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Saturday, 10 January 2015

St Leonard’s, Chapel-le-Dale

St Leonard's, Chapel-le-Dale, Ingleton, Tudor chapel

We stepped down the lane in the dappled sunlight of a still frosty winter afternoon.  It has an ancient, lived-in, feel to it, does the hamlet of Chapel-le-Dale.  Sitting astride a Roman road, evidence of long-vanished communities are shown on the Ordnance Survey map with the word ‘settlement’ printed over various places close-by, in old English script.  Hints at modern domesticity, like washing hanging on a line, seem a little incongruous.  It’s a moss-covered rock-green world, with the mass of  Ingleborough looming to the south and, to the north, beyond Hurtle Pot cave with its boggart, a holloway leading to an upland stone-strewn plain and the whale-back of Whernside filling your horizon.

Whernside, waleback, North Yorksire, Dales

But we had come to see the church - the chapel in the dale – partly because it just needs to be done, and partly because of its association with a railway.

St Leonard's, Chapel le Dale, lych gate

This was once a chapel of ease – a kind of subsidiary – for the parish church of St John the Baptist in Low Bentham, about 8 miles away, which was too far for the farmers of the upper dales to go for regular worship.  St Leonard’s is a small building with strong lines, no blurred edges, built of mortar-covered limestone under a stone slate roof.  Inside several wonderful stained-glass windows come to light, of mysterious provenance and surprising in number for a relatively remote place - and achingly beautiful.  The colours contrast with plain whitewashed walls and timber pews.  The building is thought to date from the 16th century, though a fertile imagination could wonder whether something earlier once stood on the same spot, at this convenient junction of Roman road with ancient trackway. It was painted by Turner from sketches he made around 1808 (‘Ingleborough from Chapel-le-Dale’ is currently in the Yale Center for British Art in the USA) and extensively renovated in 1869 at a cost of £500 – when the stained glass was probably added.

Chapel-le-Dale, St Leonard's, churchyard

The chapel has never been formally named.  The first reference to it is in a document dated 1595, which refers to a John Eamondson being reader at the ‘Chapel of Wyersdaile’ (Weyesdale).  It was subsequently called the ‘Chapel of Witfalls' and by the 18th century was generally known as the ‘Ingleton Fells Chapel’, the village of Ingleton being just 4 miles downhill to the south.  It has only been known as St Leonard’s since the 1940s, when a reference to St Leonard’s in Ingleton (now dedicated to St Mary) in an old will was mistaken for a reference to the chapel.  In fact, the chapel has never been officially dedicated to St Leonard, the patron saint of prisoners, women in labour and horses, though the name continues to be used.

Chapel-le-Dale, stained glass, St Leonard's, interior

The land hereabouts was once owned by Furness Abbey and you feel for the men and women that lived and farmed in this often harsh climate, in what can still be a relatively lonely part of England.  A sense of the people and families who were the movers and shakers of their day – the Ellershaws, the Kidds, the Metcalfes, the Willans – is gained from the memorials in the chapel and the gravestones that are still legible.  But this most rural community, for a brief moment in its history, found itself a role in the thrusting drama of Victorian socio-economic revolution when the railway came.

Ribblehead viaduct, Chapel-le-Dale

Just up the road from Chapel-le-Dale is the Ribblehead viaduct, still carrying trains of the Settle-Carlisle Railway having been saved from closure in 1989 by Conservative politician turned TV presenter Michael Portillo.  Intended as an alternative route between the English Midlands and Scotland, the Settle-Carlisle Railway was constructed from 1869 to 1876 and includes 14 tunnels and 22 viaducts through some of the most austere parts of northern England.  It is a triumph of 19th century design, engineering and determination, but there were countless fatalities during the project. Many of the 6,000-strong labour force were itinerant navvies, housed in temporary camps along the railway’s route, including in the shanty towns of Batty Wife Hole, Sebastopol and Belgravia at Ribblehead.  This bleak complex was home to the workers who built the ¼ mile long 100 feet high viaduct with its 24 massive arches, and who blasted and hacked one end of the mile and a half long Blea Moor Tunnel, lining it with bricks made on site.  The settlements included shops, taverns, a school, post office – even a library – to help cater for the men and their families.


Memorial, Carlisle-Settle Railway, Chapel-le-Dale

More than 200 workers, their wives and children are buried at Chapel-le-Dale.  They were so numerous that the churchyard had to be extended to contain their poor, unmarked, unremembered, remains. Many died of smallpox during an epidemic that swept through the flimsy timber huts in 1870, but many were victims of dreadful construction accidents – some men even drowned – at a time when life was cheap and any sense of health and safety primitive.  So, inside the chapel you’ll find a marble Victorian memorial to the men who died.  And outside, in 2000, a memorial stone and plaque was more widely dedicated to the nameless men, women and children whose bodies lie somewhere in the lumpy ground nearby.

Chapel-le-Dale, 2000 memorial, building Settle to Carlisle Railway

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39 comments:

  1. the railway viaduct construction must have been an immense effort - and so many that died while doing it. the chapel is beautiful. love the wall and gateway!

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  2. Such a beautiful chapel and peaceful surroundings! I will try to remember for when we visit Yorkshire in July.

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  3. The conditions must have been unbearable, akin to a workhouse would be but in the open air - truly awful. As to Batty Wife Hole, my hubby thinks that he has found the perfect place to send me!

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  4. Beautiful chapel, and the views are gorgeous.

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  5. wow 16th century that is so cool. we just don't have that sort of history here in NZ.

