Sunday, 18 April 2021

Old Court Chapel

Photo Credit: Colin Boyle

BALLYCULTER, a parish in the barony of LECALE, County Down, is situated on Strangford Lough.

It is a rectory in the diocese of Down and Dromore.

There is a little chapel standing within the grounds of OLD COURT, the private property of LORD DE ROS, of which the rector is chaplain.

This chapel of ease was built in 1629 by Valentine Payne (or Paine), agent to the 16th Earl of Kildare.

The chapel and adjacent stables can now be hired for wedding receptions and functions.

Seemingly it has been considerably altered down the years, as successive Barons de Ros have deemed it their duty to "make their mark".

It is thought that this little chapel, which can accommodate 110 worshippers, has remained open for worship during its 380-year history.

Photo Credit: Colin Boyle

In the 1830s, and since the chapel was outside the jurisdiction of the Lord Bishop of Down, the chaplain received a salary of £20 per annum (ca £2,400 today) from Lord de Ros.

The clerk received five pounds annually.

There was an attendance of one hundred worshippers, the congregation being separate from Ballyculter Parish Church.

The bell's whereabouts remain unknown to this very day, though it may have been destroyed when the original Old Court House was burnt in 1922.

Photo Credit: Colin Boyle

There was a period when the little chapel was attended by all denominations, since it was the only place of worship in the vicinity, Ballyculter and Kilclief both being ruinous.


THE PRESENT Old Court chapel is believed to have been constructed around a considerably smaller plainer structure, built in 1629 by Valentine Payne, the agent of George, 16th Earl of Kildare, the then owner of Strangford.

Little is known about the early history of the building, the next notable date being 1740-44, when Walter Harris remarked that it was "repaired and beautified" by Robert, the 19th Earl; and in 1814, when Lord Henry FitzGerald was said to have repaired the roof and paving.

The chapel is shown as a small rectangular structure on a map of 1833-34 and described as "a very small church of the plainest construction" with a congregation of "generally 100".

The memoir also describes a church bell which was inscribed
Valentine Payne Esquire, who hath to wife Elizabeth L.F. [shape of the cross], who builded this chapel and gave this bell in anno domini 1629.
Underneath there is a drawing representing a coat of arms, viz. three scallop shells, three crosses, and a half-moon; three beasts and three birds below; a kind of cup with a half-moon therein.

In 1835, the chapel was repaired throughout by Henry, 22nd Baron de Ros.

His successor William, 23rd Baron, appears to have taken considerable interest in the building.

Repairs to the walls and roof were undertaken in 1840; general repairs to the roof and interior in 1847; raising the walls; replacing the roof; adding the tower and chimney in 1848; and replacing the pews in 1849.

In 1855, Lord de Ros altered the pulpit, adding the chancel; and the west window was enlarged in 1857.

The 23rd Baron's final significant alterations were executed in 1866, when a cornice and bracket were added to the chancel and further work carried out to the tower.

In 1874, the present reading desk and lectern were installed and the transept was built.

New seating was installed in 1882; the east window enlarged in 1891; the pulpit removed and choir seats added in 1894.

In 1908, the chapel took on the its current form when the north aisle was constructed, the interior lined with dressed stone and stained glass added to the transept and east windows.

All of these new alterations were dedicated in 1909 by the Lord Bishop of Down, Connor and Dromore, the Rt Rev John Crozier.

Apart from the addition of some memorial panels, no major changes have taken place since then.

However, in 1940 many of the older headstones within the surrounding graveyard were placed against the boundary wall.

The graveyard, which lies to the south side of the church, is rarely used now and in 1940 almost all the stones were arranged round the sides.

These gravestones have been numbered consecutively, clockwise, from the east end of the church.

There are six stones still left in the body of the graveyard and one standing alone on the north of the church (de Ros).

All the gravestones have been copied, including three built into the west end of the church.

Modern memorial tablets in the church have not been copied.

The oldest stone dates from 1714 and almost all are in good condition.

First published in December, 2012.

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