A proprietary chapel is a chapel that originally belonged to a private person, but with the intention that it would be open to the public, rather than restricted (as with private chapels in the stricter sense) to members of a family or household, or members of an institution. Generally, however, some of the seating - sometimes a substantial proportion - would be reserved for subscribers. In 19th century Britain they were common, often being built to cope with urbanisation. Frequently they were set up by evangelical philanthropists with a vision of spreading Christianity in cities whose needs could no longer be met by the parishes. Some functioned more privately, with a wealthy person building a chapel so they could invite their favourite preachers. They are anomalies in English ecclesiastical law, having no parish area, but being able to have an Anglican clergyman licensed there. Historically many Anglican churches were proprietary chapels. Over the years they have often been converted into normal parishes (for example Redland Parish Church in Bristol).
During the first half of the nineteenth century "proprietary" chapels flourished in Belgravia, Bath, and other fashionable resorts. They were extra-parochial, and were often run on a commercial basis, supported by pew-rents and sometimes built over wine vaults ... An ingratiating preacher, preferably an invalid ..., a well-nourished verger, and genteel pew-openers did their best to attract the quality ... An advertisement from the Times (1852) gives a good idea of the "ethos" of the proprietary chapel "A young man of family, evangelically disposed, and to whom salary is no object, may hear of a cure in a fashionable West End congregation by addressing the Reverend A.M.O. at Hatchards, Boosellers, Piccadilly."
Today there are still a number of functioning Anglican churches which are proprietary chapels, including one in Avonwick in Devon; Christ Church, Bath; Emmanuel Church, Wimbledon; St John's Downshire Hill Hampstead; and St James' Ryde on the Isle of Wight.
St Mary's Church, Castle Street, Reading (not to be confused with the larger but similarly named Minster Church of St Mary the Virgin, which is only a few yards away) is an extant church which formerly functioned as a proprietary chapel within the Anglican Church, but now forms part of the Church of England (Continuing).
St John's Chapel, Bedford Row (demolished 1863) was formerly a proprietary chapel.
- See the further discussion of this in St John the Evangelist's Church, Chichester.
- St James' Church; Church Society
- Drummond, Andrew L. (1950). The Churches in English Fiction. Leicester: Edgar Backus. pp. 30–31.
- "Christ Church, Bath". Retrieved 17 January 2015.
- "Emmanuel Church, Wimbledon". Retrieved 11 January 2015.
- "St Johns Church, Downshire Hill". Retrieved 17 January 2015.
- "St James's Church, Ryde". Retrieved 17 January 2015.
- "St. Mary's Church, Reading". Retrieved 11 January 2015.
- "St. John's Chapel, Chichester". Retrieved 17 January 2015.
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