Bishop Edward King Chapel, Ripon College, Oxfordshire

The Challenge

Ripon College nestles in leafy Cuddesdon in rural Oxfordshire. After winning the RIBA tender, Niall McLaughlin Architects’ vision was to create a new chapel for this renowned theological college – one which respected the historical setting, yet sat comfortably in the grove of ancient trees.

Project Details

Harrison Goldman Stone Consultants were asked to advise on the most appropriate material for their design, as the stone featured in the surrounding campus buildings was quarried locally but no longer available. The chapel needed a stone which was aesthetically similar but would also stand up to the rather exposed site. Frost resistance was a key factor – our Clipsham limestone was the only stone Harrison Goldman found that had sufficient test data to show it was fit for purpose.

We produced detailed design drawings and templates for all aspects of the stonework from individual ashlar blocks to stone window surrounds.

“The stonework is absolutely superb. The dedication by the guys on site in all weathers was fantastic, just taking their time and making sure it was done right. The precision on the dog tooth with the accuracy in the vertical, horizontal and diagonal planes is fantastic. That level of craftsmanship would be very challenging on a flat plane so it is all the more impressive within a continually curving wall.”

Martin Wareham of Beard Construction

The Difference

Completed in February 2013 at a cost of just over £2million, the building has won praise (as well as being shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize) from many quarters.

The 11 metre high chapel consists of three distinctive bands, with the lower 3.5 metres made from precision cut ashlar in our specified Clipsham limestone. These were honed using individually unique templates to fit within their specific location, forming the teardrop shaped footprint, each piece marked and referenced.

The middle band is the real feature of the building. This section consists of a 4 metre high tapestry of over 35,000 individual hand cut Clipsham limestone blocks precision installed in dogtooth bond, perfectly aligned vertically and diagonally to create a stunning visual effect.

The top layer is literally the icing on the cake. The ribbon windows, described as “a halo of natural stone fins” were specifically designed to align with the surrounding tree canopy level, giving dappled shade and the opportunities for the tree shadows to dance on the buff coloured stonework. The steel frames of the windows are clad with Clipsham limestone featuring cills, fins and copings.

It was an incredibly satisfying and rewarding project to work on. Using natural stone for the whole of the structure has enhanced both the building design and its serenity within its environment. Unsurprisingly, the chapel has won universal acclaim.

RIBA also applauded the high levels of material specification and attention to detail. “Exquisite detailing abounds in all six projects, perhaps most potently in the Bishop Edward King Chapel in Oxfordshire whose rich stone façade and timber interior provide some of the best examples of craftsmanship the judges have seen for some time.”

The new Bishop Edward King Chapel sits at the heart of our worshipping community. It is not just a beautiful building but a work of art which touches the spirit and captures our hope for the church and the world and for the shaping of religious and spiritual life. We are delighted to not only have a building which serves the needs of the college but is also a stunning piece of architecture.

REV CANON PROFESSOR MARTYN PERCY, PRINCIPAL OF RIPON COLLEGE