Churches and religious bodies: Medieval chapels

A History of the County of Chester: Volume 5 Part 2, the City of Chester: Culture, Buildings, Institutions. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2005.

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J S Barrow. J D Herson. A H Lawes. P J Riden. M V J Seaborne, 'Churches and religious bodies: Medieval chapels', in A History of the County of Chester: Volume 5 Part 2, the City of Chester: Culture, Buildings, Institutions, (London, 2005) pp. 156-159. British History Online [accessed 27 May 2024].

J S Barrow. J D Herson. A H Lawes. P J Riden. M V J Seaborne. "Churches and religious bodies: Medieval chapels", in A History of the County of Chester: Volume 5 Part 2, the City of Chester: Culture, Buildings, Institutions, (London, 2005) 156-159. British History Online, accessed May 27, 2024,

Barrow, J S. Herson, J D. Lawes, A H. Riden, P J. Seaborne, M V J. "Churches and religious bodies: Medieval chapels", A History of the County of Chester: Volume 5 Part 2, the City of Chester: Culture, Buildings, Institutions, (London, 2005). 156-159. British History Online. Web. 27 May 2024,

In this section


Little St. John

The hospital of St. John without the Northgate, founded in the 1190s, had both a church and a chapel, where masses were said daily for the hospital's benefactors and services were conducted for the inmates and visitors. The church was perhaps a freestanding building, the chapel a room within the residential part of the hospital where services could be held for the infirm. Although the proper establish ment was three chaplains, by the 1520s there was evidently only one. The hospital survived the Dissolution and in the later 16th and earlier 17th century its masters continued to appoint a chaplain, salaried at £5 a year, to say daily prayers in the chapel for the almspeople and others, (fn. 1) including debtors imprisoned in the nearby city gaol. (fn. 2)

The chapel was destroyed with the hospital's other buildings during the siege of Chester in 1644 but evidently rebuilt while Col. Roger Whitley was governor of the hospital between 1660 and 1697. (fn. 3) The corporation of Chester took over the wardenship in 1703, (fn. 4) and promptly refurnished the interior of the chapel to include seating for the mayor and aldermen and stands for the civic regalia, appointing as chaplain the minister of St. Peter's. (fn. 5) Although the chapel was taken down and rebuilt at corporation expense as the south wing of the Blue Coat building in 1715–17, (fn. 6) its administrative arrangements were unaltered and in 1717 the Assembly specifically ordered that divine service was to be held in the new chapel as it had been in the old. (fn. 7)

The living came to be regarded as a perpetual curacy serving the tiny extra-parochial district of the former hospital precinct, (fn. 8) whose inhabitants comprised the almswomen of the hospital, the master and boys of the Blue Coat school, and until 1808 prisoners in the Northgate gaol. The corporation retained the patronage until compelled to give it up by the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835. (fn. 9) The living did not fall vacant again until 1864, when Bishop Graham, exercising the patronage for a turn, presented his son and namesake John. The next presentation, in 1873, was by the trustees of the St. John's Hospital charity, and the next after that, in 1881, by two private individuals who had acquired a turn. A Charity Commission Scheme of 1892 vested the advowson in the Chester Municipal Charities Trustees. (fn. 10)

The Assembly paid its appointee a salary which it increased from £6 13s. 4d. to £10 a year in 1717, (fn. 11) to £30 in 1820, (fn. 12) and perhaps to £50 by 1835. (fn. 13) Queen Anne's Bounty augmented it between 1802 and 1821 with capital sums totalling £1,800 and producing £90 a year, (fn. 14) and there were also pew rents. In 1825 the latter were said to amount to £50 a year, suggesting that under William Fish (perpetual curate 1803–28) the chapel was a fashionable place of worship, (fn. 15) and even at the reduced figure implied in 1835 the total income of £130 a year was larger than that of five or six of the city's parish churches. (fn. 16) Pew rents were abolished by an Order of Chancery, probably in 1852, after which all sittings not reserved for the almswomen and schoolboys were free to the poor. (fn. 17) The income from the living nevertheless grew steadily to £289 in the later 19th century. (fn. 18)

There was competition for what was virtually a sinecure even in the 18th century, when the income was distinctly modest. (fn. 19) In 1828 the position was 'closely contested' between the assistant appointed by Fish and a son of the city's recorder, the former proving successful. (fn. 20) In 1778 the services held by an incumbent who had been in post for the previous 20 years were confined to prayers on Wednesdays and Fridays, communion twice a year, and a grand service and sermon each year on the Sunday before a new mayor was elected. There was no regular Sunday service, and no baptisms, marriages, or burials. (fn. 21) In the later 19th and earlier 20th century regular Sunday services were held. (fn. 22) The clergy holding the living in the 19th and earlier 20th centuries also acted as chaplains at the new gaol or the Blue Coat or King's schools, or, in the case of John Graham, as diocesan registrar. (fn. 23) From 1951 the living was held in plurality with that of St. Oswald's, and the two benefices were united in 1967. (fn. 24) Services were discontinued in 1969. (fn. 25)

