Last Photographed: Thursday 12th June 2014
St Laurence's Chapel is a rare surviving example of a Saxon church. Its exact date is still a subject of debate, but current theories tend to lean towards the early 11th Century.
At one extreme, William of Malmesbury writes of a church built by St Aldhelm in 705AD, and some historians believe that this is that building. The chapel's architecture tends to argue against this, since the windows and other features are typical of later buildings. However, earlier examples are not unknown on the continent, so it remains a possibility that St Laurence's Chapel is simply a very early example of these particular trends.
Supporting the later date, the charter of Bradford from 1001AD records that the town was held by Shaftesbury Abbey. The abbey was actively looking for a location to house the bones of Edward the Martyr, and it may well be that St Laurence's Chapel was built as a shrine for this purpose. Some have speculated that the church was originally planned on a much larger scale, and never finished.
Virtually nothing is known about the history of the church until the 18th Century. In 1715AD, the nave was converted incorporated into a school house, and the chancel into a cottage. The tall interior allowed the church to be divided into an upper and lower level. At this time, the building was known as "the skull house", suggesting that it may have been used to house the bones of the dead.
By the 19th Century, the main building was obscured by later additions and by a covering of ivy. However, the Rev. W. H. Jones was able to see beyond this, suspecting that a church of antiquity lay at the heart of the present sprawl of buildings. He established a trust fund, and in 1872, the school and cottage were acquired, allowing the chapel to be restored and rededicated.
Today, St Laurence's Chapel appears a little underwhelming at first glance. However, its antiquity lends it a powerful atmosphere, and it can still offer the receptive visitor a profound sense of history. Even accepting the most conservative estimate, this little church is at least a thousand years old. Or to look at it another way, that's around 500 years before Columbus set foot in America. Standing alone inside a church that's been around since before the Normans conquered Britain, only the most cynical of souls could fail to feel to feel a little humbled.