A KEY chapter in South Yorkshire history has been lost forever following a devastating fire.
The Masbrough Chapel, built in 1793, was a Grade II listed structure built by the powerful Walker family, which founded the town’s iron and steel industry.
The chapel was irreparably damaged by the blaze which broke out in a nearby disused furniture store on College Road, on the outskirts of Rotherham town centre.
Members of the Walker family, whose company forged the cannons used on HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar and made artillery used in the American War of Independence, are buried on the site of the chapel.
There were also memorials to many of the chapel’s ministers on the walls.
During the fire on Thursday, flames spread from the store and warehouse to the chapel, which caused its floor to collapse and roof fall in.
Eileen Hyland, secretary of the Friends of Masbrough Chapel, said the destruction was a huge loss for the town. “It is such a great shame as we were unable to buy the site when it last came up for auction – the asking price was only £25,000,” she said.
“Renovating the chapel would have been a huge job but it could have been moth-balled and preserved for better times to come.”
The furniture store on College Road, close to Centenary Way, closed three years ago but its new owners failed to find a new role for the building.
Eileen said the Friends had lobbied the town council to take responsibility for the site but without success.
“The chapel and graveyard were both sold back in the 1960s, it was in regular use until then,” she said.
The graveyard also contains the 18th century Walker family mausoleum, but that had in recent years been disfigured by fly-tipping.
“It is true the site was neglected and it was never going to be a big tourist attraction, but it was part of the story of how Rotherham changed from being a small market town to being an important industrial centre.
“Clearly it will never be rebuilt now and so more than 200 years of history has gone. But now we must make sure that we concentrate our efforts on the graveyard and mausoleum.”
An investigation into the cause of the blaze is expected to begin soon.