The Chantry Chapels of




The Chantry Chapel of St Mary the Virgin

otherwise know as

St Mary's Chapel upon Wakefield Bridge




The old bridge over the Calder at Wakefield consists of nine arches ; the eastern side with its four-ribbed, pointed arches was built in 1342 ; the width at the time being only sixteen feet wide between the parapets ; nine low-browed pointed arches consisting or four detached ribs of compact masonary springing from their abutments with their supporting piers were required to carry the road over the river. Many benefactions were made to this bridge, as in the wills of Robert Waghenman who bequeathed 6s. 8d. to the fabric of the bridge of Wakefield, and als 26s. 8d. for repairing Newton Layne. Robert Bever, the vicar left 2s. to the fabric of the bridge. William Walker to the fabric of the new road over the bridge 6s. 8d. William Mason in 1436 left 7s. to the bridge. The foundations of the chapel were laid on a small island in the middle of the river, against and forming part of the northern pier of the central arch. The material used in the building was sandstone, probably from the quarry in the Goodybower on the north side of the parish church, which stone was used for the alterations of the edifice in the fourteenth century. At a few feet above the foundations the building on each side increases in width by a continuous line of finely-moulded corbelling, which springs from the lower walls, so that the whole weight of the side walls of the fabric rest upon the outer verge of the corbels. The external measurements were, length 50 feet, width 25 feet, height., up to the top of the battlements, 36 feet ; the internal dimensions, 42 feet by 16 feet 8 inches.



The chapel consists of two chamgers, one above another ; the upper chamber is now level with the bridge and forms the chapel proper. The lower chamber, beneath the eastern third of the building only, lighted by small loop windows, was the sacristy, and there was an entrance for the priest from the islet, for a doorway, convenient for that purpose, is remembered where a window opening is now found at the east end. The sacristy measures 16 feet wide by 9 feet and 8 feet high to the rafters. This chamber was enlarged in 1847 by hollowing out a recess in the pier ; the old masonry and the old confines are easily distinguishable, as are the two original splayed windows. The communication between the sacristy and the chapel consists of a narrow spiral stone staircase, only one foot eight inches wide, which is continued up to the roof of the chapel and terminates in a bell turret.

The west front terminated at either end in a buttress, between which were five compartments or panels, which extended the whole height of the edifice, and were seperated from each other by slender shafts. The five arches were alike in design, with ogee cornices, above which were gabled crocketed pediments, the tynpana and spandrels covered with geautiful diaper work and tracery. Three of these arches were pierced with doorways, the other two were filled with tracery to resemble blank windows. Below the parapet was a deep weathering, surmounted by battlements. The fivefold division of the west front was carried through into the parapet, which consisted of five panels of sculpture, each surmounted by a canopy of three cinquefoil arches, above which were battlements. Each of these panels contained a sculptured representation of one of the five glorious mysteries of the Rosary : - The Annunciation, The Nativity, The Resurrection, The Ascension and the Coronation of the Virgin.

The buttresses at their angles contained near the summit two full length statues in niches with overhanging canopies ; these buttresses terminated in lofty crocketed pinnacles, containing, above the aforementioned niches, others within which were four smaller statues. At each side of the chapel were three square-headed windows, with labels suspended from the cornice above, reaching half-way down the window, and terminating in carved heads. These windows were of three lights with a beautiful head of flowing tracery, and were surmounted by a continuous panelled parapet running from the east to the west angles of the chapel.

At the east end of the south side was, in addition to and at a higher level than the other windows, a small two-light "high side" window, which has been completely overlooked in the re-building of the chapel. It is shown in a ddrawing of the chapel among the Gough collection in the Bodleian Library, also in an oil-painting made at the end of the eighteenth century. This window was probably contemporary with the rest of the building, and was intended for the exhibition of a light at night to travellers approaching the bridge from the south side, and would be extremely useful at a time when the land there was unenclosed. Possibly the light which was always burning before the image of the Virgin in the niche in the east wall served the double purpose. At any rate the position of the window would allow of this.

