The Forbury Chapel dedicated to St.Thomas A Beckett
6th Century: Monastery established in Leominster
Leominster was recorded in the Domesday Book as ‘Leofminstre’.
Foundation of the Benedictine Priory of Leominster by Henry I.
The prior, Stephen Watton, had ordered the church door to be closed against the parishioners during celebration of the offices and at night time.
Dec 3rd 1283
Archbishop Peckham was in Leominster when he familiarised himself with the details of the conflict between monks and parishioners. In January 1284 he wrote from the episcopal palace at Sugwas, ordering the restoration of the doors, but commanding that the prior and convent should build a chapel at the gates of the precinct dedicated to the glorious martyr, Thomas of Canterbury, where the sacrament should be reserved and sanctuary could be sought.
Original 13th Century copy of the order to build the Forbury Chapel. Credit: HARC
Archbishop John Peckham, Archbishop of Canterbury, commands that a chapel dedicated to St, Thomas a Beckett (The Archbishop of Canterbury who was murdered in his own catherdral in 1170) be erected at his personal expense.
Owen Glendower seizes and occupies Leominster
The Battle of Mortimer’s Cross
King Henry VIII closed the monastery and the Forbury Chapel's ownership passed to the Parish.
Owen Glendower (Owain Glyndwr)
In 1400 Owen organised a rebellion against, Henry IV and claimed the title, Prince of Wales.
The original 13th century record of the order to build the Forbury Chapel.
Credit: Norman Reeves
Queen Mary’s Charter
The first Charter of the Borough (1554) states that it was granted because of the “care, industry and faithful services” of the people of Leominster towards Mary during the Duke of Northumberland’s rebellion.
From the granting of the first Charter, the official business of the Borough took place in the Forbury Chapel, also known as The Court House. It was specified that this was where the Bailiff should be elected and judicial business undertaken. The Forbury Gatehouse was used as a Council Chamber for a period. Both lost some functions in 1633 when the Town Hall was built, but the Chapel was still used as a meeting place for the Chamber until at least 1810’s, and as the home of the Grammar School.
‘Leominster, at the date of the gift of it’s Charter, had all the accompaniments and accessories of a first-class Town. It had its ancient Frere-Chamber or Council Room; its magnificent Parish Church; its Grammar School; its Market Place and Corn Square; its annual fairs; its pillory and prison; its paved streets, and its various guilds or fraternities of traders.
These following items, contained in the Chamberlain’s accounts, identify several of these buildings:-
1554. Item – For vj days werke to Willm Caldwall, for tyling upon the Corn markett howse, and ye pyllary Howse, the Crosse House, the Forbury Gate House and ye Court House .. .. vs. (The Grammar School was held in this last building)
(Ref: 8. P 71-72)
Original 13th Century document instructing the Forbury Chapel to be built. Photo: HARC
The original Charter, held at HARC. Hereford Archives and Records Centre. Photo: HARC
Leominster Firemen pose for the camera in Church Street. Credit. Herefordshire Museums Service
John Ward by Thomas Beach. Courtesy of the Garrick Club, London
John Philip Kemble and Sarah Siddons in Macbeth by Thomas Beach. Courtesy of the Garrick Club, London
Leominster Priory Church houses the original ducking stool, one of the last surviving examples in England.
A Warrant was issued for the arrest of Father Roger Cadwallader for maintaining the Catholic Faith. (Ref.1)
The old Forbury Chapel of St.Thomas of Canterbury was used as the Court House. Cadwallader was brought out of his prison, almost opposite, in Church Street, to his trial. He was charged simply with being a priest ordained abroad. He was found guilty and condemned as a traitor to be hanged, drawn and quartered.’
‘On the day of his execution, he rose at 3am and prayed on his knees until 8am. At 4 in the afternoon…Roger Cadwallader was taken out of the gaol in Church Street and drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution at the Iron Cross.’ (Ref.5)
Leominster Town Hall was built at the intersection of Broad St and Etnam St. (A scaled model is now located there.) It was later dismantled and moved to it’s current position at The Grange- now known as Grange Court
The Civil War
Monday 18th March 1699
The ancient Priory Church was totally destroyed by fire.
1699 to 1705
Following the fire damage to the Priory, the Forbury was used for Divine Service.
Approx 1705 or just after
The Fire Engine House was attached to the Forbury on what is now the driveway to About Face Theatre premises.
The Fire Engine House had a room built above it by the Corporation as a Charity School. This ceased operation by 1795.
The Forbury Gateway across Church St collapsed.
The Forbury Chapel is referred to as The School House, was hired for theatrical performances. John Ward- “Ward the Player” was giving plays in it on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. It was also used as a courthouse at this time. (Ref.2)
Ward retired and settled in Leominster. Kelly’s Directory 1913: In the (PRIORY) churchyard are monuments to John Ward, gent. D. 30 Oct. 1773, and Sarah his wife, d. 30 Jan. 1786, grandparents of Mrs.Sarah Siddons, the celebrated actress, and to members of the Kemble family. His circuit was inherited by Roger Kemble, and the Company now became known as the Kemble Company of Players.
