Groves Chapel

Note: there are several updates to this page. For the most recent, and all pages on the building, see this link.

19th century chapel

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.

Architectural details

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

Old photo of Groves Chapel

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:

Old photo, harvest festival in chapel

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’.

More information

Fancy buying the old Groves Chapel?: information here and more here (PDF)

Photo from the City of York archives of the chapel choir on a visit to Carperby, in 1906

. . . . .

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.

About Lisa @YorkStories

Lisa @YorkStories is the creator, administrator, and writer of content on She can be contacted on this link or via Twitter, @YorkStories
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  1. We live immediately behind a Methodist chapel – a 1930s one, it’s vast and largely unused for its original purpose. The elderly congregation rattle around in side on a Sunday morning but it’s become a communal hub and centre for rehearsals for local theatre groups etc. Regularly walk past in the evening to show tunes emanating. It’s hard now to get your head around the size of Methodism in the North of England during the 19th, early 20th century and its subsequent rapid demise. Buildings like the Groves Chapel represent the ‘High Wesleyan’ movement when it had become quite establishment and possibly lost some of its radical raison d’etre, deserting that territory to the Primitive Methodists. They were a mark of misplaced confidence and never really ever filled. The Groves was also an area with a high Irish Catholic population which St Wilfrid’s was built to partly accommodate and sectarian fights were not unheard of. Oddly if you compare the Gothic Revival style of St Wilfs which opened in 1878 and the Groves Chapel you spot similarities. The Methodists were taking on a more explicitly ‘churchy’ style of architecture at the time.

  2. Another Methodist Chapel that has relatively recently been converted to flats is Acomb Methodist Church opp Explore library.After years of being a carpet warehouse it was replaced with a modern church further down Front St in the 60s.

  3. There was a definite spell where every other redundant chapel seemed to be becoming a carpet warehouse. I’d love Groves Chapel to become some kind of community educational resource centre and meeting – courses, groups, lectures, resources etc utilised by the WEA and the U3A. I like the idea of the self-improving, autodidact strand of Northern Methodism being given a C21st secular makeover.

  4. YorkStories

    Keith, I have some photos of that chapel as a carpet warehouse – none since though, must call back and see how it looks now it’s residential accommodation.

    Martyn, you’re right, those chapels are all over Yorkshire aren’t they, from large examples like this to the tiniest village chapels. The village ones are often turned into homes, but I do like to see the ones that haven’t been, often empty and perhaps dilapidated, but a reminder of how important religious belief was to so many people. And also the support churches and chapels offered in other ways, in their communities.

    I’d love this chapel to find a suitable new use, and did suggest on Twitter, jokingly, but seriously too, that York St John up the road should buy it, which would fit with your idea of educational use, though maybe not the ‘community’ part so much. Would be nice if there was some way of part of it being open to the public, maybe as a cafe or something, for people visiting the hospital alongside.

  5. My grandparents got married here in 1919 and years after when health service bought it my dad worked on the maintanance side got the job of clearing out all the pigeons and clearing up after them.

  6. Hope you’ve seen the old postcard on another page – of how the street just outside the chapel looked back then.

    If the building is left empty and falls into disrepair I imagine the pigeons will be back making use of it!

  7. Rev Martin Calver

    I have lead worship in this Church in the 1960/70..and the congregation was good.A friend of mine was married there in 1971 and my wife was converted there.It was a Methodist Circuit hub in those years,and was amalgamated with Monkgate Methodist Church (now Trinity),where I was married in 1975.It had good youth work in those years and was a well loved Church.Many struggled to understand the need for closure,but it was a closure out of strength and not weekness which many of the other comments presume.

  8. Thank you for adding this information on its recent history, much appreciated. I hope a suitable use can be found for the building in the future.

  9. I have heard that it is only the frontage of the building which has grade listing status (?) – I do hope that this doesn’t put someone off from buying it and doing something useful with it though it obviously needs a lot of care and attention and renovation.
    It’s almost impossible to envisage and match up the Clarence St. picture on another page with this area now. Hard to reconcile the almost semi rural idyll with the chaos it sees now, not to mention the traffic junction in place cutting the area in half dividing one area from the other.

  10. Noticed that the chapel is displaying an ‘Under offer’ sign now – will try to keep an eye on developments.

  11. It would be lovely for a York version of Lancaster’s Single Step (wholefood co-operative) and Whaletail cafe (local, organic, fair trade, vegetarian, you name it…). Apart from the sunsets that’s the one thing I’d import lock, stock and barrel from Lancaster to York, because it’s a long walk from this side of town over to Alligator Wholefoods. I say this as a non-hippy and non-vegetarian.

    • I like your idea Beverley! I doubt it will be anything so interesting but I’m interested to see if it progresses from ‘Under Offer’ to ‘Sold’.

  12. The Press reports today on plans to turn historic York chapel into supermarket and flats. Yes, a Sainsbury’s. Comments welcome. Another redevelopment apparently enabled by having a Sainsbury’s on the ground floor (as with the White Swan, on Piccadilly). A good thing? Best we could hope for? Anyone else wish it was a Co-op store instead?

    [Actually, there are so many questions that I’ve added a new page on the subject, and the issue of local supermarkets in general]

  13. iam tottally discusted the council wat to open yet another supermarket in the area where the arc light is theses small businesse will all go out of of business people will lose there jobs when jobs in york r hard to find they have a no drinking policy enforced they arc liht lot will be in there element imiself will be out of work if this goes a head imso dissapointd why more offlicence one of every street corner its a joke

  14. I know many people have strong feelings on this. We’ll have to see if the petition has any impact. Not sure we need to bring the Arc Light into this, though it does keep being mentioned in online comments I’ve noticed.

  15. Jean Watson

    My Grandparents, Father and our family were members of this Chapel. I am interested on what would have happened to the records, Christening and Burial if anyone can help.

  16. Leaping lamb

    Hi there Lisa,what’s with the “ Penley’s Grove Street “ name,you have used,In all my first 20 growing up years ,toing and froing to town ,via Groves Lane ,it has always been,”Penley Grove Street”. You have a propensity for exactitude,so you must be right ,but is a surprise to see a comma and plural. S.

  17. Leaping lamb

    Eagle Eyed Lisa,strikes again.Just shows ,even at 93 ,can still learn something every day!Well spotted to see that sign,must have been someone called “ Penley” who had some kind of grove when that area was farm land,before the Groves was built up ,and occupied.A real blast,from the past eh?

  18. David Bower

    I have lived in the Groves for the last five years, but have known the area for most of my 67 years, regularly visiting my Grandparents who lived in Stanley Street in the sixties when so much regeneration of the area took place.
    Regarding Penley’s Grove Street. I have a very informative book from 2002 written by Avril E Webster Appleton – Looking back at Monkgate & the Groves.
    This is essential reading for any local historian, or anyone interested in the area. I think though that it is unfortunately currently out of print.
    According to the book the area was once known as Paynelaths, Paynele’s or Pealey’s Crofts. Laths is an Anglo Saxon name for barns. So the area could have originally been the fields and barns belonging to someone called Payne.
    Over many years this has survived as Penley’s Grove, and Penley’s Grove Street.

  19. Leaping lamb

    Well done David,always like to know how the present was formed from the past..Particularly like the Groves as a formative place to me ,attending St Wilfred school as a lad,and during my Nunthorpe years, working part time on a Sat mornings,at a fruit and veg monkgate corner,pedalling the basket bike ,delivering all over the Groves deliveries toevery inch of it!

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