The north-east angle contained the newalo staircase to the bell turret, which was octagonal in form, the walls finishing in a richly panelled parapet ; the turret itself terminated in a crown of flying buttresses, as shown by a stone found during the rebuilding in 1847, which was carefully concealed by the contractor, from a fear that his contract would compel him to restore it if known, and the fact was only revealsed some years ago by the foreman on the work ; it originally contained two bells. The east window was of five taceried lights, not being square-headed as all the other windows were, but fitted to the pedimental lines of the roof, which was of wood covered with lead ; the internal label over the window teminated in heads of Edward II and Queen Philippa. Above the east window within a canopied recess in the gable end stands a figure of the Blessed Virgin looking towards the east over the flowing waters of the Calder. There were formerly two steps from the bridge up to the doors of the chapel, but the levels are now changed, so that the floor of the chapel is on a level with the outside pavement.

In the interior of the chapel, immediately to the left of the central door was a recess in the wall, in which was a holy water stoup. The sanctuary was only raised a single step above the ordinary floor level. Beneath the east window stood the stone alter. Within a richly-carved niche in the east wall of the chapel, and south of the alter, on a raised pedestal stood a figure of the Virgin, to whom the chapel was dedicated. Above her haid was a ribbed protecting canopy, terminating in a spite, and ornated with pinnacles and crockets.

The priscina in the south wall was also richly carved, but before the re-building only a fragment of it remained, though sufficient to show its beauty. In the north wall, within the sanctuary, was a recess with doors, used as an aumbry. On the north side of the altar a doorway opened upon the staircase to the sacristy, which served as a vestry for the priests.

Paintings adorned the walls, traces of which could be seen before the demolition of the building, but now only in the carved work about the niche which contained the figure of the Virgin.

An Inventory of the Goods and Plate belonging to the Chapel of St Mary upon the bridge at Wakefield was made in 1498, by Sir John Savyle, of Lupset, Knight, Steward of the Manor of Wakefield, and deputy to Thomas Rotherham, Archbishop of York, who built the bridge-chapel at Rotherham. (The full inventory can be found on page 239 of Wakefield its History and People ).

There were other celebrated chapels upon bridges, as that at York dedicated to St William, which owing to the course of the river stood parallel with the Ouse bridge, and was only destroyed with the bridge at the beginning of the nineteenth century ; another at Rotherham (now restored) sprung over two of the arches of the bridge ; another at St Ives in Huntingdonshire, and one at Bradford-upon-Avon, rebuilt in the seventeenth century. But, even by French antiquaries, the Chapel on Wakefield bridge was considered to be superior to their chapel upon the bridge at Avignon over the Rhonem or the chapel by the Arno at Pisa, and of all such chapels the architectural gem.

Having followed the history of this chapel and chantry to the height of their prosperity, we shall now witness the change of fortune which befell them in the sixteenth century.

When in 1534, Henry VII sent commissioners throughout the kingdom to compile the Valor Ecclesiasticus, in order that he might know the value of the first-fruits of all benefices, the chantry in this chapel was returned as of the annual value of £12. 8s. 11d., and the two priests, Richard Seale and Tristram Harton, had each an income of £6. 3s. 7d.

When chantry lands were to be sold they were valued at twenty-six years' purchase and very rarely fetched less than twenty years rental value. Very little was given away, as is comonly supposed, of either monastic or chantry lands. The statemen of Edward the Sixth's reign seem to have insisted on and to have obtained a fair price for the lands disposed of. There does not seem to be any foundation for the idea they were given away for an old song, or for nothing to greedy courtiers. Sylvester Leigh and Leonard Bate, who formed a kind of syndicate for the purchase of chantry lands, as jackals for or under the lead of Sit Edward Warner, Knt., put in applications for large quantities of chantry lands in Yorkshire.

