2.3 The Holy Cross Guild Chapel

The Chapel of the Holy Cross Guild is located at the corner of Chapel Lane and Church Street (Figure 1). It is built of squared sandstone and, although it has been heavily restored, retains substantial evidence of its 15th-century appearance. It consists of a four-bay nave with a western tower, a low, two-bay chancel and a north porch. The nave has a deep plinth, offset and diagonal buttresses and a crenellated parapet. Each bay contains a four-light, transomed window with Perpendicular tracery. There is a small further entrance in the south wall that links the Chapel to the Guildhall complex. The main entrance is via a door with a four-centred head within the gabled north porch, which has an ogival hood with tracery panel, crocketted pinnacles and a central niche with a nodding ogee head. The west tower rises in three stages, with diagonal buttresses, string courses and a crenellated parapet with pinnacles at each corner. There is also a west door with a four-centred arched head, above which is a tall, three-light transomed west window with Perpendicular masonry and, in its final stage, two-light louvred belfry openings. There is a clock on the north face, below which is a shield in a panel bearing the arms of the Clopton family. The low chancel has an east window of five cusped lights under a four-centred arch. There are similar pairs of windows in the north and south wall and a further door in the south wall.

The interior of the Chapel is divided into two principal spaces: the nave and the chancel (Figure 2). The nave has an early 19th-century coved plaster ceiling and flagged floors. Most of the walls are whitewashed. The Chapel was extensively restored in 1804, when the roof was replaced and the present coved ceiling was introduced, the plaster stripped from many of the walls, and a new gallery and organ inserted at the western end. Further restoration work was carried out between 1955-1962 by S.E. Dykes Bower (SCLA DR624/33; SCLA DR409/6/3-41) (Figures 11-12).

Figure 11  Figure 12

Figure 11: The Guild Chapel, 1955, prior to restoration (© Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive DR399/1/1/1GC I106, reproduced with permission of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust).
Figure 12: Restoration work in the Guild Chapel, 1955-1962 (© Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive, DR409/6/24, reproduced with permission of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.)

The history of the Guild Chapel c. 1300-1600

Although the guild's return of 1388/9 makes no mention of a chapel, it is likely that one had been established by this date and, externally, the chancel preserves fragments of 13th-century fabric. The Masters and Proctors' accounts of Hugh Salford in 1427/8 indicate that extensive work was being carried out at this date (SCLA BRT1/3/38). It is possible that these references relate to the small chapel located on the ground floor of the Guildhall, since they are included with references to the creation of the 'new Parlour' and to 'le stayr' to the new Hall. However, they are more likely to relate to the Chapel itself. They include payments for the creation of new pavements, in both areas of the building, to the plastering of walls, the creation of doors in the belfry, as well as for the carriage of an 'awtyrstone' from Clyfford to Stratford by a carter, at a cost of 10d. This appears to have been designed to supplement an existing altar in the Chapel, for payments were subsequently made for travel expenses incurred in negotiations with the Suffragan at Worcester for the consecration of the Chapel's two altars. Further payments were made for cleaning the altars and for linen cloths, frankincense, wine and wax candles. The accounts of 1427/8 also refer to payments of 4s. to Thomas Payntor and his son, for eight days' labour, 'for his colours and for painting and mending the defects in the Guild Chapel', for red lead, 'vermylon', 'yndebawdyat', white lead, 'zalow', 'oyle and cole' and for 2s. 'for making 24 crosses on the walls of the Chapel within and without' (SCLA BRT1/3/38). Ten years later, in 1437/8, the Chapel was being whitewashed and the stone work being repaired, while the glass of the 'new' window was repaired at a cost of 20d. (SCLA BRT1/3/119). From 1414/15 onwards, the accounts also refer to a 'horascopium' , or clock-tower in the Chapel, for the maintenance of which the keeper, William Carter, was paid 2d. a week (SCLA BRT1/3/28). It is therefore possible that the western tower of the Guild Chapel dates to the early 15th century. This is supported by the fact that the western arch between the nave and tower appears to have been inserted, probably during the reconstruction of the nave in 1496. New bells were also recorded in 1442/3 (SCLA BRT1/3/50) and both the clock and the bell received attention in 1471/2 (SCLA BRT1/3/84).

