The city of Cambridge: Medieval chapels

A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 3, the City and University of Cambridge. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1959.

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'The city of Cambridge: Medieval chapels', in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 3, the City and University of Cambridge, ed. J P C Roach( London, 1959), British History Online [accessed 14 July 2024].

'The city of Cambridge: Medieval chapels', in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 3, the City and University of Cambridge. Edited by J P C Roach( London, 1959), British History Online, accessed July 14, 2024,

"The city of Cambridge: Medieval chapels". A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 3, the City and University of Cambridge. Ed. J P C Roach(London, 1959), , British History Online. Web. 14 July 2024.


ST. MARY MAGDALENE CHAPEL, Sturbridge, dates from the early 12th century. (fn. 20) In 1279 it was stated that the advowson belonged of right to the burgesses, but had been usurped by Bishop Hugh (1229–54). (fn. 21) The master of the hospital is described as rector in 1279 and 1340. (fn. 22) An indulgence was granted to the chapel in 1390. (fn. 23) The advowson remained with the Church of Ely until the Reformation. The chapelry was valued at £10 10s. in 1535, (fn. 24) and was expressly reserved to the bishop in 1544 when he leased the chapel and its lands to the Corporation for 40 years. In 1597 the chapel and lands were leased for nine years to the Corporation by Elizabeth I, who had presumably acquired them with other Ely property, and in 1606 James I granted the chapel to John Shelbury and Philip Chewte. It subsequently passed with the Barnwell priory estate to George Riste, and so through various hands to the antiquary, Thomas Kerrich, who conveyed it to the University in 1817 on condition that it was kept in good repair and preserved unaltered. (fn. 25) The chapel was maintained in accordance with this undertaking until 1951, when the University conveyed it to the Cambridge Preservation Society. At the same time the society purchased from a third party the 6-acre field, known as Chapel Close, in which the chapel stands. The University contributed the cost of 1 acre of the field; and the society undertook to maintain the chapel, and to return it to the University together with not less than 1 acre of the surrounding land, should it cease to be able to do so. (fn. 26)

The use of the chapel for worship seems to have ceased in the 16th century. The survival of the building is attributable to its association with the fair. It served in turn as a storage place for the lumber of the fair, as a victualling house, as a drinking-booth, as a stable, and as a barn. (fn. 27) But even before the University acquired it in 1817 a restoration fund had been started, and it was used as a place of worship by the labourers employed in building the Eastern Counties Railway in 1844–5. (fn. 28) In 1949, when the fabric was put in sound condition by the University, the interior was made fit for use for occasional services. (fn. 29)

ST. EDMUND'S CHAPEL, which gave its name to the wealthy burgess family who owned it in the 13th century, stood on the east side of the Trumpington Road, outside Trumpington Gate. Walter of St. Edmund's, who acquired the property by marriage, is first mentioned in 1232; how much earlier the chapel existed is unknown. The building is called an ecclesia and its chaplain is styled custos or rector, and there were burials there. (fn. 30) In 1270 Walter granted the advowson of the chapel to Thomas, son of Clemence de Rissebrac, but it appears to have reverted to Cecily of St. Edmund's, who in 1290 made it over (fn. 31) with most of the St. Edmund's estate to the canons of Sempringham, and the property became St. Edmund's Priory. (fn. 32)

ST. LUCY'S CHAPEL, on the estate of the Le Rus family, was on the west side of the Trumpington Road, opposite St. Edmund's; it is mentioned in an indulgence of 1245. (fn. 33) In 1258 it became the church of the Friars of the Sack. (fn. 34)

ST. ANNE'S hermitage chapel, founded by Henry Tangmer (d. 1361), stood on the east side of Trumpington Street. Its patronage, given by him to Corpus Christi College, was successfully usurped by the Corporation. Its chaplain is mentioned in 1399 when an indulgence was granted, and in 1458 the rector of St. Bene't's was licensed to perform divine service there. In 1546 the church goods were delivered to the town treasurers and the fabric of the chapel was subsequently sold. The site, after a series of leases, was sold to Joseph Finch in 1790. (fn. 35)

A chapel for the hermitage by the SMALL BRIDGES was licensed for service in 1396; it is not otherwise mentioned, but the site figures in the town accounts after 1522. (fn. 36)

A deed of 1607 refers to a chapel of ST. JOHN OF JERUSALEM in Castle End, standing back from the Huntingdon Road, 192 feet beyond the castle. (fn. 37) Nothing more is known of it.


  • 20. V.C.H. Cambs. ii. 307–8.
  • 21. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 359.
  • 22. Cooper, Memorials, iii. 237.
  • 23. Gibbons, Ely Episcopal Records, 397.
  • 24. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iii. 505.
  • 25. Cooper, Memorials, iii. 237.
  • 26. Camb. Univ. Reporter, 1950–1, 864, 977.
  • 27. Country Life, 29 Apr. 1905, p. 585.
  • 28. Cooper, Memorials, iii. 238.
  • 29. Camb. Univ. Reporter, 1950–1, 865.
  • 30. H. P. Stokes, Cambridge Outside Trumpington Gates, 57–60.
  • 31. Cal. Pat. 1266–72, 412.
  • 32. V.C.H. Cambs. ii. 254–6.
  • 33. Stokes, op. cit. 23, 38–39, 42.
  • 34. V.C.H. Cambs. ii. 290.
  • 35. Cooper, Memorials, iii. 252–3; Gibbons, Ely Episcopal Records, 400; Palmer, Camb. Boro. Docs. 137.
  • 36. Cooper, Memorials, iii. 262; Gibbons, op. cit. 400; Palmer, Camb. Boro. Docs. 87, 137.
  • 37. T. Baker, Hist. of St. John's Coll. i. 459.