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History of the Chapel
History of the Chapel
The Chapel was designed by Basil Champneys as the parish church of St Peter-le-Bailey and dates from 1874. It was Champneys’ first building in Oxford, and demonstrates his capable but restrained command of the Gothic style.
The building replaces two previous churches which had served the same parish; they were located on what is now Bonn Square at the end of New Inn Hall Street. The name ‘Bailey’ derives from the fact that the Oxford Castle Bailey was located there in the Middle Ages.
The Norman church, known as St Peter-at-the-Castle, was destroyed when the tower collapsed in 1726. Rebuilt in 1740 in the Italianate style, the church was demolished in 1874 to relieve traffic congestion and rebuilt further north on its present site.
A few relics remain in the chapel from earlier churches, notably several memorial brasses, the earliest to John Sprunt (1419) sometime mayor of Oxford; a sixteenth century parish chest; fragments of carved masonry from the Norman church; an oil painting depicting the ‘Sacrifice of Isaac’ (Anon. late seventeenth century), and the font, a nineteenth century copy of the eleventh century original in Winchester Cathedral.
The parish church was renovated for use as a Chapel in the late 1920s. Most of the newer decorative fittings are memorials to the Chavasse family. The oak cross used to mark the grave of Noel Chavasse can be seen on the north wall of the chapel. Noel, a doctor, was sent to France in 1914 as Medical Officer to the Liverpool Scottish Regiment, awarded a Military Cross in 1915 and became one of the greatest heroes of the First World War, being the only person in that war to be twice awarded the Victoria Cross – for gallantry at Guillemont, France (1916) and heroism at Wieltje, Belgium (1917).
A memorial to Francis Bernard Chavasse, who also served as a Medical Officer in the Great War, can be seen close by.
The memorial panel (1932) on the North Wall is a bas-relief depicting Bishop Francis James Chavasse at prayer. It is a cast taken from the original by David Evans in Liverpool Cathedral.
The oak and limewood reredos is a memorial to Edith Chavasse, wife of Francis James Chavasse, and dates from 1929. It is dedicated to wives and mothers. Designed by F.E. Howard and carved in the workshops of A.R.Mowbray & Co, it is divided into five niches. The centre depicts the resurrection, the others showing scenes from the life of St. Peter.
The pastoral staff used by Christopher Chavasse when he was Bishop of Rochester can be seen to the left of the altar. It was given to Christopher by his sisters, the twins May and Marjorie Chavasse, in memory of their brother Aidan, who died during the First World War.
The pulpit, from the same designers and workshops, is a memorial to Bishop Francis James Chavasse. The gilded inscription records his last public message, dictated three months before his death in 1928. ‘Hold fast to Prayer; honour the Holy Spirit; be faithful to Christ; believe that God reigns.’