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Rotherham, England

The Chapel of Our Lady

This oddly placed 15th-century church is one of only six bridge chapels left in England. 

This 15th-century bridge chapel in Rotherham, South Yorkshire has been an almshouse, town jail, and tobacconist’s shop, but is now actively used in its original role as a place of worship. Its proper name is the Chapel of Our Lady of Rotherham Bridge, and it’s considered a real hidden gem within this industrial town.

A bridge chapel is a small chapel, located either at one end of or built into a structure in the middle of the bridge. Today, there are only six such chapels remaining in England, with only four actually constructed in the middle of a bridge. In the past, when travelers passing through wanted to take a break from their journey to pray, these chapels were at hand.

The Chapel of Our Lady on the bridge which is, unsurprisingly, on Bridge Street, was constructed out of ashlar sandstone in 1483 and is situated on the original four-arched bridge over the River Don. John Bokyng, the head teacher of the local grammar school, left a will requesting that it be built as a chantry but did not leave enough funds for the entire construction. It is thought the shortfall was borne by a famous son of the town, Archbishop Thomas Rotherham, from the diocese in York.

The elaborately decorated church functioned as a chantry until legislations were passed in 1545 and 1547 to tackle the alleged misappropriation of funds and lands by chantries. When it could no longer be used as a spiritual space, it was used for several different purposes, including as the local lockup, until 1901 when the town residents created a petition to restore it. The church wardens of the All Saints Church worked on the repairs and the restoration was eventually completed after World War I. The dedication took place in 1924.

Though it is now a functional church, the crypt and cell doors stand as a reminder of the time it served as Rotherham’s jail.

Know Before You Go

Easily in walking distance from both bus and rail stations.

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