A guide to the History and Background of Longworth Chapel
Longworth Chapel, also known as the Roman Catholic Church of St James, is a small but high quality example of the Victorian ideal of a medieval chapel. Reconstructed in 1869-70 it utilises genuine fourteenth century features.
The chapel today stands alongside what used to be the Bartestree Convent, now a residential development called Frome Court. The chapel started its life at Old Longworth, and was the private chapel of the manor house there. Built c.1390 by the Walwyn family, after the Reformation the chapel fell out of use as a religious building, owing in part to the construction of New Longworth Hall in 1788. The chapel was given over to agricultural purposes, as a storeroom and a cider press. By 1851 the chapel was owned by Robert Biddulph Philipps, son of Robert Philipps, MP for Hereford 1784-5, an enthusiastic Catholic convert who decided to restore the chapel. On his death in 1864, Biddulph Philipps’ will stated that he wished the chapel be moved next to the Convent of Our Lady of Charity and Refuge in Bartestree to which he had built and endowed.
E. W. Pugin, son of leading Gothic Revival architect A.W.G. Pugin, who designed the first phase of the convent, was sacked and Benjamin Bucknall employed to undertake the move and design the convent chapel. The chapel was not dismantled until 1869, and re-erection was completed the following year.
The chapel was not reconstructed exactly as it had been at Old Longworth. While Bucknall incorporated elements from the original chapel, including the doors and windows, as well as much of the medieval masonry, there are some substantial differences. The shape of the chapel is different, and the roof appears to date from the 15th and 16th centuries. It remained as the parish church until the 20th century, when it fell into disuse.
The chapel is built from buff and pink sandstone, with ashlar stone dressings. The roof is of slate. The entrance is situated on the north gable of the chapel (which is orientated north-south) facing east. This gable also has a decorated window, which is thought to be medieval. There is a quatrefoil in the arch above the window. The doorway at the east end is in the Perpendicular style, and the panelled door, which is decorated with studs, possibly dates from the fifteenth century.
The east elevation of the chapel has four matching windows, which were taken from the medieval church. They are not equally spaced, as the result of the chapel of 1869 not being rebuilt to the exact dimensions of the original chapel in Old Longworth. In fact, since the original chapel only had two windows on the north elevation, we can ascertain that these must have been moved when the chapel was rebuilt. Judging by their symmetry, it seems likely that the additional two windows were the corresponding windows from the opposite (south) side of the original chapel.
The roof of the chapel provides evidence of the changes made to the building prior to its disassembling in 1869. The handsome oak roof of the chancel over the altar dates from the fifteenth century; the roof at the north- west end dates from a century later. Since the new chapel was not reconstructed in the same shape as the original chapel it may well have been the case that they used wood salvaged from one of the other buildings in Old Longworth to complete the roof.
The timber screen was part of the family pew at St Peter’s Church, Lugwardine, moved to the chapel in 1857. It is now against the West (entrance) wall.
The altar and reredos date from 1869, and are probably the work of E.W Pugin. The saints in the niches are St Francis de Sales, St. Jean Frances de Chantal, St. Teresa, and St. Anne. Phillips set out clear instructions on the design.
There are two standing marble figures, one in a timber niche, and the other in a stone niche. These are the memorial to Robert Biddulph Phillips, whose vision it was to move the chapel to Bartestree, as well as his wife and daughter, Mary Anne – who both predeceased him.
Following its redundancy as a parish church, over the next few decades Longworth became seriously dilapidated, and since its closure it has been the victim of vandalism, theft and even arson. The chapel was transferred to the HCT in 2001, and a first phase of works to restore the building was completed in 2010, with the help of a grant of £143,000 awarded by English Heritage. This involved the full repair of the roof and repointing of the exterior walls to keep it weathertight. The local committee are actively fundraising for the balance needed.