Under the Act of 1545 for the dissolution of chantries, this chantry was valued at, annual income from rents of lands and houses £14. 15s. 3d., the ornaments and vestments in the chapel at £1. 16s. 2d., the plate at £3. 4s. 8d. Ffom the Commissioners report of 1548 we learn that Tristram Harton and Richard Seale, the chaplains, were respectively 64 and 54 years of age and were both "unlearned" ; that the annual rental of the property had risen in value from £14. 15s. 3d., at which it was returned in 1545 to £15. 1s. 8d., at the date of this commission. On the other hand, the value of the ornaments and vestments of the chapel had fallen from £1. 16s. 2d., to £1. 2s. 10d., the weight of plate is given at twenty ounces parcell gylte.

When the inventory of the goods and plate, as given above, belonging to the chapel was made in 1498, at a time when there was no suspicion of any dissolution of the chantries, the value of these articles was estimated at £35. 5s. 4d., yet when the return of 1548 was made those that remained were only valued at £1. 2s. 10d. This certainly lends colour to the view that very large quantities of the place and goods belonging to chantries were removed by those in charge of them between the passing of the Act and the Commissioners visit in 1548.

The report made in 1546 is a very complete one as to the posessions of this chantry, giving the description and locality of each property, with the tenants name and the annual rent. From it we find that the lands and tenements were chiefly situated in the Ings and Burmantofts * in Wakefield, in Alverthorpe, Pontefract, Horbury, Shafton, Heath and Ossett, and were mostly in small lots. Monk Bretton Piory made an annual payment of 3s. to this chantry ; probably in connection with a messuage, an orchard and garden adjoining in Kirkgate, Wakefield, in which Johne Nante now dwells, which descended to William Mason, chaplain; after the death of his father Robert Mason, the said William Mason granted to Gerard Lascy and others this messuage ; the deed being witnessed by John Chaloner, William Amyas, Brian Bradford, Thomas Lister, and Richard Peck, all well-known Wakefield men, the latter being at the time bailiff of the town ; three months later, February 7 1505-6 the grantees released property to Thomas Prior of Monkbretton Priory and the convent there.

On June 2 1548, Sir William Mildmay, Knight and Robert Kelway, esquire, assigned to Richard Sele, one of the chantry chaplains, one half of the rents issuing from the chantry house, with a garden or orchard adjacent, one cottage adjacent, a meadow of 1 1/2 acres in Thornes, another close alongside, 1/2 an acres of land nex the bridge, a rent of 7s. out of the close called Fallebanke, one of 2s. from land in Thornes, another of 16d., another of 13s., others of 3d and 7d. Tristram Harton, the other chaplain, was given for his life or until promotion, the rents from a cottage, garden, and croft of 2 acres, a messuage with 3 acres and 5 roods of meadow, 8 acres, a cottage and croft and 3 acres.

For the half-year from Easter to Michaelmas 1548, Leonard Bate of Lupset was appointed collector of the revenues of this chantry, among others, for the King, and in the next year Henry Savile made a valuation of the chapel itself and all property belonging to the chantry, as Edward Warner, Silvester Leigh of Pontefract and Leonard Bate wished to acquire it from the King. In this estimate it is stated that the chapel was built of free hewn stone covered with lead, containing one and three quarters fothers, ** having two bells in the roof weighing six hundred and twenty one pounds; the lead was valued at £7, the ellw at £6. 4s. 4d. ; to the certificate a note is appended, stating that it was "necessary to provide in the saile thereof that the said chappel be not defaiced nor pulled downe for it is builded upon the myddlemoste arche of the said bridge of Wakefelde beinge no smalle strengthe thereunto". The value was declared at five shillings a year, which, as it was to be sold on an eleven years purchase, would be equivalent to fifty five shillings. By letters patent, under the great seal of England, dated June 17 1549, Edward Warner, Silvester Leigh and Leonard Bate were granted "all the building and the site of the late Chapel of St Mary, situated and founded in the middle of the bridge of the town of Wakefield, and all the bells, and all the lead, with everything belonging to the said chapel" in addition to a large portion of the chantry property ; and on the first day of August 1550, Silvester Leigh and Leonard Bate receibed a grant of another portion of the estates of the chantry. Sir Thomas Gargrave of Nostell Priory and Thomas Darley must have purchased from the above grantees some of this property along with the chapel, for at a Manor Court held at Wakefield, May 3 1549 they admitted to a messuage called "chauntre house" and several cottages and fields lately belonging to the Chantry of the Blessed Mary of two priests on Wakefield bridge, Soon afterwards Sir Thomas Gargrave and Thomas Darley surrendered a messuage called "le chauntre house", with other property, "one moiety to Henry Saivell, his heirs and assigns for ever, and the other to Richard Seale (formerly one of the incumbents of the said chantry) and his assigns for life, with remainder to Henry Saivell, his heirs and assigns for ever".