The building of 1715–17 is described elsewhere. (fn. 26)

St. Anne

The fraternity of St. Anne built a separate chapel within the precinct of St. John's church, probably when the guild was refounded in 1393. It stood until the Civil War siege. (fn. 27)

St. Chad

St. Chad's existed by c. 1250. (fn. 28) It lay in the area in the north-west of the city known as the Crofts and its status is uncertain but may once have been parochial. (fn. 29) By 1318 St. John's had appropriated it. (fn. 30) The church was mentioned in the late 14th century and c. 1500, but had probably disappeared by the 1530s. (fn. 31) Certainly no curate was associated with it in the 1540s. (fn. 32) By the early 17th century the exact site of the church had been forgotten. (fn. 33)

St. James (Handbridge)

Soon before 1358 John Spicer built a hermitage for himself within a walled enclosure at the south end of the Dee Bridge in Handbridge, between the river and the quarry east of the bridge. (fn. 34) In 1367 he was licensed to have an oratory there. (fn. 35) Spicer's establishment was presumably the hermitage and chapel of St. James in Handbridge whose occupants were a recurring source of anxiety to the authorities in the 1450s. (fn. 36) St. James's chapel yard survived in 1560, when it was termed a 'vacant place', (fn. 37) suggesting that the buildings had already been demolished.

St. James (in St. John's Precinct)

A chapel dedicated to St. James and long associated with an anchorite stood in the precinct of St. John's by the later 12th century. Disused for ecclesiastical purposes by 1589, it was probably demolished during the siege of Chester. (fn. 38)

St. Mary (Handbridge)

A building in Kettle's Croft, Handbridge, west of the Dee Bridge and ruinous by the late 16th century, is supposed in antiquarian tradition to have been a chapel dedicated to St. Mary and belonging to the nuns of Chester. (fn. 39) No reference to such a chapel before the Reformation has been found.

St. Mary (in St. John's Precinct)

A chapel of St. Mary, also called the White chapel, within the precinct of St. John's was in use as a grammar school in 1353. It was perhaps the same building as the 'basilica' or 'minster' of St. Mary recorded between 1086 and c. 1200. Although not recorded under its dedication after 1368 it may have been identical with the Calvercroft chapel in St. John's, also dedicated to St. Mary and in existence by the early 16th century. That chapel, which probably stood in the churchyard, survived the dissolution of the college of St. John's and was presumably destroyed in the 1640s. (fn. 40)

St. Nicholas (in the Abbey)

A chapel dedicated to St. Nicholas was built in the south-west corner of the abbey precinct in or shortly before 1348. It was perhaps intended from the start to serve as the parish church for St. Oswald's, which removed to it from the abbey church almost immediately. After being abandoned as the parish church c. 1539 it served a variety of uses, none of them ecclesiastical, and remained standing, very much altered, in 2000. (fn. 41)

St. Nicholas (in the Crofts)

A chapel dedicated to St. Nicholas stood in the Crofts, somewhere between Watergate Street and Black Friars, by the 1220s. It was acquired by the Dominican friars on their arrival in Chester c. 1237 and was perhaps put to use as their first church. (fn. 42)

St. Thomas the Apostle

The chapel stood within the abbey precinct at the north-east corner of the great court (later Abbey Square) and after the Dissolution was incorporated into the Deanery (Fig. 91). (fn. 43)

St. Thomas the Martyr

A chapel dedicated to St. Thomas Becket stood by 1200 in the graveyard belonging to St. Werburgh's abbey outside the Northgate, in the fork of the later Parkgate and Liverpool roads. (fn. 44) Serving also as the meeting place for the abbot's manor court of St. Thomas, (fn. 45) it became a private house called Green Hall after the Dissolution. (fn. 46) The building probably survived only until the demolition of the northern suburbs during the Civil War siege, (fn. 47) though in 1821 it was claimed that the former chapel was still in use as a barn. (fn. 48)

Figure 91:

Former St. Thomas's chapel, as deanery, before 1788

Dedication Unknown

In the 13th century a chapel in or near Pierpoint Lane off the west side of Bridge Street belonged to the clerk Alexander Hone and later to the Amery family. (fn. 49)


