The chapel exterior
The 'peculiar' chapel of St Lawrence stands on the western end of Warminster's Market Place. The chapel is set back from the road and hemmed in by the surrounding buildings. The chapel may have been founded during the reign of Edward I (that is, sometime in the latter half of the 13th century). The oldest part of the chapel is the tower, which dates to the late 13th or early 14th century. The chapel may have been established by the lords of Warminster manor, who endowed it with 29 acres of land.
A document from 1290 mentions the chapel and its dedication to St Lawrence, so the most likely date of foundation is 1272-1289. According to tradition the chapel was established by two sisters of the Hewett, or Hewitt, family, as a chapel of ease for St Denys church (the Minster). The top of the tower was rebuilt in 1642, and the nave rebuilt in 1725. Since 1651 a curfew bell has been rung at 8:00pm every night.
The chapel was appropriated by the crown during the Reformation, and Edward VI sold it into private hands. In 1574 the townsfolk bought it back for the sum of ï¿½38.6.8d, and elected a dozen feoffees, or trustees, to administer the chapel.
The Perpendicular style font
Since their inception the Feoffees have administered St Lawrence, and have always invited the vicar of St Denys to serve as the chaplain of St Lawrence. So the chapel is 'owned' by the townsfolk, and is not under the auspices of the Church of England. In fact, it is non-denominational.
Much of the interior dates from the 17th and 19th century restorations. The pews are Victorian, with wrought-iron communion rails. The Perpendicular style octagonal font is also Victorian, and there is a 19th century list of Feoffees on a painted board at the west end. The colourful organ dates to 1860 and was made locally by Norman Hall, to a design by Rev John Baron, the rector of Upton Scudamore church.
The large east window has good Victorian stained glass. The town clock in the west tower dates to 1765 and has no face. Why design a clock with no face? Because in 1765 when it was built, the Chapel was crowded on all sides by houses, so no one would have seen the clock face anyway! So the local residents would have used the sound of the chapel bells to tell time, not the clock face. The clock also has to be wound by hand every day.
Around the exterior and the north porch are several grimacing gargoyles.
The Chapel was an unexpected delight. The interior has been so heavily remodelled over the years that much of the original medieval detail has been lost, but what is really fascinating about St Lawrence's is its status as a 'peculiar', owned by the townsfolk of Warminster. It won't take long to explore the church, but it is worth reading the fascinating history.
The chapel interior
Perpendicular style east window
Victorian stained glass window detail
About Warminster, Chapel of St Lawrence
Address: Market Place,
England, BA12 9AJ
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: On the south side of the Market Place. Usually open daylight hours.
Website: Warminster, Chapel of St Lawrence
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
Information Centre ('as the crow flies')
Tourist Information Centre
Central Car Park
off Station Rd
Tel: 01985 218 548
Fax: 01985 846 154