The Church of England Mortuary Chapel, Smallcombe Vale
This substantial mortuary chapel is the centre-piece of what Pevsner called a “characterful place, remarkably isolated for a spot so close to the city centre”.
Designed by Thomas Fuller in 1855 in the Early English style, the chapel has one central space and three side windows with slim pointed arches interspersed on the outside with stepped buttresses supporting the weight of its slate-roofed chapel on its mostly sloping surroundings. The east window has been described as having “good” stained-glass, but the west door is an unusual size for a mortuary chapel. Topped by a high bell tower or ‘bellecote’, it has “two orders of columns, with leaf capitals and chevron mouldings”, a grand entrance awaiting the arrival of hearse and carriages.
Inside the chapel, underneath the first stone to be laid, is a cavity still containing - it is assumed - a sovereign, a shilling and a penny. They are covered by a bronze plate with the names of those dignitaries who performed the ritual with the traditional silver trowel.
THE FIRST STONE OF THE BURIAL CHAPEL WAS LAID 9 MAY 1855 BY :
JAMES BRYMER ESQ OF PULTENEY ST, BATH
THE REV. H. H. SCARTH, RECTOR OF THE PARISH
JOSEPH LANSDOWN AND WILLIAM THOMPSON, CHURCHWARDENS THOMAS FULLER, ARCHITECT
GEORGE MANN, BUILDER
George Mann, the builder, was himself to be buried here.
Thomas Fuller (1823-1898) subsequently moved to North America, where he designed the Canadian Parliament buildings at Ottawa and later became Chief Architect for the Dominion of Canada. (The Dominion only came into existence in 1867.)
Sadly, the fifth burial ceremony held in the chapel was for the 10 year-old son of the Rector, Rev. H. H. Scarth.
The consecration of the ground for burials around the chapel was reported in the Bath & Cheltenham Gazette of February 20th 1856, including detailed descriptions of the chapel and grounds in appreciative and elegant style.
The woodland on the steeper slope behind the chapel had been largely cleared, ready for the graves in the new ‘churchyard’. Over the years the woodland has regrown considerably among the graves, providing the shady and quiet atmosphere that visitors all seem to appreciate today. The surroundings below the chapel were carefully planted with yew trees, only a few of which remain.
The use of the chapel was governed by certain covenants. It may not have any “immoral use” and cannot be used “for the sale of intoxicating liquor”. This was still the case 150 years later when it was offered for sale by auction in 2007, with a guide price of £75,000. Although having none of the usual ‘services’, the chapel was first intended as a music venue then for residential use. After the purchase, the building was ‘listed’ Grade II and the chapel is still awaiting a new future.