The Chantry Chapels of




The Chantry Chapel of St Mary the Virgin

otherwise know as

St Mary's Chapel upon Wakefield Bridge


The idea that this chapel was built after the Battle of Wakefield (1460), by Edward IV, that masses might be said for the souls of those who fell in the fray, especially for his father - the Duke of York- and his brother - the Earl of Rutland - has long held possession of the public mind, but the impression is a totally erroneous one. John Leland, who visited it while priests still celebrated at its alter, from whom, in all probablilty, his information was obtained, tells us that it was "of the fundation of the Townes Men as sum say : but the dukes of York were taken as founders for obteyning the Mortemayn." There is no doubt that Leland was correct in both his statements, viz. :- (a) that the chapel was built and the chantry was founded by the townsmen of Wakefield; and (b) that the Duke of York obtained the mortmain for them.

As we have seen, the bridge at Wakefield was rendered unsafe by the heavy floods which fractured it in the second quarter of the fourteenth century, and it was when the bailiffs of the town applied to the Crown for help in re-building it in 1342 that it was decided to erect not only a bridge but a chapel upon it, as was done in so many places during this century.

Only thirteen years previously (1329) the men of Wakefield had completed the almost entire re-building of their parish church and now they were again called upon to help forward the erection of another devotional edifice, and nobly they responded to the appeal, for no other bridge-chapel in England could compete with this one either in beauty of architectural proportions. The rich and superb workmanship of its west front, with its beautiful tracery and diapered work, its sculptured parapet and pinnacled canopies, the proportions of the building, and the purity of embellishment displayed in its details, mark it as one of the most perfect specimens of architecture of the middle of the fourteenth century, when the Decorated style was at its best. The construction of the bridge was started soon after 1342, when the right of tollage was granted to bailiffs.

There are several proofs showing that the erection and endowment of this bridge-chapel were undertaken and completed by the townsfolk of Wakefield ; it was three of the townsmen and two priests who actually obtained the first licence. The very large number of seperate tenements in different parts of Wakefield and the neighbouring villages, which belonged to the chantry, were, as a rule, each given by different individuals, and this is a proof that the chapel was endowed by the people, not the King, the Duke of York, or any other single person ; from the small size of each property it appears that the fonders were the ordinary townspeople. In the decree of Archbishop John Kempe, dated Nov 20 1444, it is distinctly stated that the chapel was "wholly built of costly stonework by the inhabitants and community of Wakefield". There is no proof whatever that Edward IV re-endowed the chantry after the battle of Wakefield; there were no more chaplains after that event that event than before it, nor were the stipends of the two priests increased.

The basement of the chapel was undoubtedly built at the same time as the bridge, for the masonry of the two is bonded together, and the walls of the chapel and the piers of the bridge are constructed of the same sandstone. The completion of the chapel may have been delayed by the Black Death, which raged throughout England during the years 1349-50. Even if the building was finished before this terrible plague broke out, it is clear that nothing was done to obtain a licence in mortain for it at that time.

After the erection of the building, an endowment fund was required to sustain the services of the chapel, and to provide the stipends of the two chantry-priests who were to celebrate at its altar dedicated to our Lady. Land and money must have come in quickly, for before 1356 the rents arising from this property amounted to £10 per annum (equal to about £300 of our money), and the tenements were distributed over Wakefield, Stanley, Ossett, Horbury, Heckmondwike, Shafton, Darfield, Warmfield, Pontefract, Purston Jacklin and Fryston-by-the-water. William Kay and William Bull, the two chantry-priests, seem to have held the moneys in trust. The writ to hold an enquiry was made out at Winchelsea on August 15, 1355, and the "inquisition ad quod damnum" was held at York on the eighteenth day of September, 1355 before Miles de Stapleton, escheatof of the King, and a jury composed of the following ; John Chamberlain of Potternewton, John Malet, John de Gargrave, William of Bradley, Robert Porter, John Ode, John of Bradley, John of Castleford, Robert of Carleton, John of Slephill, Richard de Baildon, and Michael Scot of Castleford. They found, on hearing the evidence, that no harm of prejudice to the King would arise if the chantry was endowed, and that the tenements from which the stipends were derived were held indirectly from the King himself ; that is within the Manor of Wakefield. This verdict having reported to the Crown, the licence in mortmain was granted on May 13 1356. The licence vested the property in William Kay and William Bull of Wakefield, chaplains, to receive the hearly stipend of £10 ; and it is distinctly stated in the deed that the Chapel of the Blessed Mary upon the bridge of the town of Wakefield was newly built. For this mortmain Robert son of John, William Fery of Wakefield, and Robert of Heath, paid the sum of twenty marks (£13. 6s. 8d.) into the royal treasury. In the Hopkinson MS. there is a copy of a charter dated at Wakefield in 1357, confirming the above endowment, to which Sir William de Norton, Sir Bryan de Thornhill, Sir Henry de Soothill and Sir John de Calverley subscribe their names. At the Manor Court Baron held October 5 1360 many transfers of land were made to William Fery ; as also at succeeding courts. These were probably gifts towards the chapel building made to him as one of teh trustees.

