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Wiltshire Community History

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Title :Chapel Plaister
Author :Harold Brakspear
Book Type :Churches
Publisher :WANHS
Date :1896
ISBN :
Journal :WAM Volume 28, pages332-4
Full Text :CHAPEL PLAISTER
This interesting little chapel, or rather hospice, situated at the west end of Corsham Ridge, half-way between Lacock and Bath, on the line of an old road, and also on the road from Corsham to Bradford, was for a long time notorious as the headquarters of Tom Baxter, the highwayman, in the last century.

The earliest part of the existing building is of the fifteenth century, but was much altered later in the same century. The original building consisted of hospital and chapel with a chamber for the priest in attendance on the north side. It was all on the ground-floor, with no upper story, and is easily distinguished by the boldly-moulded plinth which surrounds it. The later fifteenth century alterations were considerable, and consisted principally in widening the hospital-or western portion- and adding thereto an upper floor entered by a twisted staircase in the south-west angle, whilst the priest's chamber was also raised by the addition of a room above; the west porch was also added, and some windows inserted in the chapel, with new roofs throughout. With one or two slight alterations the building remains as at that time, although it has passed through many changes - first it was used as a dwellinghouse, when the Queen Anne fireplace on the upper floor and the two windows of the same date on each side the building were inserted; afterwards it became a bakery, evidence of which, in the shape of a large stone oven at the east end remained till the late restoration; but it ceased to be used for any other purpose than a lumber shed many years ago.

The east end of the chapel is finished on the inside by a reredos, formed of three canopied niches. The centre one has a curious projecting semi-circular back, behind which and within the buttress that runs up the centre of the gable outside is a large circular flue, up which a lantern was hoisted on dark nights to guide wayfarers, which must have been visible at a great distance. In either side wall is a small two light window with ogee-head, of the original work. Two stone arches springing from semi-octagonal corbels in the side walls originally carried a stone slab roof, which was removed, as well as the upper part of the arches, when the building was raised; but the lowest and projecting course of slabs still shows on the outside of the chapel and priest's chamber as well, so that probably the whole of the original roofs were constructed in this way. Two narrow two-light windows were inserted on either side just against the east end during the later fifteenth century alterations; that to the south is blocked up, and the head with a flat moulding cut on is all that is visible.

The hospice portion, except the west wall, contains nothing of the original work, as both side walls were re-built to widen this part - as is evident at the north-west corner, where the original plinth stops and returns into the wall at about 2ft. from the present angle. The west doorway is four-centred within a square head, between which are well-carved spandrils with a shield in each. Above the door, but much out of centre, is a boldly-projecting niche with canopied head and the sides pierced with cusped headed openings. It is supposed to have been intended to hold a lamp; if so it is a curious and early example of the familiar light over the door of a modern hotel. The gable above is finished by a simple stone bellcot of the later fifteenth century work. In the south wall, on the inside, are two arches, the western one was the entrance to the staircase turret - now destroyed - which gave access to the upper floor through the now blocked-up ogee-headed doorway above. The eastern arch seems to have been merely a recessed seat. In the same wall further east is another doorway, on the west side of which is a two-light window with four-centred arched heads with no cusps to the lights.

During the late conversion of the hospital into a serviceable Chapel-of-ease to Box Church, the fifteenth century beams of the added floor were removed, except the one against the west wall; they were boldly chamfered with stopped ends.

The west porch is very simple in design, with small four-centred arched doorway of entrance, with the remains of a holy water stoup on the south side. Above the door is a single-light window.

The priest's chamber has a good three-light pointed window in the north gable with label mould and tracery little removed in style from Decorated work. In the north-east angle is another circular flue for a lamp, but whether used contemporaneously with the one at the east end is doubtful. There is a large fireplace on the ground-floor next to the arched door of connection with the hospice, also a similar arched door above, to serve the upper story, and both doors and fireplace are of the later fifteenth century alterations.

Abbreviations used:
  • WAM Wiltshire Archaeological & Natural History Magazine
  • WNQ Wiltshire Notes and Queries

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