West Riding of Yorkshire

Rotherham Bridge Chapel, West Riding of Yorkshire

One of only four medieval bridge chapels remaining in England, the Chapel of Our Lady on the Bridge is hidden away down a backstreet of Rotherham squashed between industrial units and the bus station.

It is odd amongst the four surviving Chapels (St. Ives, Wakefield and Bradford-on-Avon are the others) in that the Chapel has survived much better than the bridge, the bridge is almost invisible now except from the river which is small and insignificant.

The Chapel and bridge were build around 1483, there is mention of a local teacher, one John Bokying leaving 3s 4d for the fabric of the Chapel “to be built on Rotherham bridge” in his will of that date. A few years later and the Chapel was up and running and in use by travellers praying for a safe journey or giving thanks for safe arrival.

In 1547 the Chapel was decommissioned under the Act for the Dissolution of Colleges and Chantries which preceded the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The Chapel came into the ownership of Feoffees of Rotherham (the precursor to the town council) who turned it into an almshouse. The Chapel only survived demolition by being so integral to the structure of the bridge that demolition would have meant a new bridge needing to be built. By 1681 the Chapel was a ruin and it stayed like that for close on a hundred years. In 1779 work was completed on turning it into a jail. The Deputy Constable lived upstairs and the crypt down below became a cell. It remained in this function until 1826 when a new jail opened and then the Chapel became a dwelling.

In 1888 the Chapel opened as a tobacconist and newsagent. It stayed in this function until 1901 when a petition signed by nearly 1,000 Rotherham residents was presented to the Feoffees asking for the Chapel to be returned to its normal function. The tobacconist was bought out in 1913 and work began, being completed in 1924. Further renovations were carried out in 1975.

The Chapel is used for worship every Tuesday morning, but is otherwise ignored by most passers-by and stands a little forlorn at the forgotten end of town.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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