Chantry Chapel of St Mary the Virgin

St. Mary's Chapel upon Wakefield Bridge

St. Mary's Chapel upon Wakefield Bridge stands on the eastern side of the 14th. Century stone bridge providing a buttress in times of flood. The Chapel, though 25ft. wide is only 9ft wide at river level in order not to restrict the river. This is accomplished by the clever use of corbeling. Beneath the chapel there is still a small medieval crypt accessed by a narrow winding staircase.

It has been said that the chapel built for prayers therein for the souls of those who fell in the Battle of Wakefield 1, but as the chapel was licensed in 1356 (30 Edward 3rd), it seems therefore that King Edward could only have endowed or enriched the Chapel. From evidence available the chapel was built by the people of Wakefield between 1342 and 1356 when it was licensed, was endowed with gifts of land to provide a living for two priests, who had a house at the end of the bridge. Daily Masses were said until 1540 when the chapel ceased to be used for worship following the Act of Parliament for the Dissolution of the Chantries. When it was sold to the Savile family, who in the 17th century gave the chapel to the trustees of the Wakefield Poor. From 1540 until 1842 the chantry was rented out to various tenants including a dealer in old clothes who used to hang his wares from the pinnacles outside.

There is another twist in the story as the following appeared in the Wakefield & Harrogate Journal 9th January 1824;

"We understand that the Roman Catholics of Wakefield and its vicinity are about to contract with the Governors of the Grammer School for the ancient chapel erected on the bridge by Edward VI to commemorate the battle of Wakefield Green"

There seems to be no official record of this, did the reporter confuse St. Mary's Chapel upon Wakefield Bridge with St. John's Chapel in the grounds of the Grammer School?

In 1842 the then Vicar of Wakefield, Reverend Samuel Sharp persuaded the Yorkshire Architectural Society to restore the chapel. He also persuaded the Magistrates who were the Trustees of the Poor to give the chapel to the church on condition he paid for the conveyancing.

An Act of Parliament in 1844 divided Wakefield parish and created the Parish of St. Andrews (Eastmoor) and St. Mary's (Kirkgate) leading to the chapel opening on Easter 1848 as the Parish Church of St. Mary's this lasted until the new church for St. Mary's, built in Charles Street, was consecrated in 1854.

Unfortunately most of the building you see today is relatively modern, for in 1847/8 the building was demolished to bridge level and reconstructed at a cost of 3,000. The medieval front of the chapel was sold to the Hon. G. C. Norton and used to form the front of the boathouse at Kettlethorpe Hall where it stood until 1996

Boathouse of Kettlethorpe Hall showing the medieval front of Chantry Chapel

The front of the chapel was replaced again in 1939/40 due to problems encountered with pollution damaging the stone used.

The 1st January 2000 brings about another change in the story of the chantry as it then reverts to the Parish of Wakefield under the care of the Cathedral.

  Interior of the Chantry Chapel of St. Mary the Virgin

1 See Chapel of King Edward III on Wakefield Bridge by Scatcherd.

 Copyright Guy Etchells 2000
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