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Restored 18th century chapel reopens at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

PUBLISHED: 00:00 21 May 2014

The 18th century chapel at Bretton Hall, which was deconsecrated in the 1970s

The 18th century chapel at Bretton Hall, which was deconsecrated in the 1970s

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There was a time, not so long ago, when the Bretton Estate chapel didn't have a prayer. It had been placed on English Heritage's 'at risk' register after years of neglect and was in a seriously dilapidated state of repair.

Ai Weiwei's Iron Tree, 2013 - a majestic six-metre high sculptureAi Weiwei's Iron Tree, 2013 - a majestic six-metre high sculpture

But now all that has changed. After a £500,000 restoration project, the 18th century chapel has been completely transformed into a unique exhibition space for Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP), launched with an installation by leading contemporary artist Ai Weiwei.

The chapel exhibition is Ai Weiwei's first in a British public gallery since Sunflower Seeds at Tate Modern in 2010The chapel exhibition is Ai Weiwei's first in a British public gallery since Sunflower Seeds at Tate Modern in 2010

Built in 1744 by Sir William Wentworth, the historically-important Georgian sandstone chapel was designed by James Moyser, a prominent Yorkshire architect who also worked on Bretton Hall, the Palladian mansion which still stands proud in the park today.

The chapel was a place of worship for the various owners of the estate and the local community for more than 200 years until it was deconsecrated in the 1970s.

It remained neglected and largely ignored until it was bought in 2001 by YSP, which has since worked with architects W R Dunn & Co and contractor William Anelay to bring it back to life.

Restoration work to the outside of the building included a new roof, repairs to eliminate water ingress and damp, and the renovation of external stonework. Inside, repairs have been made to the floor and internal timbers, while climactic conditions have been enhanced with the introduction of new lighting, heating and ventilation systems, and an environmentally friendly air source heat pump.

Trevor Mitchell, Yorkshire planning and conservation director at English Heritage, said: ‘The restoration of this stunning chapel and its new life as a top quality exhibition space show what an amazing resource we have in our region’s historic buildings.

‘With imagination, well-targeted funding and partnership working we can help get special buildings like the Bretton Estate chapel off the Heritage at Risk Register and back into use – so once again local people, as well Yorkshire’s many visitors, can enjoy them.’

The inaugural exhibition by internationally-renowned Ai Weiwei includes Iron Tree, 2013, a majestic six-metre high sculpture presented in the chapel courtyard; the installation Fairytale-1001 Chairs, 2007-14, presented inside the chapel; the porcelain Ruyi, 2012; and marble sculpture, Lantern, 2014, which makes its premiere in the UK.

The sculptures relate to ideas about freedom and to the individual within society, whilst also connecting with the history and character of the building. n

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