Notes on Chappel

Ancient and Modern Architecture

The bridge in Chappel, where the road between Great Tey and Mount Bures crosses the Colne, was first recorded in 1140, and the village took its medieval name (Britic's Bridge, latinised to Pontisbright) from this. At that time the settlement belonged to the parish of Great Tey to the south and so residents had to make the journey of around 2 miles each way to attend church services. This affected the numbers turning up for services and so in 1285 a small chapel of ease was built and the church was consecrated in 1352. In 1433 the vicar of Great Tey agreed that the residents of Chappel could have their own chaplain.

In the mid-14th century Chappel seems to have been fairly wealthy. Several substantial buildings were constructed in the vicinity of the bridge and the main Halstead-Colchester road (now the A1124). This might have been a result of trade: Colchester is just 7 miles away and had large cloth and leather work industry in 1300. Colchester was also developing as a trading centre and as port at this time, with Dutch and French traders operating from The Hythe.

Chappel is a linear village, with houses constructed along either side of the road to Great Tey. The oldest buildings are to the north, near the bridge and the A1124. Parts of the Swan Inn dates from the mid-14th century, as does a wing of Raynhams.

In 1596 there was an area of land near the bridge, set aside for play. This remained for nearly 300 years until in 1879 the landowner attempted to enclose part of the land. This resulted in violent protests and in 1880 Playing Place was confirmed as a recreation ground. It remains an open space and children's playground. The nearby pond was noted in 1997 for its great crested newts.

All this tranquillity and peace (occasional violent protests aside) was shattered in 1847 when the building of the railway viaduct commenced. Designed by Peter Bruff, the viaduct sweeps across the entire Colne valley. It is 1136 feet long, 74 feet above the river, with 32 semi-circular arches. Seven million bricks were used, making it one of the largest brick structures in England. The original choice of material was laminated timber, but Bruff chose bricks on cost grounds. Although this judgement was disputed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Bruff stuck to his guns. The bricks were made in Mount Bures, a few miles to the north. The viaduct took two years to build and although it is wide enough for two tracks, only one was laid. It carries the Marks Tey – Sudbury branch line.

Amazingly, this monumental feat of effort and engineering does not detract from the quiet charm of Chappel, but rather enhances it. The majestic arches top narrow, almost delicate piers and the internal arches give a sense of lightness and space to the structure. It's a thing of beauty. The sheer size of the viaduct is awe inspiring and yet it is so high above the village that it almost exists in a separate zone – it is hard to take in both the ancient architecture and the Victorian colossus simultaneously. Peter Bruff, I tip my hat to you.