Groves Chapel, a Wesleyan Methodist chapel dating from the early 1880s, is for sale. It’s at the end of Clarence Street, directly opposite the end of Lowther Street, and once served the Groves area of York, with seating for 800 people. It closed in the 1970s and has since been in health authority ownership.
As the front is boarded up (the entrance these days is at the back of the building) it has looked disused for a long while, though it was in use, by the hospital for training and as offices.
Apparently redundant now, and on the market. Hard to see an obvious use for a late 19th century chapel by a busy road junction, with parking only available round the back via a narrow road off a side street.
I pass it often and tend to take its presence for granted, but passing one November afternoon in 2004 I admired this sunlit side of the building, from Union Terrace.
It is Grade II listed, so demolition isn’t likely. I was idly wondering what it could be used for, and imagined a range of things I’d like it to be, including a Co-op mini supermarket (sadly lacking in this part of town, and my preferred brand of mini-supermarket). My partner liked the idea of it being a venue for live music.
Neither of those seems likely. And in fact, they’re forbidden. The brief sale brochure includes a note of a ‘restrictive covenant’:
‘The Purchaser covenants with the Vendors that no part of the Property shall be used for the manufacture distribution sale or supply of intoxicating liquors or for any purpose in connection with the organisation or practice of gambling in any of its forms or for use as a public dance hall.’
This chapel remembers it was a chapel, a Methodist chapel, and we’ll have no boozing, gambling or dancing here, thank you very much, it says, in a disapproving way.
Other chapels reused
There are of course former Methodist chapels all over York, in the centre and the suburbs, since reused in different ways, and if they had similar restrictive covenants at one time then they clearly don’t now. In recent years the Biltmore bar and Oscars have occupied the former chapel in Swinegate, built as the Central Mission Hall. The Banyan Bar opened this year in the former Ebenezer Chapel (more recently part of Borders bookshop) in Little Stonegate. A disused chapel on Goodramgate has shops occupying its ground floor — in recent times it had a betting shop right in the middle of what used to be its entrance.
When it was a place of worship
Groves Chapel when it was quite new, around 1900. The photo is probably by William Hayes, a local photographer. Note the railings and wall around the front, since removed, and the open area to the right, then a sports field, where the city’s hospital was built in the 1970s.
Here’s a photo of its interior, from this time of the year, harvest festival time, a century or more ago. Photo by William Hayes:
It’s hard to connect this chapel now to the Groves, the area opposite, the area it was built to serve. In the mid to late 19th century the Groves had filled up with terraced housing (much of it demolished in the 20th century and replaced with blocks of flats, in Penley’s Grove St and its side streets). Between the chapel and the Groves there’s now a busy junction, where Haxby Road, Wigginton Road and Clarence Street meet, and Lowther Street joins directly opposite. When it was built it beckoned its congregation with its impressive frontage confidently facing Lowther Street, unencumbered. Now the effect is rather lost behind traffic lights, modern railings and pedestrian islands in the middle of a busy road.
The Groves Chapel cost £5,721 to build. Now: ‘offers over £435,000 are invited’.
. . . . .
Thanks to Mick Phythian on Twitter who alerted me to the fact that the building was for sale.
Update, November 2014
For many months the building displayed an ‘under offer’ sign over its for sale sign. On 7 November 2014 The Press reported ‘£5 million plans unveiled to turn historic York chapel into supermarket and flats‘. Sadly not a Co-op, as I’d hoped, but another Sainsbury’s. Roughly between the Sainsbury’s on Burton Stone Lane and the Sainsbury’s on Bootham, in a kind of triangle of Sainsbury’s stores.
Presumably part of the negotiations in the interim involved the removal of the restrictive covenant mentioned above regarding the sale of alcohol.