THE only church in the country built by convicts is up for sale.

The 130-year-old Church of St Peter at the Grove has been put on the market by its owners HM Prison Service, which says it is surplus to requirements.

The island's Young Offender Institution stopped using it as its chapel in 1988, but has continued to maintain it for use by a small group of enthusiasts.

Stephen Twinn, the YOI governor, said the chapel was outside the secure perimeter of the establishment and so could not safely be used by prisoners.

"The building needs major repairs to prevent it deteriorating. The YOI has no funds for such repairs. If the church is to be properly maintained it needs to be transferred to someone who is in a position to use and maintain it," he said.

A guide price for the 322sqm building is not available as it is being sold by informal tender.

Weymouth estate agent Palmer Snell is handling the sale, and is inviting offers from interested parties.

Tim Wright, commercial manager, said: "This method is often used when it is particularly difficult to assess the value of a building.

"I imagine the client - in this case the government - wants to get the best possible price and this is an effective way of doing that."

The church - which is Grade II listed - is in planning class D1, which restricts its use to specific non-residential purposes such as a day nursery, a museum, a library or an exhibition hall.

Detailed planning inquiries can be obtained from Weymouth and Portland Borough Council.

It is thought to be the only church in the country built entirely by convict labour, and has had a colourful history - the infamous child murderess Constance Kent, who killed her younger brother, reputedly laid the church's mosaic floor while imprisoned on the island.

During the last couple of years it has been looked after by an enthusiastic group of volunteers.

One of them said: "There have been several builders up there already looking at it. I am passionate about keeping it because of its history."

The closing date for bids is November 28.