The old religion revived again on the accession of Queen Mary in 1553, and the owner of this chapel seems to have fallen in with the royal creed, and allowed the building to revert to its true use ; the priests again celebrated at its alter and the daily services were recommended. This we learn from the declaration of Henry Savile (the owner) who was Crown Surveyor for the jewels, plate, ornaments, goods, lead and bells lately belonging to the colleges, chantries &c., in the West Riding, which dated November 28 1555, states that in the chapel upon the bridge there were two bells and one fodder three quarters of lead, also that "the two belles lately belonging to the Chapel of St Swithin had been taken into the Chapel of St Mary upon Wakefield bridge, wherein Goddes services is caylie mayntayned", In 1558 when Elizabeth came to the throne, the chantry dissolved. Robert Chaloner of Stanley by his will dated July 7 1555 and proved on October 10, willed "all my ymages in my chapp for the chappel of our ladie of Wakefeilde bridge to have so many of them for the adornmente of the said chapell as theie shall thinke and conueniente" he also gave to the altar of the chapell his second best vestment. It was probably due to Chaloner also that the bells from St Swithins Chapel, near his home in stanley, were taken to the chapel upon the bridge.

It would appear that the chapel and the closes near to Thornes field were conveyed to the trustees of the general poor of Wakefield, now know as the Govenors of the Wakefield Charities.

On a tablet still existing in Wakefield Cathedral Mr Savile is mentioned as having given £6 per annum to the poor of the town.

The trustees of the general poor of Wakefield let the chapel to various tenants, and from many sources we obtain information of the uses to which the building was put, and of the alterations and repairs to the fabric itself. By an Act, 22 Henry VIII (1530-31) the general maintenance of the bridges was placed in the hands of the Justices of the Peace, and on April 3 1638 the county magistrates sitting at Pontefract were informed of the "great ruyne and decay of the stone bridge at Wakefield, standinf over the river of Calder, and the Chappell adjoyneing unto the said bridge, which is a great staye and helpe to the same ", and that they had been viewed by Sir William Savile, bart., and Sir John Savile, who certified that the work required to done for their repair would cost £80 ; this was allowed out of the West Riding and it was added that "the said Chappell be hereafter kept decentlye and that noe persons whatsoever be suffred to inhabite therein"

A sepia drawing of the chapel in the ADD MS (Kaye's Collections) gives a good idea of the appearance of the building about this period. It shows the three windows on the north side blocked up, though their tracery can be partly distinguished ; the most easterly window on this side shows only a small hole through the wall near its centre, but the two western ones contain small square windows, filled with panes of glass. The parapet has entirely gone on the north side, the turret parapet is much broken, as is also that of the west front. Only two doorways are shown, the north one open to the pavement level, the sourthern one appraoched by a step ; the lower half of the front, between the doorways, has been broken away and filled up with rough stonework.

