Building record MYO1857 - Bedern Chapel, Bedern


Chapel built in 1252, altered during the mid 14th century and later. Renovated and re-roofed during the late 20th century. Originally built of magnesian limestone ashlar and rubble. The west gabel was later rebuilt in red brick and limestone quoins. Pantile roof.


Grid reference SE 6050 5213 (point)
Map sheet SE65SW
Unitary Authority City of York, North Yorkshire


Type and Period (7)

Full Description

Formerly known as: St Peter's Chapel BEDERN. Chapel of the College of Vicars Choral of York Minster; now store room. 1252; altered in mid C14 and later; renovated and re-roofed in late C20. Original building of magnesian limestone ashlar and rubble; west gable wall rebuilt in red brick in random bond with limestone quoins; pantile roof.

EXTERIOR: north front to street: 1-storey 4-bay front. Entrance at western end through C20 door in chamfered opening with 2-centred head. Windows are of 2- and 3-lights, blocked below transoms and with square latticed glazing above: diamond-section mullions largely renewed. East of centre window is truncated concave niche. All openings have splayed openings and sloping sills.

INTERIOR: east end: long rectangular recess with flat arch of chamfered stones: reset scalloped capital and tapering brackets in centre and at each end. North side: at western end, doorway has square jambs and chamfered flattened 2-centred rere-arch; above, to right, quarter-round gallery corbel; at eastern end, remains of aumbry with chamfered lintel. South side: at eastern end, keel-moulded doorway with 2-centred head blocked on outside; at western end, remains of blocked second door. West end: blocked central doorway to right of blocked aumbry in rebated surround. All window openings are splayed.

(City of York: RCHME: The Central Area: HMSO: 1981-: 58-60). Listing NGR: SE6050952139

Derived from English Heritage LB download dated: 22/08/2005

Chapel of The Holy Trinity, The Blessed Virgin and St. Katherine, better known as the Bedern Chapel, stands on the S.W. side of the Bedern. The walls are of magnesian limestone ashlar and rubble, with post-mediaeval brickwork. The roof was of tiles.

The statutes of the Vicars Choral were confirmed by Archbishop Walter de Grey in 1252 (The Statutes etc. of the Cathedral Church of York, 2nd ed. (Leeds 1910), 17–20), following their acquisition of lands in 1248, and a chapel was built soon afterwards. It was enlarged in the 1340s and building work is recorded in the Chamberlain's Roll of 1344–5 (quoted in Harrison, Medieval College, 33). The date of the consecration of the new work is variously given as 1347 (Book of Statutes (1680), YML, Acc. v, 1920/1), 1348 (Harrison, YAJ, 198) and 1349 (Harrison, Medieval College, 33). From the old chapel the S. wall with its doorway at the E. end and most of the E. wall were retained, but a new N. wall was built to make the chapel wider. The old E. window was blocked up, and a small lancet was reused or added in the new northwards extension of the E. wall. The elimination of a main E. window was probably due to the planning of other buildings E. of the chapel. The old S. wall was refenestrated to match the new N. wall, but the sills on the S. were kept at a higher level, probably to accommodate a covered walk below them.

The new chapel must have been nearly finished by 1346 when mass with music was celebrated in it in the presence of many clergy and laity (Harrison, Medieval College, 191), though work was still being paid for in 1350, as Archbishop Zouche issued an indulgence on 3 February 1350/1 for the construction of the chapel and for the erection and dedication of an altar (Vicars Choral Cartulary, YML, v [B], 301v). In 1349 it received its only chantry foundation, at the altar of its patronal saints (Harrison, op. cit., 34). In 1393 Archbishop Arundel consecrated a stone altar in the chapel (Historians of the Church of York, ii (1886), 425). A pencil sketch of 1807, possibly by Henry Cave (YCAG, EC/PD 222a, Box C3) shows the chapel with a large five-light window of 15th-century date. The window does not appear in a sketch of 1874 (YCA, Acc. 28, 38–39), and the layout is difficult to reconcile with what is known of the chapel. It seems probable that the sketch of 1807 is wrongly titled.

In 1505 Robert Gillow, a vicar choral, left 3s. 4d. for panelling (syllynge) in the chapel. By the 17th century the chapel was becoming dilapidated, and the E. gable was largely rebuilt in brick. In the 1690s Torre reported it as being 'in good repairs for the use of divine service'. Further repairs and alterations were carried out during the 18th century and in particular in 1757 (Reparelor's Office Book, 1708–69), and in 1782 a new bell was provided, perhaps replacing the one referred to in the Chamberlain's Roll of 1389–90. In 1817–18 Clark, a whitesmith, was paid £7. 2s. 6d. for work done on removing some painted glass from the windows (YML, E3 H). Dean Markham kept the glass in the Minster, and some of it may have been used to patch the E. window there after the fire of 1829 (Noble City, 156). The windows on the N. side of the chapel were then blocked up and never reglazed. Considerable repairs were again carried out in 1831, but by 1859 the chapel was said to be in great disrepair (SS, xxxv for 1858 (1859), 98), and in 1925 restoration work was carried out to stabilise the leaning N. wall. In December 1961 the roof-covering and timbers were taken off, all surviving fittings removed, and the walls taken down to a height of 10–12 ft. The removed stonework was left inside, and the building is now a decaying weed-filled ruin.

