Friar’s Lane, Lower Brailes, Warwickshire OX15
A building of national significance. Formed in 1726 within the upper space of a late medieval malt barn, the chapel has some claim to be the oldest post-Reformation place of public Catholic worship in the country, preceding the legalisation of church building by some 65 years. It retains many of its early Georgian fittings and an important collection of historic vestments and liturgical furnishings. The building is attached to a grade II* farmhouse (now in separate ownership) and with its adjoining presbytery occupies a picturesque location within the Brailes Conservation Area.
The chapel at Brailes has some claim to be the oldest post-Reformation place of public Catholic worship in England. It is attached to Rectory Farm, on land which belonged to the Augustinian canons of Kenilworth Abbey until the dissolution, when the freehold passed to the Bishop family. The family remained loyal to the Catholic faith, and a secret Mass centre and priest hide were formed in the house. In this building was born in 1554 William Bishop, who went abroad to train as a Catholic priest. He was consecrated titular Bishop of Chalcedon at Paris in 1623 and became the first Vicar Apostolic of England. He died shortly afterwards in 1624.
The chapel was built by the Rev. George Bishop and his brother Richard in 1726, by the creation of an upper floor in an old malt barn at the rear of the farmhouse. This was at a time when public celebration of the Mass was still illegal; the fact that Catholic worship continued unmolested is testament to local tolerance, and to the abiding influence of Catholic families. The chapel was fitted out in the early Georgian style of the time, and retains much of this character. Kelly records that it was enlarged in 1836, but this probably refers to the provision of additional seating rather than an extension.
The chapel is reached by an external stair on its north side. Also adjoining on this side is the presbytery, originally a single storey building of late seventeenth-century date, but given a first and then a second floor in the nineteenth century by the Rev. James Duckett (it was further extended with a bathroom addition in 1929). The building housed a small school from 1823 until some cottages in Friars Lane were acquired for this purpose (being replaced by a purpose-built school in 1881, which closed in 1952).
In 1983 the parish was combined with those of Shipston-on-Stour (qv) and Ilmington. More recently (2013) the church at Ilmington has closed, and Shipston has become de facto the centre of this large rural parish.
In 1990-2 the church and presbytery were repaired with generous grant aid from English Heritage. In 2009 the former farm kitchen on the ground floor below the chapel was made habitable to serve as an informal parish hall.
The church, its attached sacristy, study and confessional, along with their historic contents, and the ground floor space below, are described in the list entry, below. Since the time of the revision of the list entry (1986) various minor changes have taken place. There are also some features not mentioned in the list entry.
The painting of the Crucifixion over the altar is of late seventeenth-century date (provenance not established);
Statues of St Joseph (by Mayer of Munich), the Sacred Heart and Our Lady, Queen of Peace (carved by a Polish craftsmen in thanksgiving for the end of the Second World War) were brought here from Ilmington after the closure of that church in 2013;
The windows to the upper chapel are early eighteenth-century in date, the mullions and transoms each in the form of a cross. They have a mixture of clear leaded (one on the south side at the west end bearing eighteenth-century graffiti) and coloured (mainly blue and red) cames, the coloured ones set on the diagonal in the upper lights and forming crosses in the larger lower lights;
The organ at the west end of the church dates from 1832, and was built by Joseph Robson; it has a mahogany case and gilded display pipes. It was acquired in 2008, having been previously at St Chad’s Cathedral, and before that at Maryvale and in the Catholic church in Halstead, Essex (information from Fr Brian Doolan). It is on the BIOS National Pipe Organ Register (ref. R01817).
House and chapel. Late C16/early C17 with earlier origins. C18 alterations. West elevation: regular coursed ironstone rubble. Steeply pitched stone slate roof laid to diminishing courses. 2 storeys plus attic. 3-window range. U-plan. Entrance has plank door with wrought-iron strap hinges, moulded wood frame and chamfered wood lintel. To left a 2-light casement with bars. To right a 2-light casement with bars. First floor has a 16-pane sash, a 2-light stone-mullioned window with diagonal lead cames and a 2-light wood-mullioned window with rectangular lead cames and wood lintel. Attic has 4 fixed light windows with stone surrounds. South front: early C18 red brick laid to Flemish bond. Steeply pitched stone slate roof. Brick ridge and end stacks on stone bases. Stone lateral stacks. 2 storeys. 3-window range. Central entrance has panelled door with moulded wood door frame and hood. Doorway is flanked by 16-pane sashes with brick flat arches. 3 similar windows to first floor. 2 gabled roof dormers.
Interior: 2 south facing rooms have stone flag floors, stop-chamfered or pointed C16 moulded beams, C19 fireplaces with earlier fireplaces in situ. Room to north has massive inglenook with cut bressumer and Victorian and Edwardian fireplaces fronting earlier fireplace and showing successive additions. Kitchen has massive inglenook with C18 beam fronting original bressumer, bread oven, Jacobean style racks above fireplace. Cast-iron fittings including cooking pots and hooks and spit racks. Oak settle. Stop-chamfered beam. Pantry. Stone flag floors. Hall to rear of kitchen has C17 open well staircase with heavy turned balusters. 3 rooms to north of hall not available for inspection. Roof said to be late medieval.
Rectory barn now R.C. chapel above brewhouse and dairy in ground floor. Chapel dated 1726. Ironstone ashlar. Steeply pitched Welsh slate roof. 2 storeys. 6-window range. Plank door to left has moulded wood frame and wood lintel. Three 2-light windows with astragals and wood lintels. 6 wood mullioned and transomed windows to first floor have late C19/early C20 stained glass. Two C20 skylights. Rear: covered external stone staircase to chapel. 4 wood mullioned and transomed windows with stop-chamfered lintels to chapel. Interior: ground floor has 3-bay brewhouse/malthouse to left with recesses for coppers and wide fireplace with massive bressumer. Timber-frame partition with lathe and plaster to right and side passage to 5 small rooms used as dairy and wine cellar. The 2 end rooms have wire mesh windows and stone flag floors and wide shelves. Room third from right has plank door with strap hinges and was probably a wine cellar. Stop-chamfered beams. The passage wall has moulded stone plinths. First floor chapel with confessional, sacristy and priest’s study. Early C18 details include wood panelling, oak altar rails, ceiling cornices, 6-panelled doors and wooden window shutters. Three early C18 pine pews with drawers. Other pews C19. Priest’s study has one wall with C18 hand painted wall paper and C18 bookshelves. The chapel is attached to the Old Rectory Farmhouse. William Bishop, the first R.C. Bishop, lived here. (Buildings of England: Warwickshire, 1981, p.218; V.C.H.: Warwickshire, 1949, Vol.V, p.17).
Listing NGR: SP3168939289
Architect: Not known
Original Date: 0
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: II*