  • 1. V.C.H. Ches. iii. 180–2.
  • 2. C.C.A.L.S., ZAB 1, f. 71.
  • 3. V.C.H. Ches. iii. 182; below, Sites and Remains of Medieval Religious Houses: Hospital of St. John.
  • 4. Above, Charities for the Poor: Municipal Charities (Almshouses: St. John's Hospital).
  • 5. C.C.A.L.S., ZAB 3, ff. 115, 179v.
  • 6. Below, Sites and Remains of Medieval Religious Houses: Hospital of St. John.
  • 7. C.C.A.L.S., ZAB 3, f. 236.
  • 8. e.g. S. Lewis, Topographical Dictionary of Eng. (1831 edn.), i. 401; Bagshaw's Dir. Ches. (1850), 63.
  • 9. C.C.A.L.S., ZAB 3, ff. 185, 221; ZAB 4, ff. 30, 118v., 342v.; ZAB 5, pp. 5, 8, 173–4, 186, 194–5, 201; Rep. Com. Mun. Corp. p. 2631; Lewis, Topographical Dictionary (1848 edn.), i. 580.
  • 10. C.C.A.L.S., EDP 71/1; Alum. Cantab. 1752–1900, iii. 109.
  • 11. C.C.A.L.S., ZAB 3, f. 241; cf. ZAB 5, pp. 173–4.
  • 12. Ibid. ZAB 5, pp. 385–6; C. Hodgson, Queen Anne's Bounty (2nd edn. 1845), p. cxcvii.
  • 13. Rep. Com. Mun. Corp. p. 2631; but cf. Chester City Cl. Abstract of Accts. 1854/5 (£30).
  • 14. Hodgson, Queen Anne's Bounty, p. ccl.
  • 15. C.C.A.L.S., EDP 71/1.
  • 16. Rep. Com. Mun. Corp. p. 2631; above, Medieval Parish Churches.
  • 17. J. Romney, Chester and its Environs Illustrated (Chester, [1853]), [45].
  • 18. Clergy List (1842), 42 bis; (1859), 48 bis; (1866), 51 bis; (1881), 55 bis.
  • 19. e.g. C.C.A.L.S., ZAB 4, f. 30.
  • 20. Ibid. EDP 71/1; Rep. Com. Mun. Corp. p. 2631; for identification of the latter as Thos. Tyrwhitt: Alum. Oxon. 1715–1886, iv. 1457; Foster, Baronetage (1882), 622–3.
  • 21. C.C.A.L.S., EDV 7/1/3.
  • 22. Details in P. & G. Dir. Chester (1870), 21; (1905/6), 34; (1929/30), 56.
  • 23. Clergy List (1842), 41; (1866), 138; (1881), 144; Alum. Cantab. 1752–1900, i. 28 (E. P. Alexander); Crockford (1935), 1293 (T. C. W. C. Teape-Fugard).
  • 24. Above, Medieval Parish Churches: St. Oswald.
  • 25. C.C.A.L.S., P 103 (TS. list).
  • 26. Below, Sites and Remains of Medieval Religious Houses: Hospital of St. John.
  • 27. Above, Collegiate Church of St. John.
  • 28. Ibid.; 3 Sheaf, xxxiii, p. 78.
  • 29. J. McN. Dodgson, 'Place-Names and Street-Names at Chester', J.C.A.S. lv. 30–9.
  • 30. Jones, Ch. in Chester, 7; Blk. Prince's Reg. iii. 74–5.
  • 31. 1 Sheaf, ii, pp. 116–17; 3 Sheaf, xii, p. 35; xxix, p. 64.
  • 32. Not mentioned in Valor Eccl. or List of Clergy, 1541–2.
  • 33. B.L. Harl. MS. 2125, f. 267v.
  • 34. 36 D.K.R. App. II, p. 439; for the quarry: P.N. Ches. v (1:i), 48; wrongly located by Morris, Chester, 168–9.
  • 35. Lich. Episcopal Reg. V: 2nd Reg. of Bp. Robert de Stretton, 1360–85 (Collns. Hist. Staffs. N.S. viii), p. 38.
  • 36. Morris, Chester, 169; C.C.A.L.S., ZMB 4, f. 72; ZSB 1, f. 122; B.L. Harl. MS. 2057, f. 114v.; Ormerod, Hist. Ches. i. 354.
  • 37. 3 Sheaf, xi, p. 22; xxv, p. 81; xxxvi, p. 68.
  • 38. Above, Collegiate Church of St. John.
  • 39. B.L. Harl. MS. 7568, f. 211v.; Hemingway, Hist. Chester, i. 164; P.N. Ches. v (1:i), 53.
  • 40. Above, Collegiate Church of St. John; 3 Sheaf, xiii, p. 52.
  • 41. Above, Medieval Parish Churches: St. Oswald; cf. above, Municipal Buildings: Common Hall.
  • 42. Below, Sites and Remains of Medieval Religious Houses: Dominican Friary.
  • 43. Below, Cathedral and Close: Precinct from 1541.
  • 44. 3 Sheaf, xlv, pp. 43–7; Cart. Chester Abbey, i, p. 132; ii, p. 274.
  • 45. Above, Law Courts: Middle Ages (Ecclesiastical Courts).
  • 46. e.g. B.L. Harl. MS. 1046, f. 172.
  • 47. V.C.H. Ches. v (1), Topography, 900–1914: Early Modern and Georgian (Building Activity, 1550–1640; Effects of the Siege and Interregnum).
  • 48. J. Broster, A Walk Round the Walls and City of Chester (1821 edn.), 85–6.
  • 49. Cart. Chester Abbey, ii, pp. 467, 469.