Sunday, 28 June 2015

The University of Chester Chapel project

I'm involved in a new venture, and it's something a bit different from what I usually work on.

At the talk about the University of Chester’s 175th Anniversary Quilt at the Textile Stories Study Day in April, the speaker Fiona Roberts mentioned that the group who had made it were keen to tackle another project. She also extended an invitation to anyone in the local community who would like to get involved. I’ve lived near the university for all of the 20-plus years I’ve lived in Chester, and this sounded like a lot of fun, so I put my name down. Also joining is textile artist Christine Garwood, who spoke at the Study Day. On Friday the group held its first meeting for the new project; to make some items for the University of Chester Chapel.

Inside the chapel

We started off with a tour of the chapel. Thanks to Reverend Canon Dr Peter Jenner, the Senior Chaplain, and Fiona Roberts, Alumni and Development Manager, for the history which follows.

The chapel entrance

The university started life in 1839 as Chester Diocesan Training College, and was the UK's first purpose-built teacher training college. Its purpose was to take young working-class men from the industrial cities of northern England and train them to become teachers in those cities.

As a Church of England institution, the college expected its students to attend morning prayers at the Cathedral (about half a mile away) every morning. The exact time of morning prayers is no longer known; 07:30 is one possibility, but it may have been as early as 05:30. Either way, it seems that the students were soon keen to have a chapel of their own close to the college! So keen in fact that they built it themselves; digging the foundations, quarrying and carving the stone, and carving the woodwork. One of the later stained glass windows on the south side of the chapel depicts this.

Stained glass showing the students hard at work

The original college building and its new chapel, from Wikimedia Commons

The east window was designed by the students of the college, while the west window commemorates the university’s 150th anniversary in 1989. A new window commemorating the 175th anniversary has recently been commissioned.

The east window

The west window

Like a great many chapels, this one has a memorial to World War I. Unlike most memorials, this one has a gap in it. Some time in the 1920s or 1930s a group of former students were visiting the college, and one of them looked at the memorial and pointed out that he was still very much alive! So his name was removed - no easy task from a cast metal memorial.

The war memorial with its missing name

The plan is to make two kneeler cushions for weddings, two chair cushions, four altar sets of chalice veil and stole, and a single altar cloth which will depict the four church seasons and tie in with the altar sets. We have a few ideas, and hope to include an image of the Amber Peace Cross, made by university alumnus Frederick Starkey in the 1980s, which stands in the university grounds.

Amber Peace Cross

The timescale is to have at least the altar cloth and the appropriate altar set completed in time for the unveiling of the new window early next year, so there's a lot to keep us busy. Watch this space!


  1. Fascinating stuff, Black Tulip! I thought I'd done quite a lot of research on Chester University, but most of this is new to me. It's great. That project sounds good too - I hope I get a chance to see it when it's done.

    1. Thanks Clare, I hope this doesn't mean that I've just made your book even longer!