A HISTORIC church is believed to have suffered around £15,000 of damage in a fire.

Firefighters tackled the blaze at the church on Sunday afternoon but could not save some statues and other parts of the church were also damaged.

The fire broke out at Holy Infant and St Anthony Church, Baxendale Street in Astley Bridge, at around 2pm and a passer-by called the fire service after seeing smoke billowing from the building.

It was originally believed the fire was started by candles but is now thought to have been an electrical fault.

It broke out near the altar and involved the main hall and the roof of the church.

The priest, Father Billy Molloy, had been away from the church at the time, giving holy communion to people in the community who are housebound and came back to get a knock on the door saying there was a fire.

The fire was only smouldering and did not spread but the church was heavily smoke-logged.

Barbara Maycroft, aged 78, attends the church and spoke to the priest this morning about what happened.

She said: "They thought it was a candle but father this morning said it was electrical.

"A passer-by saw the smoke and called the fire service. The father was out giving holy communion to the housebound.

"Looking at it this morning there is a lot of damage at the alter and statues were destroyed.

"It will require around £15,000 of work on it father said and it will also need decorating again.

"I go pretty much every day. It is very sad."

Mass is being held in the presbytery this week while the damage is repaired but it is hoped mass can return to the church this weekend.

Fire service watch manager, Craig Cubbins said: “The priest let us into the church and the quick actions of both the priest and the member of the public helped to prevent the fire from spreading. The church will need redecorating because the congregation area was heavily smoke-logged.”

A resident said she was in her home opposite the church when she heard sirens and came to the window to see what was going on.

She said there was three fire engines outside and they closed Baxendale Street to allow firefighters to tackle the blaze.

Six firefighters tackled the fire using hose reels and fans to clear the smoke.

Burnt debris, including a statue, could be seen outside the church today.

Last year, the church celebrated its 140th anniversary with a mass led by the Bishop of Salford, John Arnold.

The church opened as a Mission Parish in 1877 and until 1978 was served by priests from St Mary's in Bolton.