Wakefield, West Riding of Yorkshire

Chantry Bridge Chapel, Wakefield, West Riding of Yorkshire

The Chantry Chapel on the Bridge in Wakefield is one of the four bridge chapels (along with Rotherham, St. Ives and Bradford-on-Avon) that has survived to the modern day.

It was built in the mid-14th Century and was once one of four in Wakefield. Although it looks better preserved than some of the others, only the base of the building is from the original date, the remainder including the elaborate west front was rebuilt in the 1840s. Having said that, Wakefield is the oldest of the four, and by far the most elaborate. The original medieval west front was removed to Kettlethorpe Hall in 1832 where it was used for the boathouse – old pictures of this show that the original west front was nearly as elaborate as its replacement.

The medieval bridge which the Chapel forms part of was built around 1342 and the chapel was licenced in 1356. After the Battle of Wakefield in 1460 the Earl of Rutland made it as far as the bridge before being caught and killed. He may have been trying to reach the Chapel to gain sanctuary.

Wakefield’s other Chantry Chapels were demolished and the Bridge Chapel only survived because it is an integral part of the bridge structure. It was then used as a warehouse, a library, an office and a cheese shop and it even survived the widening of the bridge in 1758 and 1797. J.M.W. Turner painted the Chapel in 1793.

In 1842 the Church of England gained possession and it was restored to designs by George Gilbert Scott. Scott decided to use soft Caen stone for the façade which needed replacing by 1939 when stronger, local gritstone was used. The Chapel was opened for worship in 1848 and remained as a church and then chapel of ease until the 1950s. In the 1980s the chapel moved into the care of Wakefield Cathedral and is now open on special occasions.

It stands forlornly amidst industrial units with a large road passing by in what might otherwise be a pleasant setting.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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