Wakefield Bridge and Chantry Chapel c1743 taken from Walkers History of Wakefield

On July 23 1696,the trustees of the poor leased it for twenty-one years to a person named Bever ; and in 1727 the building was used as a warehouse for goods. One Adamson had a lease of it granted for a term of seven years on November 28 1754 and it was succeeded by an old clothes-dealer, "who was in the habit of hanging on the precious traceries, his filthy ware" ; this worthy disappeared before 1784, when the building reverted to its former use as a warehouse, and it served the same purpose in 1798 and 1801. On April 24 1797, an order was made at the Pontefract quarter sessions that the chapel should be leased from the Governors of the Charities for twenty-one years at an annual rental or sixpence, the justices to keep the building in repair during this term ; this was done that the magistrates might have the management of the chapel in their own hands, as its stability was considered essential to the safety of the bridge, which they were bound to look after ; and on May 17 of the following year, Mr Wentworth, Mr Wood, and Mr Dixon were appointed as a committee to direct the surveyor to repair the chapel. The old blocked-up windows of the chapel with their fragments of tracery were pulled out and their place taken by windows with cross-headed mullions ; the buttresses of the west front were propped up with short round pillars, "four little short round laughable things all in a row". With this alteration in its appearance there came an improvements in the tenants of the chapel, for now it rose to the dignity of a library, which position it held for many years, for in 1829 it is chronicled as being a news-room. The magistrates, having spent so much money upon its "restoration" charged a rental of £10 per annum, although they only paid the sum of sixpence to the Govenors of the Wakefield Charities.

Later on, the building was used as a cheese-cake shop, then the late Mr Tootal occupied it for some time as a corn-factors office, and the last tenant was a tailor who gave up possession in order that the chapel might again revert to that purpose for which it was originally built, namely the worship of God.

The bridge was widened 9 feet on the west side with round-headed arches in 1758, In 1797 the bridge was again widened, which was effected by adding another 9 feet to the round-headed arches on the west side of the old pointed ones.

The Rev. Samuel Sharp, Vicar of Wakefield, originated the scheme for the recovery of this chapel for religious purposes, and in his effort to do so was ably seconded by the Yorkshire Architectural Society. The building at the time belong to the Govenors of the Wakefield Charities, acting as trustees for the poor of the town, but had for many years leased to the county magistrates, who had kept it in some sort of repair, and had let it to under-tenants. The Vicar of Wakefield, as one, and on behalf of the govenors a;;lied to the magistrates to give up possession of the building to their body, and the following order was made :-

Leeds Sessions 19th Oct 1842, "The Rev Samuel Sharp, having applied on behalf of the Govenors of the Wakefield Charities, for possession of the Chapel on Wakefield Bridge, now in lease to the magistrates of the Riding at the yearly rent of sixpence, ordered that the Clark of the Peace give immediate notice to the under-tenants to quit the premises, in order that possession may be given to the Govenors as soon as possible"  E Lascelles, Chairman.

Mr Sharp next persuaded his fellow govenors to hand over the chapel to the Commissioners for building additional churches, and the following resolution is entered on the minutes of their meeting held on Oct 24 1842 :-

"That the Chapel on the Bridge be conveyed to her Majesty's Commissioners (now the Ecclesiastical Commissioners) for building and promoting the buildingof additional churches in populous parishes, according to the provisions of the 3rd Geo. IV, chap. 72"

The deed of conveyance is now in the possession of the Diocesan Registrar at Wakefield.

Several gentleman in the county now came forward with subscriptions towards the cost of restoring the building, and the superintendence of the work was undertaken by the Yorkshire Architectural Society, who advertised for designs for this purpose to be sent to York, where they were publicly exhibited in March 1843, and after some discussion, the plan suggested by Mr G G Scott was adopted.

The Hon. George Chapple Norton in 1847 bought the west front and erected it at one corner of the artificial lake at Kettlethorpe Hall, where it serves as the front of a boat-house and is in an excellent state of preservation.