The chapel exhibits certain peculiarities in design: the windows in the N. and S. walls are not opposite each other; some of the window jambs are straight instead of splayed; and the window-sills on the S. side are set much higher than those on the N. This last feature suggests that there may have been a covered walk on the S. side, possibly communicating with the hall further to the S.E.

Architectural Description. The Chapel consists of one undivided area with a later gallery, since removed, at the W. end. The E. wall is cased in brick externally to a height of about 8 ft. and plastered internally. Above the casing, up to the base of the gable, the wall is of rough rubble except for the northernmost 5 ft., which is of ashlar. In the S. end of this ashlar section is a lancet window with a pierced trefoil above a chamfered trefoiled head and chamfered jambs. Head and trefoil are cut out of a single block of stone (possibly late 13th-century reused). The window was splayed internally, but the inner opening was later covered up.

The gable has been rebuilt in 17th-century brick with brick coping carried at the N. end on a moulded stone kneeler. In the brickwork is a blocked window. The N. wall is of good 14th-century ashlar and has a chamfered water-table. In it are three windows, each originally of three ogee trefoiled lights with reticulated tracery in a square head. All their openings are closed with brick except for the W. light of the W. window, which had been built up with ashlar in mediaeval times. The original E. jamb of the E. window and W. jamb of the middle window are unsplayed. Between the first and second windows externally is a trefoil-headed niche with plain trefoil-shaped label, having a coved head, rounded back and sloping sill. At the W. end is a doorway with a two-centred head and continuous hollow-chamfered jambs; internally it has a rear-arch with flattened two-centred head and square jambs. Above is a small rectangular slit-light with splayed jambs. This N.W. corner seems to have been rebuilt, perhaps in the 18th century.

The 13th-century S. wall is built of rubble, extensively patched with brick. It has a chamfered water-table and contains three 14th-century windows as in the N. wall, but with high-set sills. The E. light of the first window is built up with brick and its E. jamb must have been unsplayed, whilst the W. jamb of the second window and the external W. jamb of the third window are also unsplayed. Below the first window is an original doorway, blocked with brick. Internally this has a two-centred head with a keeled-roll moulding to head and jambs, of the mid 13th century. At the W. end is another doorway, of 14th-century date, also blocked with brick externally; internally it has a plain two-centred head with rounded arrises. The wall above this doorway may have been rebuilt in the 18th century. The W. wall externally has a skin of 19th-century brick, probably of 1831, and the gable has a brick coping carried on moulded stone kneelers. Internally it is of mediaeval date up to a height of about 7 ft., with a blocked doorway centrally; above this height it is in brick of 1757 with two large relieving arches, now plastered.

The Roof was hidden by a flat ceiling not later than the early 18th century. Above this the original close-coupled trussed-rafter roof had scissor-braces to each truss, the rafters supported at the base by sole-pieces and ashlar-pieces.

Fittings — Aumbries: in N. wall, (1) rectangular with rebated lintel; in W. wall, (2) rectangular with rebated head and jambs, now blocked. Bell: with date 1782, now in Minster stonemasons' store. Brackets: reset in E. wall, centrally over recess, (1) scalloped capital, 12th-century with later abacus; on each side of recess, (2) and (3) tapering with square top, mediaeval; in N. wall, above E. jamb of doorway, (4) large quarter-round corbel, probably for gallery, possibly 18th-century; in S. wall, over E. jamb of W. doorway, (5) corbel as (4). Door: of pine, with inner wicket, 1831. Font-cover: of oak, with scrolled openwork top in two stages and central turned column with acanthus decoration, surmounted by a dove, moulded octagonal base, c. 1700; now in the Minster. Piscina: in E. wall, with two-centred head and chamfered jambs, blocked and partially destroyed, 13th or 14th-century. Recess: in E. wall, centrally, long rectangular recess with chamfered stone lintel, mediaeval.

Monument 33; City of York: RCHME: The Central Area: HMSO: 1981-: 58-60

Behind No. 27 Goodramgate lies the Bedern, the former precinct of the Vicars Choral of York Minster from the 13th century. The word bedern is derived from Early English bede (prayer) and ærn (house). Today, few of the original buildings remain and the surviving Bedern Hall and chapel are surrounded by 20th-century development.

The present passage from Goodramgate into Bedern, with the chapel on the right, marks the gateway to the college of the Vicars Choral. There was no through way and Bartle Garth, named after Robert Barthill, a college servant –he bequeathed the vicars his mite of three shillings and fourpence – was part of the enclosed complex. Adjacent parcels of land were purchased for the college by two Minster canons: Archdeacon Romeyn (described by a contemporary as ‘crammed with rents and treasures’), and William de Laneham. Their gifts suggest the formidable personal wealth of some senior cathedral clergy. The unified site seems to have comprised a lengthy courtyard with two buildings to accommodate the 36 vicars and a further building with an aisle. Within 50 years, the college acquired adjoining parts of Aldwark and Goodramgate and planted both a garden and an orchard. In prosperous times, sustained by rents from some 240 local properties, from three Yorkshire benefices, and one in Nether Wallop, by chantry income and, in the 15th century, profits from industrial works too, the vicars reshaped their accommodation. Notably, they replaced their dormitories with small houses (cubiculi) facing the hall across a grass yard. Archaeologists have also identified a kitchen, two wells, a brewhouse, a buttery and latrines. Their evidence shows too that the surviving hall is the last in a succession; in short, the site was constantly being remodelled.

