The Chapel was built in 1693, soon after the 1689 Act of Toleration allowed nonconformist chapels to be built. Lady Sarah Hewley, a local resident, who lived at the other end of Saint Saviourgate, organised the building of the Chapel and originally it was known as Lady Hewley's Chapel. It was the first large brick building in York, built to an unusual Greek Cross design, with a lofty central tower and an airy feel because of the large windows. Later, the roof under the Tower was lowered to the form it is today.
The bricks are of local clay and the walls were built in three separate layers, not bonded together - the best bricks were used on the outside, for show, the second best bricks on the inside, and the remaining rougher bricks used for the central, unseen wall, which contributed the main strength to support the heavy Westmoreland Slate roof.
Originally it had box pews in all four arms of the Chapel, with a high pulpit at one corner of the central space. In Victorian times, the pews in the rear arms were removed and bench pews installed in the remaining three arms, in the form they are today. For a time they were painted a rather sombre deep blue, later replaced by the striking red which is such a feature now.
In the late 20th Century, when the once large congregation had dwindled to very small numbers, the Chapel - a Grade II* Listed Building - was in urgent need of maintenance work. This was organised by the Rev. Sydney Knight, a retired Unitarian Minister, who moved to York and set about rebuilding the congregation and restoring the Chapel as his retirement project! Funds were raised to repair the leaking gutters and carry out other maintenance work and redecorate the Chapel interior.
All was not straightforward, however, and a few weeks later, during and immediately after a sunday service, ominous creaks were heard in the north wall. The Architect, summoned hastily, ordered everyone out immediately - "Don't even finish your coffee!" -and with great presence of mind had internal scaffolding erected, by that evening, to hold up the roof. Further investigations revealed that, whilst the gutters had been leaking, the trickle of water through the strong central brick wall had kept the bricks strong; once the leaks were repaired, however, the bricks began to dry out and crumble away, and one corner of the central tower had begun to sink. More fundraising was needed to carry out major repairs and install new beams to strengthen the brickwork. The process took many months, during which the congregation had to meet further down the street, thanks to the Central Methodist Chapel, which very kindly allowed us to use their hall.
In 2006, yet more fundraising was needed to replace the slate roof, which was showing its age after more then 300 years. We are very grateful to English Heritage, and many other generous donors, for their help in enabling this and particularly to Alfred Fletcher, a Trustee and Committee Member, for the huge amount of work he put into ensuring the completion of this major task so successfully. We hope the new roof will last at least another 300 years!
In 2008, we were able to move on to refurbishing the Chapel interior. We secured permission to remove one pew from each side of the rear arm of the Chapel, and create a much larger and slightly raised space, which has given us much greater flexibility for concerts and other activities. At the same time, we were able to install a new toilet with acces for disabled people, another new toilet in the entrance vestibule, fire-safety exits from both the side aisles, ramps for wheelchair access, and a refurbished kitchen and vestry. The Chapel already had a Loop system to help people with hearing difficulties.
The Chapel is available for Weddings and other ceremonies conducted by the minister.
The Chapel is accessible, with assistance, to wheelchair users.