Chapel of the Month – February 2016

Saffron Walden 1 Saffron Walden 2 Saffron Walden 3 Saffron Walden 5 This month’s post was kindly prepared by Stephen Rapkin, Church Member.

Abbey Lane United Reformed Church, Saffron Walden

Abbey Lane and Newport United Reformed Church incorporating Saffron Walden Methodist Church, Abbey Lane, Saffron Walden CB10 1AG

Worship at Abbey Lane, Saffron Walden, a back-street location typical of early Dissent, reputedly dates back to 1665. At first the congregation gathered at a barn in Frogge’s Orchard and later in a meeting-house built on the site.

The current chapel dates from 1811 and its size and quality reflect the growing wealth and status of the ‘Independent Meeting’ by that time. Later in the nineteenth century the congregation would provide Saffron Walden with its first non-conformist mayor, John Player – uncle of the cigarette manufacturer – and a further nine, one of whom, Joshua Clarke, served as mayor ten times. The 1851 census recorded 1,150 worshippers.

The building is Grade II listed.

Externally the façade is stucco in which is moulded the superscription “Founded 1665 Rebuilt 1811”. Above the entrance doors are fine, cast-iron Adam-style fanlights. The other elevations are red brick with random burnt headers.

The interior, which is a mixture of original 1811 fittings and significant changes made in 1888, is dominated by an 18th century pulpit, accessed by a stair with 18th century handrail, but now incorporating substantial 1888 extensions with barley twist columns.

A dais rail, thought to be mid 19th century and certainly pre-dating the 1888 renovations, is usually described as a communion rail, although this would have had no function in a Congregational chapel. There is a fine set of late 19th Century pews (1888) with decorative carved ends, scrolled armrests, brass numbers and umbrella racks. A screen, also dating from 1888, shields the pews from the front door and seems to exhibit some early Arts and Crafts influence.

The balcony, with dentilled cornice and solid-panelled front, is supported by elegant, slender cast iron quatrefoil columns. The fine gallery clock was donated by the ladies of the church in 1812.

An 18-rank organ, built by W M Hedgeland, dates from 1864 with modifications by Alfred Kirkland in 1899.

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Chapel of the Month ???

At the start of a new year we’d like to put out an invitation to readers to suggest their Chapel of the Month. Is there a building that you particularly like or a chapel you know with a great story to tell?

Please send your contributions to us so that we can share them with a wider audience. A couple of images and around 250 words are all that we need to create a post. And we’re happy to credit and link to the relevant organisations and authors.

So, what are you waiting for?

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The Disused Chapel on the Cornish Skyline

With thanks to our friends at the Historic Religious Buildings Alliance we have been alerted to a delightful half hour Radio 4 programme on Methodist Chapels in Cornwall, covering the history of how they were built, but also interviewing those who are looking after them now, whether still operating as chapels or converted into family homes.

Each chapel Petroc Trelawney (who went to the Sunday School at the Methodist Chapel on the Lizard) investigates has its own fascinating past and present history.

First broadcast on 21st December, you can ‘listen again’ at

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Chapel of the Month – December 2015

Petre Chapel, Brentwood, Essex ~ Grade II*

For December we have something a little different… An appeal to help save the Petre Chapel Angels from the Historic Chapels Trust.

The chapel was built as the mortuary chapel of the Petre family, leading Catholic family of Essex, near to the former family seat at Thorndon Hall. Dedicated in 1857, the chapel is the work of architect William Wardell (1823-1899), a Catholic convert, who emigrated to Australia. St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne and St Mary’s Sydney are both his work.

Petre Chapel

Petre Chapel

When Trust took over the Petre Chapel it was ravaged by the elements and wanton vandalism. The Trust improved security and management and urgently patch repaired the roof to protect the timbers where there had been a leak for years. Now the Trust needs to replace the 160 year old tiles to safeguard the long term future of the magnificent Petre Chapel Angels.

Historic England (formerly English Heritage) and the Country Houses Foundation have agreed very generous grants, leaving HCT with just £3,000 to raise. Subject to raising the money the Trust aims to go out to tender early in 2016 and to start building work as soon as the local bats have stopped hibernating and drier weather is in prospect.

While the scaffolding is up, the Trust will undertake a careful structural survey of the hammer-beam roof and a conservation survey of the apparently original paint scheme. This will enable a careful restoration of the paintwork and gilding in line with the original scheme.

So, will you help save the Petre Chapel Angels? Every £1 the Trust raises enables them to draw down nearly £43 in grants from Historic England and the Country Houses Foundation.

If you would like to help, download and complete the Petre Chapel Appeal donation form.