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  6. Amazing that such a remote church has survived at all when so many urban churches are not used. I remember walking past there many years ago. Yes, "walking PAST", I can't imagine doing that nowadays but back then I used to fret about how many miles I'd walked in a day and all kinds of macho nonsense. Mind you, even if I'd stopped I wouldn't have known what I was looking at!

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  7. You could describe a rat race as an entertaining endeavor. Kudos. How would you like to do some editing for me? :) If you're a reader, I have 26 novels I can pay you in.

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  8. What a beautiful country church... and the land around it too has its appeal. Some sad history, but beautiful too.

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  9. Your pic with the viaduct is so beautiful!

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  10. Very interesting and what a beautiful place. We've been to that area a few times (have family that way) but haven't visited Chapel le Dale before - I'll do so next time we are in the area :)

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  11. There's a pensive quality to this post, but there's still a beauty to this rugged place. Can't help but think about all those lives, the hopes and dreams of people wresting in this difficult place.

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  12. What a beautiful little chapel. Love the colours in that first photo.

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  13. The picture of the viaduct is just lovely... Then you tell the story behind it and it reminds how all man made building have a dark side.

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  14. That is a beautiful little chapel, and no wonder Turner painted it. The story of the construction of the elegant viaduct recalls the awful side of the Industrial Revolution, and the disregard for the lives of workers. Their is a sadness about the area. Thank you for an interesting post.

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  15. The post started with beautiful serene pictures of the lovely little chapel that has stood for hundreds of years but it ended with the sad story of the loss of life building the railway and the even sadder thought that "life was cheap" then. Lovely photos almost Turner like. (I saw the movie "Mr Turner" last week)

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  16. Wow, what a charming and fasntastic chapel. it is located in the beautiful landscape. Greetings from Poland.

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  17. Your photos today are a feast for my eyes. A delightful chapel in an ancient setting. Tom The Backroads Traveller

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  18. gorgeous lighting. what a lovely area. that bridge reminds me of Harry Potter movies. i wonder??! ( :

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  19. Such a beautiful church and setting for it too. A very interesting post - as always!

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  20. I really enjoyed reading about this chapel, such interesting history. Thanks for sharing and dropping by my Inspired Sunday!

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  21. Wonderful rendition about the chaple. I would love to visit it sometime

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  22. How charming! Great scenery too!

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  23. So much history. Love the setting and the interior, too.

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  24. 'Tis another truly great article, my friend.

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  25. It's a long time (42 years!) since I climbed the gentlest of the Three Peaks with a toddler strapped on my back! I keep meaning to visit the Ingleborough area again to see if I can find any remaining specimens from Edwardian plant collector Reginald Farrer's Himalayan collection - I hear he planted some around those parts.

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  26. St. Leonards is lovely Mike.. St. Leonard was certainly patron saint to a diverse group,..prisoners, women in labour and horses, well! Was the Ribblehead Viaduct used in scenes from the Harry Potter movies, looks familiar away there in the mist :)

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  27. A fine series of these picturesque churches. They have so much charm and style. Nature's touch on their age is evident too. A fine post.

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  28. I can't believe I hadn't responded to this post. I enjoyed it so much, makes me wonder again about taking the Carlisle Settle RR, something I've always dreamed of doing. I'm so glad you brought out the backstory of the people who worked and died building these great structures. We often neglect to think about them, especially in this day of modern equipment. They deserve our admiration and respect.

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  29. That is a lovely looking chapel and fantastic scenery. The information you have provided is very interesting.

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  30. Oh my wonderful visit today. Just reading the hamlet of Chapel-le-Dale brings visions of a quaint little burg just waiting to be explored. Your opening photo invites us as well. As always there comes a price when building such structures as the viaduct, another beautiful photo you've included. What a gift it was to place a memorial to those nameless folks and children that are buried there too!

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  31. What a great tour! Thanks for taking us along. Your photos and history are quite awesome.

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  32. Wow what bloody awesome photos thank you for these I really like the this post

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  33. Such an interesting story Mike. The church is so beautiful and the tale of the building of the railway just so thought provoking. So many lives lost from accidents and smallpox, it must have been quite a terrifying place in the cold of winter especially.
    Your photo the viaduct is magnificent, actually quite magical in that light. When I first looked it seemed to be alive and moving - an optical illusion I think. . . . . . or perhaps I just need to be relocated to Batty Wife Hole!

    Thanks as always for such a great post. Have a good week.
    Mary -

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  34. Ahhh the viaduct! Every year we make our pilgrimage to the Isle of Man TT - we travel from home (just outside Whitby) via Thirsk, Bedale, Leyburn, Hawes, Ingleton, Kirby Lonsdale, and eventually Heysham where we board the ferry. When we pass the viaduct I KNOW WE ARE HALF WAY!

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  35. oh it is all so gorgeous...love the moss on everything...i could just sit in that quiet chapel for hours!

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  36. Everytime I visit it is like a history lesson...thanks:)

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  37. What an interesting posting. Great stone work and fantastic landscape. Thanks for sharing!

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  38. And that is another area I want to visit again soon. It is too long since I have been able to wander round up north on foot. That viaduct - I saw it years ago and wasn't as appreciative as I would be now.

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Hi - thanks for dropping into A Bit About Britain. New material is now being posted to www.bitaboutbritain.com and most of the material here will gradually be updated and moved over to that new site. Please drop in there, click on the blog page, and take a look round. TTFN - Mike.