Heath Chapel, Shropshire

Heath Chapel, Shropshire

Sat in an otherwise empty field, Heath Chapel looks to be a fairly plain and unassuming building. If it wasn’t for the ornate doorway, it could easily be overlooked.

Heath Chapel, a stone’s throw from Clee St Margaret, is all that’s left of a medieval village sat beneath Brown Clee Hill. Surprisingly, the chapel has remained virtually unaltered during its lifetime.

Heath Chapel, sat in the middle of an otherwise empty field.
Heath Chapel

Alongside a photo of Heath Chapel (similar to the one above), The Talk of The Midlands column in the Birmingham Daily Post on 4th November 1958 reports: “Heath Chapel, on the west side of Brown Clee Hill, Shropshire, built 1090, which has received a grant from the Historic Churches Preservation Trust. There is no more perfect specimen of an early Norman chapel in England.”

Heath Chapel consists of just a nave and chancel. Its windows are few in number and small, the one in the north wall being enlarged around 300 years ago. The pulpit and box-pews are more recent additions, dating from the 17th century. The entrance door retains some 12th century wrought ironwork and the doorway is perhaps the only decorative feature on the outside.

The door handle at Heath Chapel.
The door handle at Heath Chapel.
The door at Heath Chapel.
The door at Heath Chapel.

In the Rambling column of the Birmingham Daily Post on 11th December 1971, an article entitled In the shadows of Salop’s highest hill describes the area as “The bracken-clad head and shoulders of Brown Clee (1,772ft), Shropshire’s highest hill, rise above an undulating patchwork of fields and woodlands whose hidden folds shelter villages little inclined to move into the 20th century.”

It goes on to describe Heath chapel: “The gem of the district is the simple but serenely lovely little chapel-of-ease, at the Heath, one of the best preserved Norman shrines in Britain, and virtually the same as when its builders completed it nearly 900 years ago. The only recognisable alteration has been the widening of one narrow lancet window behind the pulpit, presumably to brighten up dull sermons. It still serves a faithful few with services twice a month, and the Rev. Lewis, of Stoke St Milborough, in whose parish it is, tells me that the chalice he uses there dates from the early years of Queen Elizabeth I.”

Inside Heath Chapel.
Inside Heath Chapel.

Inside Heath Chapel.

The whitewashed interior walls look messy and untidy, but they hold something precious. Medieval wall paintings were discovered in 1911 having previously been covered in plaster. I believe the walls are currently awaiting conservation.

An uncovered medieval wall painting.
An uncovered medieval wall painting.
Part of an uncovered medieval wall painting.
Part of an uncovered medieval wall painting.

A sign asking people not to touch the walls.

Heath Chapel hasn’t always been in such good condition. In 1793 Archdeacon Plymley found the walls to be cracked with ivy growing into them, the roof in bad condition and some of the pews decaying. Some windows had glass missing. In 1863 a family of pigeons had taken up residence in the roof, and the chapel was said to be in a state of “melancholy neglect”. A stained glass window was mentioned to be “beautifully executed”, but this medieval glass seems to have sadly disappeared. In 1903 an architect’s report commented on the deteriorating condition of the walls through damp and inadequate drainage.

The timbered roof of the chapel.
The timbered roof of the chapel.
A wooden panel of one of the pews.
A wooden panel of one of the pews.

The chapel was very much in use at this time, with articles in local newspapers mentioning seasonal services. On 29th September 1893, the Shrewsbury Chronicle reports “On Sunday afternoon last a harvest thanksgiving service was held in this church, which for ecclesiastical purposes is joined to that of Stoke St Milburgh. Heath Chapel, as it is commonly called, is a quaint old building of the Norman era, and is probably the only specimen of those ages for miles around in which divine service is held. It was a happy thought of the new Vicar’s to hold a service, and subsequent events fully proved it, for not only was the old edifice thronged with worshippers, but many could not obtain admission. The church was prettily decorated by some of the parishioners, and reflected much credit upon the workers.”

An article in the Wellington Journal on 30th December 1893 describes a Christmas service at the chapel: “The sacred building was decorated for the occasion. A Christmas service at this church is an event of note here, as in the knowledge of any of the residents around no such event is chronicled. Services were formerly held in this place of worship only once a month, whereas, since the advent of the new vicar, two, three, and sometimes four are held.”

The west end of Heath Chapel.
The west end of Heath Chapel.
The back of Heath Chapel.
The back of Heath Chapel.

Restoration of the chapel began in 1911/12, with parts of the chapel said to be in danger of imminent collapse. The walls were found to be without foundations, but work was made to remedy this. However, it is said that archaeology beneath the chapel was undoubtedly destroyed during the work.

I don’t know if any of my family members ever attended Heath Chapel, but I do wonder if my great-great-uncle sought peace there on the fateful day on which he took his own life at Harp Coppice, just a short walk down the lane, 99 years ago.

27 comments

  1. Kelly says:

    This is SO fascinating! I love church architecture and I appreciate all the photos and details you’ve shared here. I think it would give me chills to stand inside and reflect on its history. Your last paragraph is so poignant.

  2. Jo says:

    A sad ending to your post. How wonderful that this chapel is still standing after all this time, it’s amazing how buildings survive the test of time.

  3. Marty says:

    I can see why they added the window behind the pulpit. There’s not much for outside lighting in that church! But what a marvelous construction job they did to keep it still standing today. And they use it twice a month? That’s fantastic.

  4. Ann says:

    What a enchanting little gem of a place and I loved reading its fascinating history. I could’t help but get a lump in my throat when reading your final paragraph … xxx

  5. jeanie says:

    I love the interior and the stonework around the door. The title “Chapel of Ease” is really interesting. I like that a lot — all chapels should be “of ease.”

  6. I love old buildings, especially when there is such history attached. So nice to learn about then Chapel, I always like to think about who has stood there before, what dis they do? What were they thinking?. Thank you for sharing all this great information on Heath Chapel.

  7. What a sad ending, but as you say, let’s just believe that your great-great-uncle found some solace within its walls.

    Dave has a whole collection of ‘interesting door’ photos he has taken over the years and this one would certainly qualify. I also love that timbered roof.

    We live close to the historic town of Bradford-on-Avon, which amongst its many ‘regular’ churches has two lovely old chapels very similar to this one.

    One is the Saxon church of St. Lawrence. The other is St Mary Tory Chapel, which is at the top of a very steep hill and boasts spectacular views across the Wiltshire countryside.

    http://www.bradfordonavonmuseum.co.uk/saxon-church

    Maybe you might get the opportunity to visit one day.

    Thank you for a lovely post 🙂

  8. Tilly says:

    We visited Heath Chapel years ago, I loved the place. It had such a peaceful feel to it. It’s nice to see it’s still looked after and not changed.

  9. Anca says:

    What a stunning building. It is wonderful to read about it and discover its history. It’s been a while since I’ve been to an old church like this one. I should search for one in London, maybe I find a little gem.

  10. Jayne says:

    Oh goodness, what a medievalist’s delight! Thank you for sharing so much of this beautiful building.

    Sorry I have missed a few of your recent posts, a combination of trying to get stuff done outside before the weather breaks and the ensuing tiredness leaves little brain-power for the computer

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