Chapel House was built in 1728 as the dower house to Atherstone Hall (demolished in 1964), home of the Bracebridge family. Florence Nightingale stayed here when visiting her friend and benefactor, Selina Bracebridge whose husband, Charles Holte Bracebridge, financed and accompanied Miss Nightingale on her famous visit to Scutari.
Chapel House remained a private home until the early 1980s when the owners at the time opened a restaurant. In 1985 they were awarded the honour of hosting a luncheon reception for TRH the Prince and Princess of Wales who were attending the Atherstone Festival in celebration of the 600th Anniversary of St. Mary’s Church, and the 500th Anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth.
An expansion of bedrooms in 1987 heralded the Hotel era. Many original features being preserved and others carefully restored so that the place retained the elegance of an earlier age, whilst providing for all the requirements of the modern traveller.
The current owners, Richard and Siobhan Napper, bought Chapel House in 2003 and under their stewardship the business continues to thrive as an award-winning ‘Restaurant with Rooms’.
Atherstone has a long history dating back to Roman times. An important defended Roman settlement named Manduessedum existed at Mancetter near the site of modern-day Atherstone, and the Roman road, the Watling Street (now known as the A5) ran through the town. It is believed by some historians that the rebel Queen of the Britons, Boudica was defeated at the Battle of Watling Street by the Romans in her final battle near Manduessedum.
The Domesday Book of 1086, records that Atherstone was held by Countess Godiva.
St. Mary’s Church
The ancient St. Mary’s Chapel in Atherstone dates from the early 12th century when the monks of Bec made a donation of 12 acres (4.9 ha) to a house of friars and hermits, later referred to as “Austin friars”. According to Nichols, the chapel was granted to Henry Cartwright in 1542, then left abandoned and neglected until 1692 when Samuel Bracebridge settled a yearly sum for the parson of Mancetter to preach there every other Sunday in the winter season.
After this, St. Mary’s Chapel seems to have experienced something of a revival. Its square tower being rebuilt in the fashionable “Gothic” style in 1782. This drastic alteration probably aroused some controversy. although the fine architectural drawing of the chapel made by Mr. Schnebbelie in 1790 prompted Nichols to assert that “the new tower provides a good effect”. St Mary’s was further redesigned in 1849 by Thomas Henry Wyatt and David Brandon.
In Mediaeval times Mancetter was larger than Atherstone which is why St Peter`s Church was the mother church and Atherstone part of the parish of Mancetter. However, by the 19th century Atherstone had grown and developed in a way that Mancetter had not. Mancetter remained a small, mainly rural community, whereas Atherstone was a market town and had developed industries. Atherstone therefore required its independence. In 1841 Atherstone was formally separated from Mancetter and the first vicar was Frederick H Richings, son of the vicar of Mancetter, who continued to serve Atherstone until his death in 1888.
In 1985 St. Mary’s Church celebrated its 600th anniversary with a visit from TRH Prince and Princess of Wales who unveiled a plaque and, after lunch at Chapel House, continued to Market Bosworth to celebrate the 500th anniversary of The Battle of Bosworth.
Battle of Bosworth
It is said that the Battle of Bosworth actually took place in the fields of Merevale above Atherstone. Certainly reparation was made to Atherstone after the battle and not to Market Bosworth.
In Tudor times, Atherstone was a thriving commercial centre for weaving and clothmaking. The town’s favourable location laid out as a long ‘ribbon development’ along Watling Street, ensured its growth as a market town. While it remained an agricultural settlement in medieval times, attempts were made to encourage merchants and traders through the creation of burgage plots, a type of land tenure that provided them with special privileges. A manuscript discovered by Marjorie Morgan among the muniments of Cambridge’s King’s College (Ms. C9), refers to the creation of nine new burgage strips from land belonging to seven of the tenants in Atherstone vill.
By the late Tudor period Atherstone had become a centre for leatherworking, clothmaking, metalworking and brewing. Local sheep farmers and cattle graziers supplied wool and leather to local tanners and shoemakers (an industry that continued until the 1970s), while metalworkers, locksmiths and nailers fired their furnaces with local coal and the alemakers supplied thirsty palates on market days.
The surviving inventories from 16th century Mancetter provide a fascinating glimpse into Atherstone’s Elizabethan merchants and traders, before the town was economically overshadowed by the bustling cities of Coventry and Birmingham. They show Atherstone at this time as a typical Midlands market town, taking full advantage of its location and agricultural setting.
An annual tradition in Atherstone is the Shrove Tuesday Ball Game played on a public highway with large crowds. The game celebrated its 800th anniversary in 1999.