For the next forty years we are left in the dark as to the management of the chapel and the chantry endowments, but it would appear as it matters were carried on in a very loose way. The original licence of 1356 vested the chantry property in the hands of William Kay and William Bull, the chaplains ; yet forty years later we find it in the hands of Robert Bukll, who had a shop of Bytchehill, and of William and Alice Hornyng. Were Robert Bull and Alice Hornyng relations of the original holders of the property, and it so, how had it come into their hands? At any rate, at this period of the chapel's history, Edmund of Langley, Duke of York, Lord of the Manor of Wakefield,the fifth son of Edward III, and uncle of the reigning monarch, Richard II, thought fit to interfere.

In 1397, the Duke, along with his son, Edward, Earl of Rutland, Sir Thomas Gerbert, Knight, Thomas Wroghton, clerk, William Gallancer, clerk, and John Spence, chaplain, acquired the chantry ehdowment from Robert Bull, William Hornyng and Alice his wife who then held them and they applied to the King for a fresh licence, on the please that the provisions of the previous one granted by Edward the Third had never been carried out.

On May 30 1397, the new licence was drawn up and signed and states "that in consideration of the sum of five marks which our very dear uncle Edmond, Duke of York, has paid into our treasury" the King granged power to the said Duke and Edward, Earl of Rutland, Thomas gerberg, knight, Thomas Wroghton, clerk, William Gallander, clerk and John Spence, chaplain, to pay the annual stipend of £10 to two chaplains, from the rents of the property acquired by them. Having obtained this licencethe Duke of York signed a foundation deed on August 20 1398, which required the chaplains to pray for the health of the Duke whilst living and after his death for his soul ; also for the souls of Robertm son of John, William Fery, Robert of Heath, and all other benefactors of the chantry. At the same time he appointed John Spence and Henry de Whetelay to be the chaplaisn of the new foundation. This deed was approved and ratified on the 20th September following, by Archbishop Scrope of York, who licensed the two chaplains of the chantry. The chaplains were to be presented by the Duke of York or his heirs within forty days of the vacation of the office, but if they failed to appoint within that time the presentation lapsed to the archbishop.

The statement of Leland that "the dukes of York were taken as founders for obteyning the mortemayn" is thus quite correct ; and it was in after ages that the confusion arose between Edmund Langley, Duke of York, temp. Edward III, and Richard, Duke of York, who was slain at the Battle of Wakefield, December 30 1460.

The following is a list of the chaplains appointed to the two chantries in this chapel ; they were of two orders, i.e. of the first or right side of theChapel, and of the second or left side:-

Date of Institution
Presented by
Chaplains of the First Chantry
May 13 1356
William Kay
The founders
Died 1358
Sept 30 1398
John Spence
Edmund, Duke of York
Resigned 1430
Oliver Furbyshour
Edmund, Duke of York
Resigned 1453, died June 1455, will proved 18 July 1455
July 14 1453
Thomas Burton
Richard, Duke of York
June 30 1463
John Joyes
Thomas Colt, arm and Henry Soothill, exors. of Richard Duke of York
August 21 1484
Richard Sykes
Archbishop of York, through lapse
Died 1513
July 6 1514
Thomas Spinke
Henry VIII
Died 1526
April 3 1526
Richard Lister, L.B., son of Richard Lister of Wakefield, who died in 1525
Henry VIII
Died 1534-5
April 10 1535
Tristram Harton
Henry VIII
Pensioned June 2 1548, died August 1548, will proved 3 October 1548
Chaplains of the Second Chantry
May 13 1356
William Bull
The founders
May 1357
Sept 20 1398
Henry de Whetelay
Edmund, Duke of York
Died 1433
August 20 1433
Thomas Dikonson
Johanna, Duchess of York
January 11 1445
John Gisburne
Richar, Duke of York
Died, will proved 2 September 1463
May 31 1463
William Kyngrave
Exors. of Richard, Duke of York
Died 1497-8
November 3 1470
Richard Harnsthwaite
George, Duke of Clarence
May 26 1498
William Joyes
Henry VIII
Died, will proved 16 July 1535
May 27 1533
William Kaye
Buried at Wakefield, will proved 14 February 1550
July 28 1534
Richard Seale
Henry VIII
Pensioned June 2 1548


