Your News: Chapel of Rest saved from imminent destruction

The Chapel of Rest.
The Chapel of Rest.
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In my first article, I mentioned that Bourne Preservation Society has particular concerns about the Chapel of Rest, the Old Grammar School and Wake House, among other buildings at some risk in Bourne. I shall look a little more closely at each of these three, in successive articles, and consider their architecture and history, and explain our ideas.

First, the Chapel of Rest. As I said earlier, this was saved only by the spirit and enterprise of a number of private individuals, who had to act when our elected officials had failed us, and by Rex Needle’s listing application finally succeeding, with our support and that of several concerned amenity societies including the Victorian Society. Listing can be difficult to achieve, but it is effective. The chapel is listed at Grade II, which is the lowest category, but no matter, all listing carries with it certain responsibilities, the most important being that a listed building cannot be demolished without a criminal offence being committed, unless its demolition is approved, a most unlikely situation. Nor can it be altered to the detriment of its features of historic importance, whether inside or out, which again is a criminal offence. The next important point is that, if a listed building is not properly maintained, certain consequences follow, so that for example the relevant authority, in this case South Kesteven District Council, can require necessary work to be carried out.

The history of the Chapel of Rest is that, by the middle of the 19th century, Britain was running out of space for burials. There had been a huge population explosion in the late 18th and early 19th century, and therefore people were not only dying, as they have an unfortunate tendency to do, but dying in much greater numbers than ever before. The state had to take action, and the answer was the Burial Act of 1853, which allowed for the provision of space outside the churchyards by public funding. This immediately gave rise to demand for chapels for the new municipal cemeteries, which were to be run by the parishes. These were buildings of sufficient complexity to demand good architects to design them. Edward Browning (1816-1882) was one. He was the son of Stamford architect Bryan Browning (1773-1856), who had built up a reputation in late Georgian times with fine and ingenious buildings such as Bourne’s own Town Hall in the Market Place. Edward, like his father, was based in Stamford and had a number of ecclesiastical commissions, mainly church restorations. He also designed distinguished houses for clergy, including a parsonage at Stamford and the fine former rectory at Lowick, Northants, in which Anthony Trollope and George Eliot are said to have done some of their writing. In 1860 he designed the Ostler Memorial fountain for the Market Place, which is now hidden away in undeserved obscurity in the middle of the cemetery.

Browning also designed an equivalent cemetery chapel in Stamford at about the same time as this one. Like most Victorian architects, he was required to be conversant with many styles and, as well as Gothic, he could do a competent Tudor, and also Neo-Jacobean, as at Barrington Hall, Hertfordshire. In his Gothic style he tended to be eclectic, with Early English-style lancets and features of the Decorated period on the same building for example, something the more purist major architects like Pugin, Butterfield and Street might have viewed with a little suspicion, but others were perfectly happy with.

In Bourne, he was chosen in 1854 from a select list to design a chapel that combined the requirements of the Anglican and the Nonconformist communities, effectively two chapels in one. The commission also included a fine lodge in similar Gothic style, which has already been foolishly and needlessly demolished and replaced by a new house of no architectural merit. Construction began in July 1854, and the Anglican chapel was consecrated in May 1855. The two chapels are combined in an L-shape, in one building of coursed limestone rubble dressed with ashlar, broadly in a Decorated style, and each chapel has its own doorway with a Gothic arch, one with a porch. Several other chapels were being put to tender in Lincolnshire at around the same time, for example those at Boston, Louth and Holbeach in 1854, and Lincoln and Grantham a year or two later, but its early construction date makes Bourne’s one of the first of these buildings to be erected anywhere in the country. The Bourne chapels are also of historical interest because they may have been the first to be combined in this particular L plan, as distinct from two separate buildings. Certainly the only other two currently listed ones in the Bourne plan are not in Lincolnshire and were not built until at least a decade later. 
Bourne Preservation Society has already spent many man-hours at the site, clearing away unsightly accretions that had defaced the building over the years, and removing some of the most dangerous of the undergrowth that was having such a damaging effect on the fabric. Being a great deal more soundly built than today’s buildings, however, its basic structure is in good health.

The Bourne Preservation Society proposal is for the building to become a columbarium, a place for cremated remains, where people can look at a book of remembrance and other memorials.

Of course in any situation where a lease would have to be granted to a charity by a freeholder (in this case Bourne Town Council), care must be taken to ensure that as many options as possible for future use are explored and allowed for, so a columbarium is only one of a number of possible long term solutions. The project has been fraught with problems holding it back, but, no matter, we and all the other public spirited campaigners can still claim a remarkable success. We have already saved the building from what would otherwise have been imminent destruction.

Footnote: the current problem is the continuing failure of Lincoln Diocese to grant the necessary waiver of its restrictive covenant, despite general agreement having been reached by all interested parties at a meeting in April 2012.