The new fabric that arose was a copy of what the original must have been in the height of prosperity, but unforunately Bath and Caen stone were used in the sculpture of the west front, which has so perished that the old work at Kettlethorpe is in as good if not a better state of preservation than the facade recently taken down.

The only real change in the sculpture of the two buildings was in the fifth panel of the west paraper, where the original representation of the Coronation of the Virgin was discarded, and the Descent of the Holy Ghost substituted for it. In later years Sir Gilbert Scott saw the mistake that had been made in restoring the chapel, and thur wrote in the "Ecclesiologist" :- "It was in an evil hour that I yeilded, and allowed a new front in Caen stone in place of the weather-beton old one .........I never repented it but once, and that has been ever since........I think of this with the utmost shame and chagrin ". Sir Gilbert Scott, some years before his death, was so anxious to have the old front replaced in its original position that he offered to contribute towards this object if he could persuade the Yorkshire people to help him out, but nothing further was done.


The roof of the new chapel is supported by two main cross beams, richly carved, the oak ceiling between them being panelled. The canopied niche for the Virgin has been reproduced, as much of the old carved stone being used up as could be found, and a new piscina was placed on the south of the alter, where the old one had been. The recess in the west wall for the holy water stoup was utilized in the restored building for the reception of a font. The east window and those north and south of the alter were an anonymous gift ; they are by Barnett of York ; the scenes in the middle are taken from the mysteries of the Rosary, and those in the side windows from the life of our Lord. The middle window on the south side was filled with coloured glass by Wailes of Newcastle soon after the opening of the chapel, which took place on Easter Sunday April 22 1848.

The chapel was added to the district parish of St Mary as a chapel of ease, and the ministrations were undertaken by the then incumbent, the Rev F Parkinson, who joined the Roman Catholic Church in 1851, when he resigned his living at Wakefield, and was succeeded by the Rev Joseph Senior, LL.D., the Campden lecturer at the Cathedral, who left St Mary's in 1872 ; the succeeding chaplains have been :-

Incumbent Period of living
Rev Amos William Pitcher 1872 - 1874
Rev Joseph Dunne 1874 - 1881
Rev Henry Griffin Parrish 1881 - 1900
Rev T C Greenwood 1900 - 1927
Rev W L Brambston 1927 - 1932
Rev F G Hogarth 1932 - 1938
Rev A L Chatfield 1938 -

A Large brass Flemish alms-dish, 19 inches diameter, was given to the chapel in 1848 by the Rev F Parkinson. The centre contains various figures of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, with the tree of knowledge between them, among the branches of which is coiled the serpent, who is offering an apple to Eve. In 1883 this dish was stolen, but was recovered.

The third front of the Chapel, 1939, minus the statues in the niches. Taken from This Pious Undertaking by Kate Taylor.

In 1939 a complete restoration of the chapel was undertaken, under Sit Charles Nicholson and Mr Hill of Huddersfield. The west front was entirely rebuilt ; the walls on the N.E. and S. sides were repointed, certain worn stones being replaced by new ones ; the mullions and tracery of teh windows were largely renewed, the stonework being much perished. For this restoration, the Mayor of Wakefield, alderman R White, made it the main object of his year of Mayoralty, and raised a large sum of money towards the work.

* corrupted into Burneytops (West Parade area)

** A fother of lead equals one ton

This information has been extracted from Walkers History of Wakefield published 1939.


In Kate Taylor's book "This Pious Undertaking : the Chantry Chapel of St Mary the Virgin on Wakefield Bridge in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries", she concludes by saying ".... The proposed developments at Wakefield waterfront, designed to enhance the cultural attraction of the area, may quicken greater interest in the chapel and suggest a new role for the building. This then, is by no means the end of the story but, with the Chantry now in the care of the Dean and Chapter of Wakefield Cathedral, there is, rather, a new beginning".



Please take a moment to sign the guestbook / thank you

L10 Web Stats Reporter 3.15 L10 Hit Counter - Free Web Counters
Wakefield Family History Sharing