Rossall School Chapel

Rossall School was set up ‘to provide, at a moderate cost, for the sons and daughters of clergymen and others, without limit of age, a classical, mathematical and general education of the highest class’ (1844). The School was originally named ‘The Northern Church of England Boarding School’ though it was renamed during the time of its first headmaster, Dr John Wolley. Of course, the world has moved on a good deal since Victorian times and we are now a pluralistic community that welcomes those of different faiths and those of none. We recognise that faith is entirely a matter of individual conscience. However, we are custodians of the Christian heritage of the School and this is reflected in our assemblies and Chapel services. Our services are Christian but we focus on exploring those values that are shared by all major faiths. We work very hard to ensure that the Chapel is an inclusive and welcoming space where all members of our community can enjoy being together. 

Rossall’s first chapel (what is now the Sumner Library) only seated three hundred pupils and so it was that the expanding pupil roll rapidly outgrew its limited capacity. In 1859, Council decided to push forward with the construction of a number of new buildings and the celebrated Lancaster architect, Edward Graham Paley (1823-1895) was tasked with the design of a grand new chapel which was to be on an altogether different scale. A subscription fund was established and £4,600 was raised in order finance the construction of both the nave and chancel. The Chapel was consecrated in 1862 and the guest of honour on that occasion was the great polymath and Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, William Whewell (1794-1666).

E.G. Paley was responsible for some of Lancashire’s finest buildings. He worked mainly in the Gothic Revival style and was responsible for designing some much-loved ecclesiastical buildings including Lancaster Priory and St. Mary’s Church, Ulverston. He also designed the rather charming clocktower and train station in Grange-over-Sands. 

From its earliest days, the Chapel has contained memorials to Rossalians who have served both their school and country. The lives of those who died in the colonial conflicts of the nineteenth century are remembered alongside heroes such as the Reverend Thomas Byles (1870-1913). He was the chaplain who prayed with passengers on the rear deck of the Titanic as it was sinking. He heard confessions and granted absolution to more than a hundred passengers who remained trapped on the stern of the boat. He was later described by Pope Pius X as a ‘martyr of the church’. It is particularly apt that we think of him today. 

Reverend Thomas Byles (1870-1912) OR

After the First World War, the prolific Scottish architect and furniture designer, Sir Robert Lorimer, was commissioned to extend the south transept of the Chapel so that it would become a fitting War Memorial to the 298 Rossallians who lost their lives during the four long years of conflict. Before the war, Lorimer had enjoyed a reputation as the designer of Scottish baronial houses for wealthy industrialists. This clientele had fallen away by the 1920s and so it was that he turned his talents to designing war memorials. He was responsible for the design of both the new chapel for the Knights of the Thistle in St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh, and the Scottish National War Memorial. 

The refurbishment of the Chapel extended beyond the South Transept and a new organ was commissioned from the Durham builders Harrison and Harrison at a cost of £3,381. The organ reused pipes from the old Father Willis instrument. The East Window was replaced by the Fletcher family in memory of the father and son who had died from the burden of running the family colliery throughout the duration of the war. The window, like the new windows in the South Transept, was designed by J.C.N.Bewsey. The pulpit was designed by the famous sculptor, painter and stained glass window designer, Meredith Williams (1877-1934). The reredos in the Memorial Chapel was designed by Eric Gill and was to be his largest piece of work in wood. The £38,000 collected through subscriptions from Rossallians would equate to over a million pounds today. 

The Chapel Choir

 The Chapel Choir is central to the spiritual life of our community. Alongside regular weekly chapel services, the choir sings evensong most Sunday evenings during term time and all are welcome to attend these beautiful services. Members of the Chapel Choir have taken up choral scholarships at Oxford, Cambridge and Durham universities. In the past few years, pupils have been awarded organ scholarships at a number of British cathedrals including, most recently, Blackburn. In 2019, the Chapel Choir undertook a week-long residency at Westminster Abbey. Recent collaborations have included a concert in Chester Cathedral with the Band of the Royal Air Force College, Cranwell and Durufle’s Requiem with the Choir of Manchester Cathedral. The Choir has a long standing association with the southern Lakes and, this year has performed in Staveley, Grange-over-Sands and Cartmel. The Song School contains our fine collection of Anglican choral music and is an integral part of the Chapel. 

The Organ 

 In October 2023, Harrison and Harrison will begin the long-awaited refurbishment of the Chapel Organ. This is a project that will cost in excess of £180,000 and it is being funded almost entirely by the Foundation. Restoring the organ to its former glory is a labour of love that would not have been impossible without the energy, vision and dynamism of Rossallians committed to preserving all aspects of the School’s heritage. Ostensibly, the restoration of the organ might seem to have a relatively slight impact upon Rossall’s current pupils but the reintroduction of regular Sunday evensongs and the resurgence of interest in the spiritual dimension of School life underlines the vital importance of this project. The organ is absolutely central to the vibrant Anglican choral tradition that we promote here at Rossall. Indeed, Chapel Choir is one of the defining hallmarks of Rossallian life. 

Annual events held in the Chapel include:

  •  Whole School Assemblies 
  •  Prep and Senior School Chapel Services
  •  Choral Evensongs
  •  Compline 
  •  Harvest Festival Service
  •  Remembrance Day Service 
  •  Family Carol Services
  •  Rossalian Carol Service
  •  Christmas Day Service
  •  Easter Sunday Service 
  •  Prize Day – Annual Commemoration of Benefactors
  •  Weddings
  •  Baptisms
  •  Christian Union Prayer Meetings
  •  Evening Prayer Vigils 

What the Chapel means to Rossallians…

The importance of the Chapel is highlighted by the Canon Chancellor of Exeter Cathedral, the Reverend Canon Deborah Parsons. 

The Chapel of St. John the Baptist stands on the edge of the school campus and yet at the heart of what it means to be a Rossallian. Whether we profess to have a faith or not, we are united by core values of love and care for others and in our unique ways, we endeavour to make the world a better, kinder, more equitable place. I am immensely grateful for the foundations of my faith that were laid at Rossall through the rhythm of daily prayer, thought-provoking sermons and uplifting choral music. 
It was in the Chapel of St. John the Baptist that I was confirmed, along with a large cohort of my year. It was there that I witnessed the joy of friends marrying and it was there where we occasionally gathered to bid a fond farewell to friends or members of Common Room, who had made an indelible impression on our lives. Quite simply, Chapel was always there – in all weathers, whatever the season, if not in the foreground, then as a backdrop to our lives

 The Chapel has been the place where many Rossallians have discovered their faith or found comfort in times of sadness. It is the case that those of no faith, or those who are still searching, tend to retain an enormous affection for a building within which they find peace and a sense of community. Many Rossallians return to the Chapel to celebrate baptisms and weddings. In times of crisis, Rossallians are inclined to seek the divine within this extraordinary building. During Covid, the Chapel played an enormous role and projected a sense of ‘school’ which transcended our physical apartness. More recently, the evening prayer vigils held during the first weeks of the current conflict in Ukraine provided the opportunity for Rossallians to come together in prayer and reflection. The Chapel is Rossall and Rossall is the Chapel. 

At the beginning of next term we will reflect upon what needs to be accomplished in order to safeguard the fabric of the building. Saltwater ingress and high winds have exerted their punishing toll on the Chapel. Sandstone has eroded and metal work has corroded away. Roofs are leaking and stained glass windows are becoming warped. There is a structured plan in place to address these issues and we look forward to sharing this with Rossallians. 

Jeremy Quartermain
Headmaster of Rossall School