Victorian Society calls on council to save twin chapels in Dewsbury Cemetery

A national campaign group has called on Kirklees Council to save two neglected and crumbling listed buildings it owns “before they collapse entirely”.

Thursday, 26th August 2021, 7:00 am
The rundown condition of the chapels, close to the war memorial in Dewsbury Cemetery, has been described as an 'insult to the fallen'

The Victorian Society, a charity which campaigns to protect Victorian and Edwardian historic buildings from demolition and decay, first highlighted the plight of the twin chapels in Dewsbury Cemetery in 2008.

The Grade II-listed buildings have been disused for many years. Both are boarded up and fenced off.

One of the chapels is in a state of collapse after the roof fell in during storms in 2014.

The roof fell in during a storm in 2014

The structure is now shored up with scaffolding but crumbling stonework is left exposed and trees, bushes and weeds are growing out of control.

The twin chapels – designed in a Gothic style by Jeremiah Marriott & Son in 1859 – stand at the entrance to the cemetery.

The former Dewsbury Cemetery Action Group campaigned from 1997 to save the buildings but bids for funding were unsuccessful.

Back in 2008 the Victorian Society described the chapels as of “national importance”.

Now the chapels have been nominated for the Victorian Society’s Top 10 Most Endangered Buildings 2021.

Joe O’Donnell, director of the Victorian Society, said: “The twin chapels, which stand at the entrance to Dewsbury Cemetery, have been derelict for too long.

“They are a key architectural component of the cemetery space, which is a fascinating record of the town’s community and religious history.

“We understand the challenges of repurposing and refurbishing historical buildings but we urge the council to act quickly and save these chapels before they collapse entirely.

“We are available to discuss with the council any plans to bring them back into use.”

The Dewsbury Cemetery Action Group tried and failed to secure funding and the group which succeeded it, the New Friends of Dewsbury Cemetery, has also tried.

Christine Leeman, who leads the Friends group which has 800 members on Facebook, described the state of the chapels as an “eyesore” and a “disgrace”.

She said the group spent its first 18 months trying to drum up support and funding to restore the chapels.

The National Lottery, she said, were not interested.

It had been estimated that the chapels would cost around £300,000 each to restore – and that was just on the outside.

As they were listed buildings, specialists would have to do the work.

“I soon realised we were fighting a losing battle,” said Christine.

“As lovely as these buildings are, it would be a miracle if we got the money needed.

“Then it’s a case of who is going to use them and how they are funded going forward.”

The chapels stand either side of the Cross of Sacrifice, which commemorates the fallen of the First World War and Christine said: “As they stand, they are an insult to the fallen but I don’t know what we can do with them.

“Either we fix them up or we pull them down.

“In my opinion Kirklees are just waiting for them to fall down and then they can step in and say they need to demolish them on safety grounds.

“But they are listed buildings and surely Kirklees has a duty to protect them?”

Coun Paul Davies, cabinet member for corporate at Kirklees Council, said: “The preservation of our listed and historic buildings is really important to us as a council, and we know it is to local people too.

“We never want to see them deteriorate, but unfortunately the twin chapels at Dewsbury Cemetery have been unused for a number of years and restoring them would require a great deal of work, which would come at a significant financial cost.

“This is money we have to use on other priorities.

“The other issue we have is that in order for them to be restored, there would need to be an appropriate use identified for the buildings, which would have to be financially sustainable.

“We will continue to maintain the site and ensure the structures are safe.

“But there are no current plans for the buildings to be restored.

“We’re always really keen to work with our communities, so if any local people or groups are interested in restoring the buildings and have an idea for bringing them back into use, please contact us.”

Historic England records show that Dewsbury Cemetery was listed in 2002. The original 15 acres of land was purchased in 1859 for £2,500.

Surveyors and architects Jeremiah Marriott & Son designed the cemetery, including the two chapels – one Anglican, the other Non-Conformist – along with a lodge and other works at a cost of £4,000.