, which is still open to the public every day, would also host more displays and interact with groups if it is successful.

Rev Harding said: "I'm very keen that the church is a church and not a museum."

Church treasurer, Robert Stenlake, also stressed the need to complete the now urgent repairs.

He said: "We are hoping to get the grant because we now have cracks in the wall caused by the Victorians and work needs doing on the windows too.

"We are looking what we can do as a whole and it's an exciting project to open up the church's heritage.

"Richard III walked up and down this church and did a lot for it." To donate call Rev Harding on 01833-637018.