In 1449/50, the Guild appears to have embarked on a major programme of rebuilding the chancel of the Guild Chapel. Initially, payments were recorded for 'raftors' and 'le scafold' (SCLA BRT1/3/55). The following year gifts were received from two of the chaplains for the building of a new chancel (SCLA BRT1/3/56), and further bequests followed in 1451/2, including 20s. from Thomas Snelle of Hodynhille towards building the new chancel onto the Guild Chapel ('ad fabic' nove cancel annex capell Gild' SCLA BRT1/3/58). In 1452/3 there was expenditure on stone from quarries at Warwick, Rownton and Drayton, slate, and on glazing, including a window 'of S. Martin'. 'Frank and sens' (frankincense) was purchased for the consecration in 1452/3 (SCLA BRT1/3/59), but work on the roof and floor tiling continued into 1453/4. This included 5s. 8d. paid to Walter Mason for making a 'bordura' with stones opposite the altar in the chancel (SCLA BRT1/3/60). An undated roll of fine, apparently made during the reign of Henry VI, also refers to 3s. 4d. for paving 'within the Chapell dorre' and a further 3s. 4d. 'payd to the peyntynge of the rofe of the new Chaunsell' (SCLA BRT1/3/73). Further repairs were made in 1494/5, and 1495/6, including the construction of a plastered wall, repairs to the font, the soldering of a candelabrum, and the clock (SCLA BRT1/3/103; BRT1/3/105).

In 1469, Hugh Clopton(1440-1496), younger son of the Lord of the manor of Clopton, just outside Stratford-upon-Avon, joined the Guild. Clopton had been apprenticed in 1444 and rose through the ranks of the Mercers' Company, to serve as alderman, sheriff and finally, Lord Mayor of London in 1491/2 (Macdonald 2007, 25; Dictionary of National Biography). Clopton had houses in London and Stratford, including the tenement opposite the site of the Guild Chapel now known as 'New Place', the home of William Shakespeare in the 16th century. In his will, of 1496, Clopton's first major bequest was to the ongoing project of the Guild Chapel:

'And where as of late I have bargayned wth oon Dowland, and diverse other masons for the beldyng and setting up of the Chapell of the holy Trinitie withyn the Towne of Stratford Upon Avon aforesaid And the Towre of a Steple to the same I will that the saide masons sufficiently and ably doo and fynysshe the same with good and true werkmanshipp And they truly to performe the same making the saide werkes aswise of length and brede and hyght such as by the advise of myne executors' (TNA, PROB/11/11; SCLA ER 1/121).

Although this bequest appears to refer primarily to the fabric of the chapel, the will goes on to refer to 'covering and roofing of the same Chapell with glaising and all other fornysshmentes thereunto necessary'.

Although Clopton's reference to the Guild Chapel as being dedicated to the Trinity, rather than the Holy Cross, may seem slightly odd, it should be noted that in the Masters and Proctors accounts for 1495/6, the then-Master Richard Buggy described himself as 'Master of the Guild of the Holy Trinity, the Blessed Mary the Virgin and S John the Baptist'. This is a variation of the title not found anywhere else in the guild accounts and suggests that Clopton and other guild members may have been considering a re-dedication of the Guild to the Trinity at this date, which was never realised (SCLA DR624/13(ii); SCLA BRT1/3/105). Clopton's rebuilding appears to have been focused largely on the nave of the Guild Chapel (Figure 1 and Figure 2), which, although largely refaced and restored externally, is consistent with a late 15th-century date. That the work was largely paid for by Clopton is indicated by the fact that although the Masters and Proctors accounts do not survive for the period between 1496-1498, no mention of works to the Chapel is made in the Masters and Proctors accounts of 1498/9, and in 1499/1500 only minor repairs to a door are recorded (SCLA BRT1/3/112).

