Reach: Chapels

A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 10, Cheveley, Flendish, Staine and Staploe Hundreds (North-Eastern Cambridgeshire). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2002.

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A F Wareham, A P M Wright, 'Reach: Chapels', in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 10, Cheveley, Flendish, Staine and Staploe Hundreds (North-Eastern Cambridgeshire)( London, 2002), British History Online [accessed 17 July 2024].

A F Wareham, A P M Wright, 'Reach: Chapels', in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 10, Cheveley, Flendish, Staine and Staploe Hundreds (North-Eastern Cambridgeshire)( London, 2002), British History Online, accessed July 17, 2024,

A F Wareham, A P M Wright. "Reach: Chapels". A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 10, Cheveley, Flendish, Staine and Staploe Hundreds (North-Eastern Cambridgeshire). (London, 2002), , British History Online. Web. 17 July 2024.


Probably in the 1220s the rector of St. Mary's, Burwell, with the consent of his patron, the abbot of Ramsey, agreed that his parishioners at the 'vill' of Reach might have a chapel, in which a chaplain supplied by the rector would serve weekly. The men of Reach were to pay that chaplain one mark a year through the rector, who reserved to himself all ecclesiastical dues. (fn. 1) That was presumably the origin of the chapel of St. John, standing north-east of Reach green, on the Burwell side. It eventually had an endowment of 45 a., supposedly yielding c. 1550 only 23s. 4d. net, held of manors in Burwell. After 1547 it was confiscated and in 1552 sold by the Crown. (fn. 2) By the 1440s another chapel, named for Ely priory's patron, St. Etheldreda, had been established on the Swaffham Prior side, possibly near the rise called in modern times Church Hill: about 1570 it was said to have stood near a way to the limekilns. In 1449 the bishop of Ely allowed inhabitants of Reach to worship in it, without prejudice to the rights of Swaffham Prior's two churches. (fn. 3)

Lying on the boundary between two dioceses, Reach might provide shelter for heretics wishing to escape the attention of the authorities. In 1457 the bishop of Ely discovered, and forced abjuration upon, a Lollard who, among his thirteen reported anti-clerical and anti-ceremonial beliefs, held that the dead could as profitably be buried in the fens as in holy ground. (fn. 4) Inhabitants of Reach in the late 15th and early 16th centuries mostly considered themselves to belong to St. Mary's parish in Swaffham Prior, in and around whose church they most often requested burial. (fn. 5) They usually directed to that church their bequests for masses and obits, one as late as 1546, (fn. 6) and other gifts for building work (fn. 7) and ornaments. (fn. 8) Such bequests only occasionally went to St. Cyriac's, the other Swaffham Prior church. (fn. 9) Several men, however, also bequeathed funds for the priest of St. John's chapel in Reach and for chaplains saying masses in it for one to five years. (fn. 10) A guild of St. John was recorded c. 1490-1525. (fn. 11) One man left in 1515 one mark to maintain St. Etheldreda's chapel. (fn. 12)

In 1552 the only goods left at St. John's chapel were two small bells, (fn. 13) but a silver gilt pyx was found c. 1860 buried in a pit under its former chancel floor. (fn. 14) In 1571 the Crown purportedly sold both that chapel and the site of St. 'Andrew's', apparently demolished in the mid 16th century, with a graveyard. (fn. 15) That site, converted to pasture, was actually occupied for a time from the 1540s by men of Reach who allegedly used the income for the poor of their hamlet, before being granted from 1575 as copyhold of Shadworths manor in Swaffham. (fn. 16) St. John's chapel was still standing in 1650 when its repair was recommended. (fn. 17) By the early 19th century the chapel yard at Reach where it stood was treated as part of Burwell's town lands. (fn. 18) In 1743 there still stood there the roofless eastern part of that chapel, consisting of the exterior walling of transepts or of one bay of aisles, and a two-bayed chancel, in the tops of whose threelight windows survived sections of tracery. By 1769 only the chancel east wall, still standing in 1993 with short return sections, was left. Of its walling, repaired c. 1901, the lower parts may be 13th-century, the upper ones, with larger squared stones, 15th-century. (fn. 19) Fragments of carved masonry in the street walling of East Reach manor house may come from one of the chapels.

In 1857 new vicars of Swaffham Prior and Burwell, faced with strong dissenting competition at Reach, held open-air services at the chapel ruins. (fn. 20) By 1858 they had procured a curate to hold services in a public house club room. (fn. 21) In 1860 Burwell sold the chapel yard to the vicar and churchwardens of Swaffham Prior, who raised over £750 to build there, south-west of the ruin, a chapel, opened later that year, seating 150 people, and also intended to house a church school. (fn. 22) Initially the dean and chapter of Ely, as lords at Swaffham Prior, gave £20 a year, continued after 1873 by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, to help Swaffham's vicar pay a curate for Reach. There was no curate by 1873, (fn. 23) when the vicar himself took evening services at Reach. When his health and income gave way c. 1883, the vicar of Burwell took over the chapel, (fn. 24) only to withdraw in turn early in 1896. The poorly attended chapel was then closed until a new vicar of Swaffham resumed services late in 1897. (fn. 25) An elderly clergyman procured in 1899 served as curate until 1913. In 1901 the Commissioners bought and expensively repaired a house at Reach to rent to him. After he briefly resigned in 1908, they raised their contribution to his salary, following an appeal from 133 inhabitants, in 1909 from £50 to £120, (fn. 26) which came to four fifths of his income. After his successor left in 1918, owing much rent for the house, a Reach schoolmaster was employed as lay reader until 1938. (fn. 27) Two more curates served between 1939 and 1954. When the second left, the curates' house, mistreated by its recent occupants, was sold in 1955, (fn. 28) and the chapel, still open in the 1990s, (fn. 29) was served thenceforth by the clergy of its mother parishes.

