The Street, Mapledurham, Oxfordshire RG4
Mapledurham, home of the Catholic Blount family, was a notable recusant household. The house retains numerous features and artefacts of penal times. The chapel was built in 1797, soon after the Second Catholic Relief Act of 1791, and is a small building, externally modest, but with a delightful Strawberry Hill Gothick interior, similar to those at Milton Manor, Stonor Park and Bishop Milner’s chapel at Winchester. It contains several paintings and furnishings of historical and artistic importance.
The building of Mapledurham House was begun in about 1585 by Sir Michael Blount, Lieutenant of the Tower of London, and was completed by Sir Richard Blount in 1612. During penal times, this recusant house acted as a safe house for Catholic priests who arrived by boat on the nearby Thames using a gable decorated with oyster shells for orientation. There are a number of priests’ hiding places. Services were initially held in the attic and later in an upper room, equipped with a writing desk with a hidden tabernacle (now in the library). The Rev. Richard Blount (1565-1638), first Provincial of the Jesuits in England, was a member of the family, and the house was served by Jesuit priests of the Oxford circuit of St Mary, as well as (in the eighteenth century) Franciscans.
In 1797, after the passing of the Second Catholic Relief Act, a purpose-built chapel was constructed and dedicated, set against the northwest side of the house; the limitations imposed by the Relief Act meant that neither a bell nor a steeple was permitted. Charles Poulton of Reading was paid £60 by Michael Eyston (Blount) for ‘attending’ the repairs and alterations to the house, including the chapel (Blount archives, quoted in Colvin).
After 1945, the chapel fell out of use and its condition deteriorated. In 1954, it was restored by Henry and Mary Hope (later Lord and Lady Rankeillour). In the 1960s the chapel was refurbished by the present owner John Eyston, with the aid of a grant from the Historic Buildings Council. It was reopened and rededicated on 1 May 1967 by Archbishop Dwyer.
Since 1899, the chapel has been served (with some interruptions) from Caversham (qv) and is used once a month for parish Mass.
The chapel actually faces northeast. The following description follows conventional liturgical orientation.
The small, plain oblong chapel is built against one of the long elevations of Mapledurham House (which has an H-plan). It is built of red brick laid in an irregular English bond. To the liturgical north it has two windows with Tudor arches of gauged and rubbed brick and stone keystones. Above the central entrance porch is a cross in blue bricks. The hipped roof rise to a flat-roofed central area.
The two-bay interior has a raised dais for family seating at the west end, connecting to the house. In common with other chapels of this time, a door is placed on either side of the high altar, communicating with a narrow sacristy. The ribbed plaster ceiling and the tracery of the doors, altar rails and altar niche are all of Strawberry Hill Gothick character. Above the sacristy doors are plaster quatrefoils. The altar has a gilded stucco frontal (seventeenth century, Italian) with dove and putti heads. The windows mostly have clear glass but incorporate a few roundels of seventeenth-century Flemish stained glass, depicting saints, the Trinity, the Crucifixion and the Eucharist. There are several paintings of note: a contemporary copy of Van Dyck’s Deposition above the altar; a portrait of Frances Blount (1717-40), a nun in Belgium; a painting of Salome with the head of St John the Baptist (attributed to Pieter van Lint) on the west wall; the Flight into Egypt by Howard and Rathbone; an English painting of the Virgin Mary; and a small painting of St John the Baptist. There are several memorial plaques to members of the Blount family.
List description (Mapledurham House)
Country House. c.1585, C19 alterations and extensions. Red brick with grey brick diaper pattern; plain tile roof; brick stacks. H-shaped plan. 2 storeys and attic; 9-window range. 7-window centre with single window cross wings to left and right. Central double 6-panel door with ashlar rendered porch with corner buttresses and battlemented top. 2-storey angled bay windows to left and right of centre and to cross wings. Stone mullion and transom windows to all openings. Shaped stone string course above ground floor windows. Hood moulds to first floor windows with shaped stone string course above and battlemented eaves. Cross wings have brick parapet to roof. Cross gable to centre with single-light casement. Cross gables to cross-wings with single-light casement. Similar treatment to rear with projecting chapel of c.1789 to left of centre with central door and 2 Perpendicular style windows. Interior: Central Hall, constructed c.1828 from part of original hall. Panelling of c.1863. Staircase: Oak open well staircase of cantilever construction with balustrade of turned balusters. Chapel: Gothick style with cross vaulted ceiling. Saloon to first floor. Plaster ribbed ceiling of c.1612 with roundels depicting Roman figures. Dining room to ground floor right in Adam style by Thomas Martin.
History: Building started by Sir Michael Blount, Lieutenant of the Tower of London, completed by Sir Richard Blount in 1612. Michael Blount (1743-1821) built the Roman Catholic chapel and his son, Michael Henry Blount (1789-1874) employed Thomas Martin to decorate the dining room and carry out other alterations in 1828. Further alterations were carried out in 1863.
(Buildings of England: Oxfordshire, p.695-697; Richard Williams, Mapledurham House Guide book, 1977).
Listing NGR: SU6706776655
Architect: Charles Poulton
Original Date: 1797
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Grade I