You can find out more about Petre Chapel on the HCT website.

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Future of Welsh chapels debated

In early October a short debate was held in the Welsh Assembly on the future of chapel buildings in Wales. The country currently has a large excess of chapels and their upkeep falls to increasingly elderly and shrinking congregations. The Minister for Economy, Science & Transport referred to a strategic action plan pokiesaustralia currently being developed in consultation Cadw, and noted that Historic Environment (Wales) aims to introduce heritage partnership agreements to allow groups responsible for listed chapels to develop long-term management plans.

The Law & Religion UK website has a useful summary.

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2015 Heritage at Risk Register

The 2015 Heritage at Risk Registers indicate that 928 of the 14,790 (approximate) listed places of worship in England are at risk. Since 2014 there have been 161 new places of worship added to the list and 118 removed.

The four main reasons that places of worship end up on the Register are issues with gutters and downpipes, high level stonework, roofs, and structural stability. Most suffer from at least two of these problems.

The 2015 Registers are available here: and more information about places of worship at risk can be found here:

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National Maintenance Week – winter hints and tips

With winter on its way – and it has been a very chilly weekend – the onset of the cold weather will bring the usual related problems for churches and associated properties. The Church Matters website has a short video and useful guidance on how to protect your buildings in winter.

You can also find useful tips and advice on the SPAB’s Faith in Maintenance website.

So with National Maintenance Week well under way now is the time to check that your building has a fully functioning set of gutters and drains.

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Methodist Heritage News / ‘Property Matters’ published

The Autumn issue of Methodist Heritage News is now out, with a fascinating description of Methodist sites on the Shetlands Islands and an article on Cloud Methodist Chapel in Congleton. The chapel recently celebrated 200 years of continuous worship.

The most recent edition of the ‘Property Matters’ magazine includes information on fundraising and guidance on how to apply through the Connexional Property Grants Scheme. There are also updates on legal matters, insurance, and information specifically aimed at Trustees who manage chapels , such as how to reduce your carbon footprint.

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Chapel of the Month – November 2015

Buckfast Abbey, Devon

For November’s post we are grateful once again to Dr Jennifer Freeman.

Buckfast Abbey Nave

Buckfast Abbey Nave

Buckfast Abbey stands in wooded countryside close to the River Dart on the southern edge of Dartmoor. It is the only mediaeval monastery in England to have been restored to its original use following centuries of abandonment after Henry VIII’s Dissolutions. The monks followed the Benedictine Rule, laid down by St Benedict in the fifth century, committing them to a regimen of hard work and prayer with the goal of self-sufficiency.

The monastery is probably of Saxon origin, re-founded in 1018 as a Cistercian Abbey but returning to the Benedictines in 1147. This change coincided with a major programme of rebuilding lasting over a century. Agriculture and sheep farming were the basis of the monastic economy, funding the works programme. Buckfast was at its peak in the 13th century, before declining in the 14th and 15th centuries while at the same time remaining a large-scale owner of land.

Buckfast Abbey Stations of the Cross

Buckfast Abbey Stations of the Cross

In 1539 came the Dissolution of Buckfast, where there remained but 10 monks. The decline in numbers of monks was mirrored throughout England, in part due to universities and hospitals taking over tasks previously undertaken by monks. Some monasteries had already given up voluntarily. Monasteries were ransacked for building materials and valuables. Events at Buckfast followed the pattern. Buildings were unroofed, useful lead melted, furniture auctioned. Smaller buildings were converted for habitation or agriculture and the land was sold though five of the monks found alternative local employment.

For several centuries the heart of the monastery lay in ruins though some new buildings arrived on site, including a substantial house. Eventually the whole site went on the market in 1882 with religious purpose in view. Ideal purchasers emerged. These were monks from a largely German-speaking monastery in France, who had been evicted for belonging to an ‘unauthorised’ establishment, and thence fled to Ireland. They made their lasting home at Buckfast.

Frederick Walters FSA was appointed architect for the rebuilding of the monastery. He researched the foundations of the mediaeval monastery, rediscovered the gardens and became greatly involved in designs for the new Abbey. Some of the remaining buildings were recreated, others re-instated often incorporating earlier structure. The precinct was tacked in a similar spirit.

Buckfast Abbey Blessed Sacrament Chapel

Buckfast Abbey Blessed Sacrament Chapel

Monastic labour, virtually self-trained and utilising basic tools, was harnessed. Works commenced in 1884 with Abbey status being accorded in 1904. At any one time only 4-6 monks were on site, working piecemeal. The church was completed in 1922, the Abbey being consecrated ten years later. A great spur to the pace of building programme was Abbot Ansvar Vonier, Buckfast’s second Abbot, in the wake of the tragic death of its first Abbot, Boniface Natter.