In 1548 Bedern was sold and, although the sale was annulled five years later, insecurity and decline were plainly in train. Lettings, at first to prosperous citizens on 40-year leases, descended the social scale and college incomes diminished further. The precinct became more secular, less cohesive, and the vicars’ numbers dropped; fewer than 30 in 1484, 20 in 1546, 10 in 1558 and, by 1736, they were down to four, fluctuating thereafter.

Perhaps recognising the potential of Bedern’s layout – similar to an Oxford college though less symmetrical – the City Council petitioned Parliament, in 1641 and 1648, for a university charter. They failed but perhaps something similar was achieved when, with its building damaged in the York siege of 1644, St Peter’s School moved in, remaining until 1730. At different times, other schools occupied parts of Bedern including an orphanage and a “ragged” school. In 1801 a Sunday school for girls transferred to the chapel from nearby St Andrewgate and, in 1872, following legislation for compulsory schooling passed in 1870, the Bedern National School was opened.

Meanwhile, Bedern diversified; the hall was divided into tenements, it was also used, variously, as a glass works, a meat pie factory, a bakery (1918) and pork butcher (1953). Industrial premises and a foundry crowded close by. In the early 1800s in Bedern, in much of Aldwark and St Andrewgate too, prostitution was widespread. Indeed, in1843, 33 prostitutes were recorded in Bedern alone. The Corporation appointed an officer to patrol the area. Lodging houses and multiple-occupation proliferated. In 1832, when cholera hit York, the site was severely overcrowded with the 98 poorest families packed into single rooms and there was no sewer. The Irish Potato Famine multiplied these tribulations; Bedern’s impoverished Irish population rose from seven in 1841 to 1,130 in 1851. In the next year Bedern was opened through to St Andrewgate.

Older York residents recall that the Bedern area retained an unfavourable reputation until the City Council purchased the land in 1970, flattening all but the then derelict hall and the chapel. Following the archaeological survey that this permitted, the prize-winning Esher Plan to revive inner-city living took shape in the 1980s and the hall of the Vicars Choral was painstakingly reconstructed.

Bedern Chapel

With so many Minster services to lead, the vicars did not at first have their own chapel. However, Thomas de Otteby and William Cotyngham, both Vicars Choral, funded one themselves – a further sign of clerical wealth. Their chapel, completed in 1349, is still in place. Dedicated to the Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Katherine, it was consecrated by the Archbishop of Damascus (a suffragan of York). The chapel was well furbished, including with six stained glass windows, one an image of St Katherine. A new marble altar was consecrated in 1393. However, both donors died before completion. Guided by their custos, Robert Swetmouth, the vicars appointed a chaplain from their number ‘who shall dayly celebrate for ever in the sd chapel’ the souls of the two donors and of Nic Hugate (by implication, a fellow donor), a Minster canon who held the affluent parish of Barnby. Funds, a missal and holy vessels were set aside and surviving documents suggest that the pledge was maintained for around 185 years.

The chapel was extended in 1400, refurbished three times in later centuries and damaged by fire in 1876 which, perhaps, explains its outward-leaning walls. Near derelict and no longer a place of worship, it was stripped and the roof and walls were lowered. A closing service was held in 1961. Its stained glass survived puritan iconoclasm, remaining in good order till 1816 when it was removed to furnish another church. However, the glass was placed in storage and its whereabouts are now unknown. The chapel survives as the workshop of the York Glaziers’ Trust.

NMR Information

Name; Bedern Chapel
Alternate Name (Alternative); St Peters Chapel

List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest. Vol.1112-1 York, 14-Mar-1997
An inventory of the historical monuments in the City of York. Volume V: the central area
Includes index. 1981 Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, England 58-60
Scheduled Monument Notification. Descheduling, 16-Jul-1998

BF060230 BEDERN CHAPEL, YORK File of material relating to a site or building. This material has not yet been fully catalogued.
BF112777 Care and Creativity: New work in Cathedrals
FL01193 Bedern Chapel, York This material has not yet been fully catalogued. Copyright, date, and quantity information for this record may be incomplete or inaccurate.

NMR, NMR data (Unassigned). SYO2214.

RCHME, 1981, City of York Volume V: The Central Area (Monograph). SYO65.

Sources/Archives (2)

  • --- Unassigned: NMR. NMR data.
  • --- Monograph: RCHME. 1981. City of York Volume V: The Central Area.

Protected Status/Designation

Related Monuments/Buildings (1)

Related Events/Activities (2)

Record last edited

Jun 12 2020 9:49AM


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