OUR CHALLENGE

A century of change from 1896
to the present day

Grove Road, Harrogate, Yorkshire, UK, chapelhouseharrogate,

Grove Road’s original Wesleyan Chapel built in 1896: View from the balcony pews towards the ornate full-width, rostrum/pulpit, fashioned from decorated walnut

Outlining the three-year Chapel
restoration project

The Grove Road Chapel was built in Harrogate in 1896 as a Wesleyan Chapel that seated 1,000 worshippers. It cost £5,675 and the founders have found their reward in heaven. When congregations dwindled in the early 21st century, the building fell out of use, but planning regulations required it to be offered for sale solely for community use. Owing to the extensive renovation works required, a buyer could not be found to take on this challenge. When one developer approached the council with a plan to convert the Chapel into 16 flats, nearby residents protested about the potential effects on street parking. They contacted English Heritage to seek guidance on the issue of conservation, and invited Andrew Jones, the MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, to support their cause. That development plan was subsequently abandoned.

What resulted in 2009 was a statutory Grade II listing for both the Chapel and its Sunday School alongside, designated by the section within English Heritage that was recently renamed Historic England. The principal reasons for the designation are:

  • “Its bold Italianate design and high quality, lavish architectural embellishments.”
  • “As a good example of a late 19th century Wesleyan Methodist show chapel complete with its gallery, stained glass and furnishings.”

[Read Historic England’s full entry on our page named “Listed Grade II”]

The Chapel buildings then stood empty for a few more years, failing to find an alternative community use. (More precisely, there is trio of buildings, pictured at the foot of this page: the Chapel dated 1896, Sunday School 1905, and the Old School House 1929.)

The Grove Road challenge had been at the back of my mind for a while. I am a Yorkshire-born businessman and property developer whose Dwelling Group has a track record of converting and upgrading niche properties across the county. So I decided to submit a planning application that would satisfy the neighbourhood requirements and convert the two listed buildings into separate dwellings for residential occcupation, while retaining the integrity of the essential architectural features admired by English Heritage. Fortunately, the local planning authority approved this proposal.

When we embarked on the renovation project in early 2013, in order to ensure future funds, the development was split into two stages: conversion of the Sunday School into one residence providing 3,700 sq ft for immediate sale; then investment of the proceeds into the complex restoration of the 6,500 sq ft Chapel. Our plans envisaged generous living spaces across two floors, in proportion to the scale of the Chapel interiors.

The third building, the Old School House dating from 1929, had already found new use as offices for the Barnardo’s charity organisation. Previously all three buildings had been linked by a rear corridor, but today each is separately owned.

The Dwelling Group’s first task was to carefully remove a century’s worth of soot from the rusticated sandstone exteriors and repair them for the first time. Improvements included restoring the beautiful stained-glass windows, and introducing into the Chapel a biomass heating system to serve a series of cast-iron antique radiators which we installed in all rooms. Throughout, we have retained and renovated plaster mouldings, friezes and other features which had deteriorated over the decades.

The Chapel’s traditional auditory plan has a U-shaped first-floor gallery facing an organ recess, beneath which a central feature is a full-width, ornate rostrum/pulpit, plus communion rail, all of which are fashioned from decorated walnut and incorporate brass latticework which adds special interest. We have retained this wide rostrum and incorporated into new room plans the curved gallery front’s carved pine frieze, as well as its supporting cast-iron pillars. As work progressed, a welcome gesture came from the Methodist Church which found a new home near Stuttgart in Germany for the elegant chapel organ from Harrogate.

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The family of Grove Road buildings, from the left: the Old School House 1929, the Sunday School 1905 and the Chapel dated 1896)

The team behind the Chapel makeover

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Channel 4’s George Clarke (right) joins the band of brothers who are converting the Victorian chapel, headed by developer Mark Hinchliffe (third from right). Two broadcasts about our progress are planned during 2016

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