A LANDMARK building which has served as a church for up to 700 worshippers at a time, a hub for community group meetings, a carpet shop and helped shape a town centre’s landscape for 158 years looks set to be razed to the ground.

With a 100ft steeple that can be seen above the concrete block skyline of Northgate, the former Darlington Congregational Bicentenary Memorial Church in Union Street is scheduled for demolition next month.

The church was built at a cost of £1,900 in 1862 to mark the 200th anniversary of 2,000 Puritan ministers being expelled from the Church of England.

The Northern Echo: The Congregational Church at Union Street, Darlington in 1862The Congregational Church at Union Street, Darlington in 1862

While also being used by a number of Darlington groups, it continued as a place of worship until in 1972, the Congregationalists united with the Presbyterians of Northgate to form the town’s United Reformed Church.

Proposals to bulldoze the crumbling and vandalised building, which includes some of the oldest stonework in that part of the town centre, were validated by Darlington Borough Council’s planning department on Monday and follow the authority buying the property using a grant from the Tees Valley Ingenious Growth Fund to bring forward a town centre regeneration project.

Action to increase the number of visitors to that part of the town centre is being viewed by leading councillors as vital following Marks and Spencer moving out of its 25,000sq ft store at the North entrance of the town centre in 2018.

Last July, a report on the council’s strategy to revamp the area stated while some store openings in Northgate had helped increase consumer activity in the area, derelict and empty properties portrayed “an unwelcoming vista to local shoppers and visitors when accessing the town from this gateway”.

It added: “However, the area continues to present a major opportunity by virtue of the land and property uses; ground levels; and gateway location and lends itself to a possible for a mix of commercial and residential development and is particularly suited for the development of a convenience store.”

Councillor Alan Marshall, the authority’s economy portfolio holder, declined to detail what plans the council had for the former church site due to commercial sensitivities.

He said: “It is an eyesore, but it is part of Darlington’s history as well. I appreciate some people will have feelings for it, but the cost of refurbishment would be astronomical and the whole area needs redeveloping.”

The Northern Echo: An example of graffiti on buildings in the Union Street area of Darlington town centreAn example of graffiti on buildings in the Union Street area of Darlington town centre

Cllr Marshall said the council was hoping of gaining government funding to regenerate the area, which includes the expansive former church behind the Boots and Halifax stores. He said: “We would like a development there to balance that end of the town up a bit. You have to demonstrate you have ambition to attract people and businesses.”

It is hoped a bottle, which was placed inside the foundation stone by the minister in 1862, the Reverend Henry Kendall, containing a copy of the Darlington and Stockton Times newspaper and some coins of the day, will be unearthed during the demolition work, which is expected to take about three weeks.