The fate of the Guild Chapel following the Dissolution of the Chantries and Colleges in 1547/8 is interesting. Bearman (2007, 97) notes that in the last four years of Edward VI's reign, the Guild Chapel had effectively become a 'redundant building'. Under Stratford’s charter of 1553 it was described as 'all that former chapel ... and all the lead on the same and the bell tower and all the bells' (Savage 1921, 8). The first documented record of iconoclasm in the Guild Chapel is the account of the chamberlain John Shakespeare (father of William), of 2s paid, for 'defasyng ymages in ye chapell' and a further 2s paid in 1564/5 for 'takynge doune ye rood loft in ye Chapell' (Savage 1921, 128, 138). Biographers of William Shakespeare have tended to interpret this as evidence of Stratford's Catholic conservatism (Greenblatt 2004). However, as Bearman (2007, 82) has noted, Edward VI's commissioners certainly visited Stratford in 1547 and there is no reason to suppose that the churchwardens of Holy Trinity did not comply with orders to remove rood lofts and images and whitewash paintings and glass, as they did at nearby St Mary's Warwick (Savage 1917, 3, 5), or indeed, to restore such features again under Mary (Bearman 2007, 91).

Is it possible that the redundancy of the Guild Chapel during this period may have inadvertently resulted in the preservation of some of its medieval fittings, fixtures and paintings, while other functioning religious buildings were subjected to closer scrutiny by the Commissioners? Given its apparently limited use during the 1550s it seems unlikely that the Corporation would have paid for a new rood loft or large numbers of images under Mary. In this context, the relatively late 'cleansing' of the Guild Chapel may simply have been the result of a lack of use and a concern by the Corporation not to incur unnecessary expenditure (Bearman 2007, 98), rather than a deliberate act of Catholic conservatism. The transformation of the Guild Chapel from 1569 onwards can therefore be understood as the product of the Corporation's adoption of a more radical Protestant position in the latter part of the 16th century and the use of the Chapel as a preaching venue. Vestments were disposed of in 1570/1 (Savage 1923, xxv, 54), new seats installed in 1564/5 and again in 1588/9, walls were whitewashed in 1586/7 (Savage 1929, xix, 31) and windows 'mended' in 1578/9, 1583/4.1588/9 and 1591/2 (Savage 1926, 27 136; 1929).

The pragmatic approach of the Corporation to the Guild Chapel may also have been reflected in their apparent conversion and leasing of elements of the building as tenanted chambers. From 1562 onwards, the Corporation recorded the receipt of rents for a series of tenements described as 'chambers in the Chapel'. In 1562/3 there were five chambers, including one rented to Robert Hall, the mason, for the sum of 4d (Savage 1921, 120-1). In 1569/70 the rents from four chambers are recorded, including the substantial sum of 10s. received from Richard Burford, and 5s. from Thomas Mylner for 'A howse rent within the Chapell' (Savage 1923, 33). In 1570/1 Richard Binford was paying 10s. for his 'inhabitacion within the Chapell', together with Richard Simons, the town clerk paying 6s. 8d. 'for a chamber their' and 'lampsons' wif' who paid only 6d. for a quarters rent 'of a chamber' there (Savage 1923, 44). Burford and Simons were still in residence in 1571/2, but in 1572/3 and in 1573/4, although Burford was still in residence, Edward Tiler appears to have replaced Simons, paying 5s. 8d. for a 'rome of howsinge within the Chapell', together with William Rawbone paying 5s. and John Salisburie paying 3s. 9d., both for 'chamber romes' in the Chapel (Savage 1923, 56, 67, 74).

It seems most likely that these chambers had been created within the chancel of the Guild Chapel - the most redundant part of the building during the 16th century. The mid-20th-century scholar, Wilfrid Puddephat suggested that the paintings of the Holy Cross in the chancel might have been preserved by the construction of a wall between the nave and the chancel (SCLA DR624/13 (ii)). Further evidence to support this hypothesis is provided by a record of 1641, when Puddephat suggests the wall was removed after the Revd Thomas Wilson was criticised 'that he hath profaned the Chapple by sufferinge his children to playe at bale and other sports therein, and his servauntes to hange clothes to drye in it and his pigges and poultrie to lye and feed in it, and also his dogge to lye in it, and the pictures therein to be defaced, and the windowes broken' (Wheler MSS, I, 97, quoted in Halliwell 1863, 105; Puddephat 1958, 30). The survival of these rather controversial images well into the 17th century may also explain Robert Wheler's (1806, 97-8) observation that the crosses within the images had been 'mutilated' by some sharp instrument, as those leasing the chambers sought to erase their overtly religious significance.


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