The Civic Society column with David Winpenny

Coltsgate Hill Chapel was designed by James Simpson in 1861. (Copyright - David Winpenny)
Coltsgate Hill Chapel was designed by James Simpson in 1861. (Copyright - David Winpenny)

This week we’ll look at a few more of the Civic Society’s green plaques, which tell the story of Ripon’s buildings, events and famous people. Today, the column takes on a religious slant, with three buildings that tell of Ripon’s links with churches of various denominations.

The Archbishop’s Gateway

Inside Coltsgate Hill Chapel after closure but before a false ceiling filled the interior � David Winpenny (single use only)

Inside Coltsgate Hill Chapel after closure but before a false ceiling filled the interior � David Winpenny (single use only)

The gateway – on the left of Kirkgate as you approach the Cathedral – is only a remnant of what was once an important collection of buildings – a palace of the Archbishops of York.

In the Middle Ages Ripon was under the jurisdiction of the Archbishops of York. The diocese of York was huge – it covered the whole of Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, much of Cumbria and North Lancashire and part of Northumberland.

The medieval archbishops needed palaces all around the diocese. They included one at Cawood near Selby, and others at Hexham in Northumberland, Beverley in East Yorkshire, Otley in West Yorkshire and two in Nottinghamshire, at Southwell and Scrooby. And Ripon, too, had its archbishop’s palace – sometimes known as the Summer Palace – on the site accessed by this gateway.

There is a drawing by J M W Turner that shows Kirkgate, with another gateway across the end of the street, demolished in the 19th Century, which led to what was then the Minster close. Inside were the Bedern – the house for the priests, as well as the houses of the canons or prebendaries, a courthouse and the palace itself.

Kirkgate in 1844, showing the Archbishop's gateway on the left.

Kirkgate in 1844, showing the Archbishop's gateway on the left.

In the 1530s the antiquary John Leland wrote ‘The Prebendaries houses be builded in places near to the Minster, and among them the Archbishop hath a fair palace’.

In the 17th century a parliamentary survey noted that the hall, the great chamber and the chapel of the palace were still there, as well as the gateway that is now marked by the Society’s plaque.

Now only the arch remains – it is shown in a drawing of 1844 as leading to a marble mason’s yard and it also gave access to leading to what was the stable yard of the Unicorn Hotel.

The rest of the remains of the archbishops’ palace were demolished in 1830, when the Liberty Courthouse was built.

The Temple and the Dissenters’ Graveyard

There seems to be no image of the chapel called ‘The Temple’ which was built in 1818 on a site now crammed between the BT depot and the Workhouse Museum.

1818 saw the arrival in Ripon of The West Riding Home Missionary Society. Its missionaries preached from a private house in nearby Allhallowgate. After a time based in a larger house in St Agnesgate – the congregations were growing – they laid the foundation stone for a new chapel in May 1818.

‘The Temple’, as it was known, opened in September, and held 420 people: in 1851 it was reported that ‘There are 172 sittings let. Some that are poor take one sitting and occupy two or three; others pay for more than they occupy. The services produce on a deeply-attentive audience such impressions as the pious mind would wish to perpetuate.’

In 1871 the congregation moved to a grand new church, whose spire was long a feature of North Street. The Temple was demolished and the area became derelict.

The new Congregational church of 1871 is also no longer there. It became a chicken processing factory in 1953 and was demolished in 1968.

In 1919 a correspondent to the Ripon Gazette complained about the state of the site of The Temple; in 1932 unemployed men were drafted in the tidy it up.

In 1973 British Telecom sought permission to extend its buildings on to what by now was known as the Dissenters’ Graveyard, but this was refused.

In 1986 Ripon commemorated 1100 years since its charter from King Alfred in 866, and as part of the celebrations the graveyard was laid out as a garden and named the Temple Garden. The wrought ironwork archway gazebo was put up in recent years by Ripon In Bloom, which now cares for the area.

Coltsgate Hill Chapel

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, originally found Ripon a godless place; nevertheless, the city’s first Wesleyan Chapel was established on this site in 1777, in buildings adapted for the purpose.

Wesley visited it in 1780 and noted its success: ‘We came to Ripon, and observed a remarkable turn of Providence: the great hindrance of the work of God in this place has suddenly disappeared; and the poor people, being delivered from their fear, gladly flock together to hear His word. The new preaching-house was quickly more than filled. Surely some of them will not be forgetful hearers.’

By the mid-19th Century a larger building was needed, and the foundation stone for the present chapel was laid by Thomas Farmer, the General Treasurer of the Wesleyan Missionary Society.

There was a procession from the Temperance Hall before the event, and a tea for 300 people there after the opening. Workmen preparing for the foundation stone had earlier discovered two bodies, at least a century old, of a woman of about 25 and man about 20 years older; they were suspected of having been murdered.

The new chapel was designed by James Simpson of Leeds, who was responsible for many other Methodist chapels in Yorkshire, most of them built in a similar classical style. It sloping site allowed a large lower floor of meeting rooms and offices.

The building was opened on 1 October 1861, at a cost of £2,000, when it was reported that ‘A gallery, supported by iron pillars with floral capitals, surrounds the interior of the chapel. The chapel seats 635 (of which 125 are free). The organ . . . cost about £300. The pulpit is at once chaste and beautiful.’

The pulpit and organ were removed after the chapel closed for worship in 1962. More recently, the central open space has been filled with a ceiling.

After use as a warehouse and offices, the future of the building is uncertain.