Ridley History: The Chapel
It would be hard to imagine Ridley Hall’s quad without the Chapel; it is an imposing building, situated next to the Dining Hall, its clock-tower and red brick walls clearly visible to all those who pass through the front archway.
However, that is precisely the sight that would have greeted the eight students who were first trained at the College in 1881. Charles Luck, the architect who first drew up plans for the College, intended to place the Chapel next to the Principal’s Lodge, current home of the Principal’s garden. These plans never came to fruition, though, as a Chapel was seen as unnecessary when Ridley was formed. Strange as this sounds, it made sense. Weekday services could be held in the lecture hall, and the various Cambridge College’s the students belonged to had their own Chapel for Sunday worship.
It was not until February 1891, ten years later, that building work was finally started on a Chapel. Even then, it was a gift from one of the College’s former students, who wished to remain anonymous; perhaps he had not found the lecture hall a comfy place to do his weekly prayers! The foundation-stone was laid on 9th March of that year, during a small service attended by the resident students and workmen, by the Principal Handley Moule. It was then dedicated in 1892 by the Bishop of Ely, but not consecrated, and remains so to this day.
By this time there were twenty-two students, a drop from the 37 in residence in 1889, but a number that would soon increase again. A lack of money meant that elements of the design had to be compromised, such as a planned elaborate roof decoration (a drawing of which can be seen when the Chapel is entered), and complete marble flooring. Extra elements of the construction were added thanks to the gifts of students and contacts: the clock, paid for by a group of ‘Friends at Malvern’, and the organ, gifted by past and present students. This organ was then replaced in 1902 after another alumnus, Revd the Hon O.St. M. Forester, donated one, which is still in use today.
Over the years, Ridley’s Chapel has changed to match the needs of the College, and to reflect the events that have happened outside its walls. This includes the extension of the Chapel eastwards in 1914. Originally, the Chapel could seat 52 comfortably, going up to 100 when necessary. However, with an increased student body, and a number of affiliated students, it was decided to expand the building, as well as renew and extend the heating system. One writer in the 1930s, looking back at the extension’s dedication in October 1914, recalled the Bishop of Ely’s ‘message of hope and cheer’ against the encroaching clouds of war. Indeed, the wars’ impacts are remembered by the set of plaques facing the Chapel’s entrance, recording former students who lost their lives in the World Wars. This is accompanied by another memorial, on the right hand side of the entrance, commemorating alumni who died in the mission field. Finally, the stained glass windows have also changed and been added to over the years; however, these are a story all of their own.
Today, our Chapel maintains the same purpose as when it was first commissioned over a Century ago, acting as a hub for the worship life of Ridley Hall’s community. Morning prayer takes place there, as well as Thursday evensong with guests from around the Cambridge Theological Federation. Its environment provides a meeting place for public acts of worship as well, such as Armistice Day where the staff and students gather outside to pray in silence. It has even been used as an exhibition space, for works of art on the theme of the Resurrection by students. Thus, even as Ridley and its spiritual life develop, the Chapel still remains its centre.
Ridley Hall’s Chapel is about to undergo further work to make it suitable for the modern Church, including an AV system, piano and new artwork. This will hopefully culminate in another extension, to fully seat the students Ridley will be training over the next few years. If you would like to learn more about this, or help contribute towards this vital work, feel free to contact Karen Bevan.