The first chapel on the site was probably built late in the 13th century alongside the original stone bridge, which had been completed some years earlier. Late in the 14th century this chapel was replaced by the present, somewhat larger, building. The principal purpose of the chapel was to serve the needs of travellers who, on leaving the safety of the town and mindful of the uncertain dangers in the countryside beyond, would call there to hear mass and pray for a safe journey. Many of the incoming travellers would doubtless have spent a few minutes in the chapel to give thanks for a safe journey. They might also have received a pot of refreshing ale from the so-called hermit, who acted as the caretaker of the building. One of his less popular duties was the collection of tolls, levied on goods and animals, for the maintenance of the bridge.
Soon after the present chapel was built a cell was constructed to house an anchoress, a woman who had withdrawn from the world to live a solitary life of silence and prayer. In the 15th century the chapel became a noted centre of pilgrimage, second only in local importance to the nearby shrine of St. Alkmund. The chapel was richly endowed through the efforts of many benefactors during the Middle Ages and thanks to their generosity the chapel also housed the much-revered figure known as the Black Virgin of Derby. When the Reformation took hold, the practices associated with the chapel were regarded as idolatrous and it was closed in 1547; a few years later it and the adjoining house were handed back to the burgesses of Derby.
On 25th July 1588 the most notorious event in the history of the chapel took place when the bodies of three Roman Catholic priests, who had been executed as traitors the day before, were draped around its entrance. Two of these priests, Nicholas Garlick and Robert Ludlam, had been arrested at Padley Manor, in the north of Derbyshire, and were brought to Derby for trial together with Richard Simpson who had already been imprisoned. Unfortunately for them the country was in a state of turmoil because of the approaching Spanish Armada and so there was no hope of a reprieve. Collectively they became known as the Padley Martyrs.
Subsequently the chapel lapsed into relative obscurity. After being used for some years as a meeting room for Presbyterians it was converted to domestic use. During the 17th Century the present Bridge Chapel House was built to replace the former priest’s house. At the end of the 18th century the original bridge, which by then was in a poor state, was replaced by the present bridge which was designed by Thomas Harrison. Somewhat later the chapel was used as a workshop and storeroom for a local engineering works and then in 1873 it became once again a place of worship. In 1912 the chapel was closed and allowed to deteriorate so that by the 1920s it was in a ruinous state. Eventually it was rescued through the efforts of the Derbyshire Archaeological Society and the generosity of the children of the late Sir Alfred Seale Haslam, a former mayor of Derby. The restoration of the chapel was carried out in 1930 under the direction of local architects Percy Currey and Charles Thompson, in close cooperation with the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.
The chapel has been used as a place of worship ever since and now is often regarded as the Lady Chapel of the Cathedral. The interior is notable for its simplicity; of particular interest are the east window, designed by Mary Dobson, and the altar, designed by Ronald Pope.
A warm welcome awaits you at the Chapel.
For services at the Bridge Chapel please see the Services page.