Bridge Chapels were common in Medieval times and were used by travellers to pray for a safe journey. Now only four survive and the one over the River Don in Rotherham is the best preserved.
The chapel was built in 1483 when a new bridge was built over the River Don, with most of the money coming from Thomas Rotherham, Archbishop of York. It was richly decorated. After the Act for the Dissolution of Colleges and Chantries in 1547, it was closed and given to the Ffoffees (Trustees) of the Common Lands of Rotherham who were Rotherham’s first town council and it was used as an almshouse. The chapel was damaged during the Civil War and by 1680 was almost a ruin. The only reason it avoided demolition was that it contributed to the strength and stability of the bridge.
The original bridge was widened in the C18th and the chapel was restored, becoming a prison. The crypt became a jail with the Deputy Constable living upstairs. When a new courthouse and jail were opened in 1826, the chapel was rented out as a house. In the late C19th it was a tobacconist and newsagents. In 1901 a signed petition was presented to the Ffoffees for the restoration of the chapel. This was completed in 1924. There was further restoration work in 1975 when the east window was added.
The chapel is a small rectangular red sandstone building with a battlemented top with pinnacles. It now stands on the bank of the river and the remains of the old bridge can still be seen at the base of the walls.
Inside is simple with limed oak pews and altar rail. The east window was added in the 1975 restoration. Although a modern abstract design, it is full of symbolism representing the history of Rotherham.
At the back, a wooden door leads down to the crypt which still has some of the original jail doors with carved initials. Stairs led up to the west window where a priest would put a light to guide people to the bridge crossing at night.
The chapel is normally kept locked. There is a shopper’s communion service every Tuesday at 11am. There isn’t a lot to see inside the chapel and it is more impressive from the outside. It is the history and survival against the odds that makes it interesting.
There is no parking by the chapel. The nearest post code is S60 1RB and the grid reference is SK427928.