A CONGREGATION has been left devastated after thieves stuck again and made off with thousands of pounds worth of stone from a Grade 1 listed church.

A total of 20 pieces of York Stone were stolen from outside All Saints' Church in Church Lane, Stand.

The aftermath of the attack, which is the fourth to desecrate the historic church in recent years, was discovered by a member of the public, after occurring over night on Tuesday.

It is estimated that it will cost the church around £5,000 to replace the stolen stones.

Mandi Davies, All Saints' Church warden, said: "We are very upset and angry that something like this has happened again. This is the worst incident so far."

Prestwich and Whitefield Guide: Bare ground exposed from where the stones had been taken outside the churchBare ground exposed from where the stones had been taken outside the church

The gang of thieves dug up an area of around 12ft square of stone slabs from immediately outside the entrance to the church and above vaults in the grounds.

It is thought that they then loaded into a van or other vehicle and made off.

The incident has been reported to Greater Manchester Police.

Mrs Davies said: "It is difficult to understand how the stone could have gone from right out of the main entrance, which is in full view of Church Lane, and how no one could have seen or heard anything.

"There must have been at least two or three people involved because the stones are very heavy. And they must have had transport with them."

Although the attack has left the congregation feeling despondent, the church has issued pleas for public support.

Mrs Davies and other parishioners are now appealing for anyone who may have any information or CCTV footage which could help to catch the culprits to come forward.

Prestwich and Whitefield Guide: It is estimated to cost around £5,000 to replace the stones stolen from in front of the church entrance and above vaultsIt is estimated to cost around £5,000 to replace the stones stolen from in front of the church entrance and above vaults

She said: "I have spoken with other members of the congregation and they are very upset by what has happened.

"Especially with the situation we are in at the moment it just makes it feel even worse.

"There doesn't seem to be much that can be done. No one has seen or heard anything.

"But if there were some CCTV in the Whitefield area that would help."

In recent months St Mary's church in Prestwich and St Mary's Church in Radcliffe has also been targeted by thieves and vandals.

Prestwich and Whitefield Guide: All Saints' Church in Church Lane, Stand, Bury. Photo: Google MapsAll Saints' Church in Church Lane, Stand, Bury. Photo: Google Maps

All Saints' Church, Stand, is one of the most architecturally significant and historically important churches in the borough and North West.

Completed in 1826, the edifice is one of more 600 Commissioners' churches built as an act of national thanksgiving following the battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Parliament set aside £1.5 million in the early 19th for the churches' construction, mainly in growing industrial towns and cities.

It was hoped that they would go some way in counteracting the increasing political unrest sparked by the industrial revolution ­— which was typified by the “Peterloo” massacre in Manchester in 1819.

All Saints was also conceived as a necessary subdivision to the enormous Parish of St Mary in Prestwich and intended to serve the growing population around Whitefield and Prestwich.

At the time Stand was an open pastoral area, and land for the church and vicarage was granted by the Earl of Derby.

Distinguished London architect, Sir John Soane, was initially approached to prepare designs for the church.

However, his blueprints were soon found to be impractical and the commission was passed to the young Charles Barry ­— who would go on to rebuild the House of Parliament, and design the Royal Manchester Institution.

The foundation stone was laid on August 3, 1821, and the Bishop of Chester consecrated the church on September 8, 1826.

It was designated Grade 1 listed in 1966.