Langley Chapel, near Shrewsbury in Shropshire, sits tranquilly all alone in charming countryside. The interior of the chapel is a unique survival of the way Anglican Churches were arranged in the early 17th century, with box pews, a desk for musicians at the back and bench seats around the communion table for use during the sacraments.
The Burnells of nearby Acton Burnell were lords of the manor of Langley, and in 1313 Richard Burnell obtained permission to build a chapel here.
Langley Chapel has a simple rectangular plan. It is built of dressed grey sandstone with a stone-tile roof, and has a small weatherboarded bell tower at the west end.
It is the perfect set of early 17th century church fittings that makes Langley significant.
The focus of worship in medieval churches was a raised stone altar set against the east wall. The central celebration was the ‘sacrifice’ of the Mass at the altar by a robed priest speaking in Latin. After the Reformation, however, the emphasis changed to preaching and reading the scriptures in English. Pulpits loomed large, sometimes literally, though at Langley the pulpit was relatively small and movable.
The reading desk on the north side, however, is large, with seats inside and, unusually, a roof. With the replacement in the Church of England of the Catholic mass by the Protestant communion service, a simple communion table replaced the stone altar. (The original communion table at Langley was stolen; the present one is a copy.) Seats were arranged round the table, appropriate for people sharing a meal, as at the Last Supper. The manner of receiving the bread and wine at communion was a matter of theological dispute. At Langley, the furnishings allowed communicants to choose. Puritans could sit, while those who wished to could kneel. The fittings of the chapel were designed to cater for social as well as theological gradations. The largest of the ornate box pews, intended for the Lee family, were placed at the front. Behind these were smaller box pews for farmers and tradespeople, while servants and labourers sat on benches at the back. At the west end is a raised desk for musicians.
Glazed and decorated medieval tiles have been reused on the chancel floor.
There are two Tudor doorways with flat arches and nail-studded doors. If you wish to visit the interior of the chapel, the key is in the door.
The building gradually fell out of church use and was finally abandoned during the nineteenth century.
It began to fall into ruin and in 1914 it was one of the first historic buildings in the country to be rescued by being taken into the care of the state.
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