The priests of the two chantries lived in a little one-storey house, built of stone and entered from the level of the bridge, completely overshadowed by a large ash tree which grew on the south side of it ; the house was situated on the same side of the bridge as the chapel, but on the north bank of the river, near the bridge which now crosses over to Stennard Island.


The house was rebuilt by the Justices of teh Peace in 1638, when they repaired the bridge ; in October 1701 an order was made that Martin Shillito have a little house built at the charge of the Riding at Wakefield Bridge End to live in rent free provided he take care to sweep the bridge and cleanse the water spouts as hath usually been done by those that have lived in the same house.

This house, shown in many engravings of the chapel, was pulled down in about 1830, but the foundations could be seen until Mr Clay's private bridge was built, which caused their destruction.

From the date of its second foundation up to the time of teh dissolution of Chantries we hear little of this chapel. In or about the year 1440, John Lounde, Vicar of Wakefield, sued Oliver Furbyshour ad Thomas Dikonson, priest, chaplains of St Mary's Chapel upon Wakefeild bridge, for detention of oblations in two chantries in that chapel, by virtue of a Bull ; also for embezzlement of a garment of Our Lady, with nobles, half-nobles, broches, rynges, bedis, etc ; valued at £40 ; .....also for breaking lokkes of stokkys (the pillar to which the alms-box was affixed), and bearing away the offerings, and after bearing away the whole stokke and spoiled it, afterwards brought it back again. Truly a formidable charge against the two priests. Unfortunately the result of the enquiry had not come down to us ; but the Vicar left the town shortly afterwards, as he exchanged livings with John Preston, Vicar of Haselbury, in the diocese of Salisbury in 1443. The new Vicar, however, soon found himself at a variance with the same two chaplains for in 1444 Archbishop John Kempe was called upon to settle "a dissension and discord" between John Preston, Vicar of Wakefield and Oliver Furbyshour and thomas Diconson, chaplains "of the chapel of the Virgin Mary upon the bridge or east side of the bridge over the river commonly called Kalder, wholly built of costly stonework by the inhabitants or community of the town of Wakefield" ; the matter in dispute was about the repairs of the bridge and the Archbishop decided that the town and parish of Wakefield with the rectors and vicars were answerable for the chief repairs, although the chaplains were not wholly relieved of their responsibility.

During the troublous times of the Wars of the Rosesm, and expecially on Tuesday, December 30 1460, when the battle, which proved so disasterous to the Yorkists arms, was fought within a mile of the chapel, many a stirring scene must have been witnessed in the sacred edifice when armed men marched over the narrow bridge and many must have entered the chapel to beseech "our Lady's" help. Tradition ways that near here the young Earl of Rutland fleeing with his tutor, was slain by "boucher Clifford".

From time to time donations were made to this chantry; the earliest of which we have any record was in 1391, when William de Baylay, who was buried at Pontefract, left by will, dated August 13 of that year, one hundred shillings "ad confirmacionmen cantarie in Capella Sce Mariae sup, Pont de Wakefeld". Robert Bever of Wakefield left two shillings to the fabric of the Chapel of St Mary upon the bridge, 6 April 1437. In 1453 a messuage in the west street of Wakefield was left by Thomas Beaumont to William Joys, chaplain, Robert Hill, Robert Gryce and John Joys but charged with an annual payment of three shillings to the Chantry of Chapel of the Blessed Mary on Wakefield Bridge, to be paid at the feasts of St Michael, the Purification of the Virgin, and Pentecost, in equal portions. Ann Dymond in 1506 be queathed to ye Capell of our Ladie ij low candelstykes. In 1521 by a will dated October 1, Thomas Cote leaves fourpence to this chapel. In 1535 Agnes Braiton of Wakefield devised "to th' ymage of oure ladie of Wakefelde bridge my beste beides, to the Chapel of our Ladie or Bridge my yron gaveloke (spear or javelin). Richard Spink on April 20 1557 left a rent-charge of 4 shillings out of premises in Wakefield, one half for the fabric of the parish church, the other half for a mass in the chapel on the bridge.





extracted from Walkers History of Wakefield



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