A Brief History of the Chapel – The Chapel of St John the Baptist – better known as Duxford Chapel.

The small chapel of St John the Baptist is sited beside one of the main river crossings of the Icknield Way over the river cam.This was a major route for travellers in central and southern England, linking the Ridgeway track with internal ports on the Cam and the Ouse rivers and the coastal ports of Norfolk and Sufflok.

It was built as a hospital and chapel for the poor and sick, many of whom would have been travellers.

The founder was Sir William de Colville (died 1230), who inherited an estate in Duxford by marriage.

The chapel is believed to have been a Knight’s Templer preceptory from the time of it’s foundation and while the exact date of construction is not known.

In 1236 the prior was recorded as the first master of the chapel. The remains of the priory buildings, together with their fishpond and a burial ground, lie between the chapel and the river.

In 1286 the Hundred Rolls record the chapel with lands of 30 acres (12 hectares), a watermill and the right to hold a fair.

By 1308, when the preceptory at Duxford was dissolved and all holdings of the Knight’s Templars in the country were confiscated, the chapel had fallen into disrepair.

In 1324 the estate was passed from the Crown to the Knight’s Hospitalers, and the chapel was rebuilt in 1337 as a free chapel, that is a small isolated chantry chapel, at which time the right to appoint a priest to the chapel lay with the Bishop of Ely.

In 1547 Edward VI’s Act of Dissolution of Colleges and Chantries pensioned off the priests and left chantry chapels redundant, although at the time of dissolution it was said that the chapel at Duxford was already in decay and no services had been there for seven years. The following year the chapel was sold to Thomas Tyrell of London, along with 38 acres (15.4 hectares) of land, meadow and pasture, for £46 10 s.

For many years the chapel served as a barn to the adjecent Red Lion Inn. The construction of a new brick bridge in 1795 would have seen an increase in the amount of traffic on the turnpike road and a corresponding increase in the importance of the inn, though this was to decline after construction of the London to Cambridge railway in 1847 that cut across the former chapel grounds to the west.

The chapel fell into futher decay until it was eventually purchased by James Binney of Pampisford Hall in the 1890’s. In 1934 it was scheduled as an Ancient Monument and in 1947 the chapel was taken into the guardianship of the Ministry of Works, who undertook a programme of major repairs over the following eight years. Further repairs were carried out in the 1980’s.

In 1967, the chapel was listed grade II* in recognition of its architectural and historic interest.

Today, the chapel is in the ownership of the Binney Trust, and is managed jointly by English Heritage and South Cambs District Council.

Duxford Chapel is the stone building to be found next to the red lion hotel near Whittlesford station and is about 800 years old. It is believed to be the last building of a large medieval hospital and its history features in eminent historian and Whittlesford resident Peter Spufford’s account of the development of Whittlesford Bridge.

It is a historic building currently in the care of English Heritage who have an arrangement with the district council regarding maintenance and access. That said, it is two Whittlesford residents who actually keep the chapel open and cared for so visitors and people passing by can take a look.

Inside the building the chapel is bare and there is no lighting or heat. It was used a few years back as the venue for a welcoming party for those Whittlesford residents living on the A505 side of Royston and Station Roads when the parish boundary changed to bring them in this village. Other than that it stands empty most of the time.

Now the parish council has been asked by the district council if it can think of ways to make more community use of the building and possibly become the partner with English Heritage. The parish council is giving this careful thought in terms of understanding what commitments might be brought with this responsibility. And given the grade 11* listing of the building there isn’t too much we can do with it. Other similar buildings have been used for occasional concerts during the summer months – and with the Red Lion next door this might be an attractive option. We also think that there is more that could be done to help visitors understand and appreciate the building – at the moment there is a short leaflet.

The parish council welcomes any thoughts and ideas from Whittlesford residents. Do go and have a look too, and imagine what it was like when the Knights Hospitallers of old were there !