Saturday, 27 June 2015

The Chantry Chapel: one of the last surviving Bridge Chapels in England

Wakefield Chantry Chapel and medieval Bridge

Once a common site, the bridge Chapel on the beautiful nine-arched medieval chantry bridge in Wakefield is one of the last remaining bridge Chapels in England.

A Little About Wakefield

"a very quick market town and meately large; well served of fish and flesh both from sea and by that all vitaile is very good and chepe there. A Right honest man shall fare well for 2d. a meal...There by plenti of se coal in the quarters about Wakefield." John Leland 1538
Dubbed the 'Merrie City' in the Middle Ages, Wakefield is an ancient City, with finds dating back to prehistory, the name Wakefield could either derive from the Old English Wacu (a watch or wake) Feld (an open field in which a wake or festival was held, or 'Waca's field' (open land belonging to 'Waca.') 

Wakefield_Bridge_and_Chantry_Chapel_by_Philip_Reinagle_1793 Public Domian Wikimedia Commons
Chantry Chapel by Philip Reinagl 1793 Public Domian Wikimedia Commons

Site of a major battle during the Wars of the Roses and a stronghold for the Royalists during the English Civil War, Wakefield became an important market town and centre for wool, exploiting its position on the River Calder to become an inland port.

The Chantry Chapel of St Mary the Virgin

One of only four surviving bridge chapels in England, it was built in the mid 14th century and was orginally one of four medieval chapels situated on the roads into Wakefield.

Wakefield Chantry Chapel from the Bridge
Wakefield Chantry Chapel from the Bridge

During the middle ages, chapels on bridges were fairly common and were used by travellers, who often had dangerous and difficult journeys, to offer prayers of thanks before entering a city, or prayers for safety before leaving. Of the four remaining in England, Wakefield is the oldest and most elaborate (the others are at: Bradford-on-Avon, St Ives (Cambridgeshire) and Rotherham. There are also bridge chapels at Derby and Rochester, but these are located on the riverbanks, and are not a structural part of the bridge.

The medieval bridge that the chapel forms part of was built between 1342 and 1356 and replaced an earlier, wooden one over the River Calder.

According to some accounts, seventeen year old Edmund, Earl of Rutland and son of Richard Plantangenet, 3rd Duke of York, was infamously killed on or near the bridge by Lord Clifford during the Battle of Wakefield, in the Wars of the Roses.

Chapel adjoining Wakefield Bridge by William Henry Toms 1743 Wikimedia Commons
Chapel by William Henry Toms 1743 Wikimedia Commons

All of the other chapels of Wakefield were closed in the mid 16th century during the Reformation and Abolition of Chantries Acts, but this one survived as it was a structural part of the bridge. Since then it has been used as a warehouse, a library, an office and a cheese shop.

Wakefield Chantry Chapel
Wakefield Chantry Chapel - the ornate tower

It has been looked after by the Friends of Wakefield Chantry Chapel since 1990 and services are held at 4.30pm on the first and third Sundays of each month.

Wakefield Chantry Chapel Blue Plaque

There are also open days on public holiday weekends and group visits can be arranged by appointment at other times.

Wakefield Chantry Chapel and medieval Bridge
Wakefield Chantry Chapel and medieval Bridge

Unfortunately the Chapel was not open when we visited, so we were unable to get any internal shots, but we hope to return and remedy this, as the inside looks beautiful. More information and useful links may be found at the bottom of this article.

The Chapel is easy to find but it can be tricky to negotiate the traffic system of the 'newer' A638 bridge over the river, and find parking nearby. Just over the new bridge, and on the other side of the river, is the modern Hepworth Gallery, which is also well worth a visit.

Thanks for reading!


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