The 'school church', although in 1941 it was still unconsecrated, (fn. 30) was by 1866 styled Holy Trinity, (fn. 31) to which St. Etheldreda's name was added by the 1950s. (fn. 32) In Gothic style, it comprises four bays, with nave and sanctuary under one roof and lower transeptal, screened-off vestries, and is built of local stone, variegated in the arches, cornices, and buttresses with red brick. The sides have short paired lancets, the west front, below a star in plate tracery, larger triple lancets, lightly cusped, which surmount a double-arched entrance. Above them a mostly brick belfry contains a single bell (fn. 33) and a clock. In 1914, when a choir had been formed, an oak lectern and altar rails were brought from St. Cyriac's, Swaffham Prior. (fn. 34) After severe storm damage in 1958 the roof was largely renewed and new tiled, and damaged pews were replaced by others from Soham. (fn. 35) An electronic organ was installed in 1961. (fn. 36) About 1990 the chapel was partly maintained from Reach's share of the Swaffham Prior charity income. (fn. 37)


  • 1. Ramsey Cart. (Rolls Ser.), i. 190-1.
  • 2. P.R.O., E 318/39/2089; Cal. Pat. 1550-3, 449, 457.
  • 3. E.D.R. (1903), 20; cf. ibid. (1905), 169; C.U.L., E.D.C., 7/12/7: 12 Eliz. I.
  • 4. E.D.R. (1907), 42-4; cf. V.C.H. Cambs. ii. 163-4.
  • 5. e.g. P.R.O., PROB 11/4, f. 58; PROB 11/14, f. 325v.; PROB 11/24, f. 114; B.L. Add. MS. 5861, ff. 12, 25, 81v.
  • 6. P.R.O., PROB 11/18, ff. 39v., 40; B.L. Add. MS. 5861, f. 27,
  • 7. P.R.O., PROB 11/18, f. 39v.; PROB 11/20, f. 77; PROB 11/24, f. 23.
  • 8. Ibid. PROB 11/17, f. 81v.
  • 9. B.L. Add. MS. 5861, f. 62v.; P.R.O., PROB 11/20, f. 77; PROB 11/24, f. 23.
  • 10. P.R.O., PROB 11/14, f. 325v.; PROB 11/17, f. 81v.; PROB 11/20, f. 77; PROB 11/24, f. 23.
  • 11. Ibid. PROB 11/9, f. 168; Trans. C.H.A.S. i. 385.
  • 12. P.R.O., PROB 11/18, f. 39v.
  • 13. Cambs. Ch. Goods, temp. Edw. VI, 28.
  • 14. C. Lucas, Fenman's World, 158.
  • 15. Cal. Pat. 1569-72, p. 370.
  • 16. P.R.O., C 2/Eliz. I/R 11/19. There styled St. Andrew's as in 1571, but correctly named St. Etheldreda's in C.U.L., E.D.C., 7/12/7: 12 Eliz. I.
  • 17. Lamb. Pal. MS. COMM. XIIa/3, f. 256.
  • 18. e.g. C.R.O., P 18/25/100, s.a. 1828.
  • 19. B.L. Add. MS. 5804, ff. 119v.-120; R.C.H.M. Cambs. i. 86; cf. Church Com. file 36407, corr. 1901.
  • 20. Camb. Chron, 23 June 1857, p. 4; cf. below, nonconf.
  • 21. C.U.A., CUR32/1, nos. 103-4.
  • 22. C.R.O., P 150/25/6-7; Camb. Chron. 2 June 1860, p. 4; 13 Oct. 1860, p. 8; Kelly's Dir. Cambs. (1888).
  • 23. Church Com. file 36407, corr. 1865-73.
  • 24. C.U.L., E.D.R., C 3/24, s.v. Swaffham Prior; C 3/36, s.v. Burwell; Camb. Chron. 6 Nov. 1880, p. 4; Church Com. file 36407, corr. 1882-3, 1905, 1947.
  • 25. Church Com. file 36407, corr. 1896-7; C.U.L., E.D.R., C 3/36, s.v. Swaffham Prior.
  • 26. Church Com. file 36407, corr. 1900-13; Crockford (1907), 280; E.D.R. (1908), 70.
  • 27. Church Com. file 36407, corr. 1913-19, 1930-8; cf. Kelly's Dir. Cambs. (1916-22).
  • 28. Church Com. file 36407, corr. 1939-55
  • 29. Cf. Newmarket Jnl. 25 Nov. 1990.
  • 30. Church Com. file 36407, corr. 1941.
  • 31. Camb. Chron. 17 Mar. 1866, p. 8.
  • 32. e.g. Camb. Ind. Press, 26 Feb. 1960.
  • 33. Cambs. Bells (C.A.S. 8vo ser. xviii), 164.
  • 34. E.D.R. (1914), 343.
  • 35. Camb. Ind. Press, 5 Sept. 1958; Camb. Daily News, 7 July 1960.
  • 36. Camb. Ind. Press. 15 Sept. 1961.
  • 37. Char. Com. file 201117, accts. 1988 sqq.