The Old Chapel at Barden Tower

‘The Old Chapel’ at Barden Tower – saved and restored

by Northern Life

The Priests House, nestled on the Bolton Abbey Estate in the Upper Wharfedale Valley in North Yorkshire, has been much-loved for many years offering a mix of fine dining, private medieval banquets and romantic weddings. The historic setting of the Grade I listed house, stunning scenery and the draw of the ruined Barden Tower sitting alongside has long been a factor for couples looking to tie the knot in the region. However the capacity of the house is limited to 34 which then required the use of marquees for larger functions, something that was not universally appreciated.

However, what many customers and visitors haven’t appreciated is that the main dining room was originally the balcony to Barden Chapel, which in its day supported the community of up to 100 people living in the tower. ‘The Old Chapel’ has not been used since the 1950’s other than for storage and has been allowed to decline with boarded up windows and a badly leaking roof. It was put on Historic England’s Buildings at Risk Register.

It has long been the ambition of the Bolton Abbey Estate and the tenant, Debbie Leathley, to renovate ‘The Old Chapel’ and bring back into use as a new function venue. After many years of effort, and liaison with the authorities sorting the relevant planning permissions and securing the funding, works eventually started in October 2015.

The externals commenced first, with roof and gable end repairs, repointing using original materials and mortar, drainage rerouted and repaired, a stone wall rebuilt, new electrical supply channels dug and the leaded windows replaced. Next, the interior which required a complete new floor with heating system inbuilt, electrics with most cabling embedding, ceilings relatted and plastered, walls cleaned, and the cellar to the kitchen converted into a food preparation area. Little additional décor was actually felt necessary – it didn’t need it – other than the installation of completely bespoke metalwork made by local craftsmen, Iron Octopus, consisting of three chandeliers, wall lights, display stands and rails, all of matching design. In addition, a purpose built bar was commissioned and the replacement of an emergency door, made of wood from the same forest as previously used hung! Some of the original artifacts in the Chapel such as the font, wooden screeds and a wringer have been retained and made features of.

“Now complete, it is just stunning” says Debbie. “I am so pleased that this unique facility has now been given a completely new lease of life, something which everyone can now enjoy. We will be able to use the space for many other purposes including corporate functions, funeral receptions, music nights, and wine tasting evenings and it will also be available for use by the local community.”

The chapel will now be able to accommodate weddings for up to 80 guests with the ceremony, wedding breakfast and evening reception altogether. Debbie’s business partner Mark Finch adds “we can now offer couples a permutation of options of using the house and the chapel. We only ever undertake one wedding on any day so they will have exclusive use of the whole building.”

Debbie adds, “we love to do small weddings, their exclusivity and privacy in such a fabulous setting are valued so much by the couples and their guests. They are a pleasure to work too as the couples are generally so relaxed, at least once the ceremony nerves are over!”

‘The Old Chapel’ was originally built by Henry Clifford the 10th Lord of Skipton. His father, who was fighting for the Lancastrians in the War of the Roses, feared for his well-being so sent his son to live in the Cumbrian hills. Henry returned and chose to make his principal residence at Barden rather than Skipton. He extended the Tower considerably and, at the turn of the 16th century, developed the Priest House and The Old Chapel.

This unique cluster of buildings is of great historical importance: three Grade 1 Listed Buildings on a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The Hunting Tower was originally one of six in the Forest of Barden and the seat of administration where Forest Courts would have been held.

One of the sites other Grade 1 outbuildings, originally used as a stables and hayloft, has for many years been converted into the Barden Bunkbarn accommodating up to 24 people. Many groups using The Priests House also book this for guests to stay and also use as a base to get ready or freshened up. It also means that those staying overnight don’t have to worry about driving home or to other accommodation! This has also been extensively refurbished over the winter.