John Boles Watson was left Roger Kemble’s Company of Players and it’s circuit after he retired. Watson renovated the theatre, announcing that it was ‘now neatly fitted up and rendered much more regular and commodious than before’.
Rev Jonathan Williams in the Leominster Guide, writes ‘The Court House is situated in Church Street. This was the ancient chapel in the Forbury. It was a plain building with pointed windows. Where are holden the weekly court of record, the high-stewards court, and the court leets. Here are returned the members for representing the borough in Parliament, at which the bailiff is always the returning officer. Here also the oaths of office are administered the bailiff and justices of the corporation. it requires sound recollection to enumerate all the uses to which the fabric has been appropriated. Originally erected for the purpose of divine worship, and in which sacred ordinances of the Christian religion were celebrated so late as in beginning of the last century, its walls have since resounded with the wrangling of lawyers, the flagellations of truant schoolboys, the rant theatrical presentations, and the licentious songs of electioneering bacchalians.’ (Ref.3)
Jonathan Williams tells us that the “Court House” (again, the Forbury Chapel) was used for 40 nights every third year by the Hereford Theatre Co., and receipts for a full house amounted to £40. (Ref. 2)
England’s last use of the ducking stool took place in Leominster when Jenny Pipes was ducked in the river near the Kenwater Bridge. The ducking stool is described as 'an engine of universal punishment, for common scolds and for butchers, bakers, brewers, apothecaries, and all who gave short measure, or vended adulterated articles of food’.
Map of the Forbury drawn by Geo Watts, calling it The Court House
Charles Crisp announced that he had ‘taken the Leominster Theatre, which will be newly painted and decorated, on the first race day’. (Ref.7)
The Grammar School was using the room over the Fire Engine House at the West End of the Forbury. (Ref.1)
This 1850 article from the Hereford Times confirms that the National School were using the Forbury Chapel at this time.
The National School Society tried to purchase the Forbury from the Corporation but were unsuccessful. (Ref.1)
With the coming of the Railways an Evangelist, Mr G Onions, came to Leominster and held meetings in the Forbury (Ref.1)
Performances at the Leominster Theatre became rarer, and after 1859 performers started to use the newly build Leominster Corn Exchange, and the Forbury Chapel reverted to other uses. (Ref.7)
The Forbury Chapel was purchased from the Corporation by Thomas Sale, and he substantially renovated the building. He was the Town Clerk and a prominent local solicitor. Thomas Sale married Sarah Hannah and had 10 children, 8 of whom survived him. When Thomas Sale died on 19th January 1903, the Chapel, and the rest of their estate which included the Forbury House and land, was left to all of their children.
One of their sons, Mr. William Thomas Sale, also a solicitor, bought out his sibling's interest in the Chapel, and continued to use it as his office, as had his father. He financed this purchase through a mortgage from his brother-in-law, Ernest Edward Norris Major in his Majesty’s Royal Field Artillery 32nd Battery, then stationed at Deesa in India, and William Edward Hyde of Park House Fort Royal Hill in the City of Worcester. (Ref.10)
See poster for the sale with description of the Chapel interior.
Kelly's Directory 1913 of Leominster has two entries for William Sale:
OFFICERS OF THE CORPORATION
Town Clerk & Clerk to the School Attendance Committee, William Thomas Sale, 17 Church Street.
William Thomas Sale, solicitor, perpetual commissioner & commissioner to administer oaths, town clerk, clerk to the school attendance committee & to the governors of Lucton School & Leominster Secondary School, 17 Church Street
The Forbury Chapel was sold to Sidney James Bridge, house decorator and Methodist preacher of 20, Broad St, for £1000. Syndey purchased and renovated a number of properties in Leominster, which he rented out. He was very successful and became a notable philanthropist. His charitable donations included over £2000 to the Cottage Hospital, and Sydonia Park, which was his gift to the town. He was known as being an eccentric who wore 'shabby clothes and no socks'.
The Forbury was taken over to provide hostel accommodation for ladies and children who had come from Liverpool, the most heavily bombed city next to London. Once the bombing had ceased , most of the ladies went back. (Ref.4)
Mr Bridge sold the Forbury to Mr Beaumount who reclaimed a dance floor from The County Hotel, (at the top of Aylestone Hill in Hereford) when it was being demolished 1975. It was installed on the first floor at The Forbury. A dance school used this space during the 1980's.
Purchased by The Leominster Church Institute. The space was rented out for offices.
The interior was renovated.
A Heritage Lottery Grant was awarded for the repair and restoration of the Forbury Chapel, and heritage interpretation resources. The Project was completed in 2020.
This photograph is believed to show the Sale family in the garden at the rear of Forbury House, adjoined to the Chapel. Credit: Herefordshire Museums Service