The uniqueness of the huge project made the Abbey something of a visitor attraction. As in mediaeval times the monks sold their produce, including the famous ‘tonic wine’. Bee-keeping and the sale of honey proved popular. Over time the precinct has expanded its facilities with a teashop, restaurant, bookshop, conference and guest suites. Today’s precinct throbs with life, leaving the monks in seclusion to the south side of the monastic enclave. The ruined Abbot’s Tower, the mediaeval Guest Hall and South Gate have been gradually restored.

Architecturally, the newly created Abbey Church is built along Cistercian lines, combining both Romanesque and Gothic detailing in a carefully modulated, restrained, evocative manner. The unifying of different styles is not only a reminder of the Abbey’s history but also reflects a preoccupation of many contemporary church designers such as Dom Paul Bellot, Sir Ninian Comper and W. D. Caroe. The peaceful, contemplative atmosphere at Buckfast is re-inforced by its low-key sensory gardens and seemly precinctual buildings.

Buckfast Abbey

Buckfast Abbey

The Church is constructed of local blue limestone and golden Ham Hill stone that takes sunlight gloriously. In shape it is cruciform with a tower, transepts and long nave on the footprint of its mediaeval predecessor. Inside, the confident, elegant modelling of the stonework and the finessing of its carving set off ravishing mosaic paving, exquisite enamel work and gilding – much of it the work of Dom Charles Morris. Yet visitors are never led away from the prayerful purpose of the building into pure admiration of adornment. The meaning behind its distinctive chapels and varied spaces is always felt.

It was this English monk, Dom Charles Norris, who after a training at the Royal College of Art began to create Buckfast’s amazing stained glass in 1932. He, too, was responsible for painting the Lantern Tower in egg tempera in 1939, for the mosaic flooring in the Sanctuary and Crossing in 1943/47 and the pavement in the Choir and Lady Chapel of 1958. Bernhard Witte of the Aachen Studio designed the extraordinarily delicate enamelling of the Corona Lucis and the Stations of the Cross.

In 1968 the Blessed Sacrament Chapel was constructed in a distinctive, vibrant, Modern / Byzantine manner north of the tower and transepts. The huge stained glass walls make a powerful statement, comprising thick tiles of glass, chipped to shape and set in concrete or epoxy resin. Buckfast had moved into a new era.

The Buckfast complex is self-evidently successful. Perhaps unexpectedly, it is one of Devon’s most visited sites. The monastery flourishes from the monks’ personal endeavours. An astonishing success story in an era of faith failures.


  • Robin Clutterbuck, Buckfast Abbey – A History, Buckfast Abbey Trustees, 1994
  • Visitor Guide to Buckfast Abbey, Scala, 2005

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Chapel of the Month – October 2015

Sutton on the Hill Primative Methodist Chapel

Sutton on the Hill is a small scattered hamlet 8 miles to the west of Derby.  Mentioned in the doomsday book as Sudtun, the centre of the current hamlet sits on a rise above Sutton Brook. The C14 St Michael’s Church (rebuilt in 1863) is not within the village but is located on top of “the hill” about half a mile to the north east, giving commanding views of the surrounding countryside.

Sutton on the Hill Primitive Methodist Chapel

Sutton on the Hill Primitive Methodist Chapel

Sutton has a place in the historic development of Primitive Methodism. In 1811, aged 17, Sarah Kirkland of Mercaston, Derbyshire was so impressed by Hugh Bourne that she decided to devote her life to God and within two years she was accepted into the movement as its first female travelling preacher. Her first preaching engagement was at Sutton, where she converted a gypsy who then travelled with her and announced Sarah’s arrival in every town and village that she visited. Sarah became very popular and in 1816 preached to a crowd of 12,000 near Nottingham.

The Primitive Methodist Chapel is located about half mile north of the Anglican church in an isolated location in the corner of a field at the crossroad of Lane Ends. Interestingly, this is locally known as “ranter’s corner” after a name given to the Primitive Methodists when they were first founded in the early C19 due to their enthusiastic style of preaching.

The chapel itself is a small single storey brick building with Flemish bond and a Staffordshire blue tiled roof with decorative terracotta finials and the decorative date stone states “Primitive Methodist Chapel 1838”. The large symmetrically-placed metal windows give balance and grandeur to the building. Towards the end of the 19th century the porch and lean to the east were added.

This charming but unlisted chapel recently closed and has now been sold.

This month’s contribution was kindly prepared by Neil Robertson, Conservation Officer in South Derbyshire.

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