Chapel History

The construction of the Chapel was underway when Samuel Johnson came to Pembroke in 1728 and was completed in 1732. It was designed and built by William Townsend, the most prominent Oxford mason of his day.

Prior to 1730 the Pembroke men worshipped in the Docklinton aisle of St. Aldate’s Church. There was a brief return to this practice in 1933 when the ravages of death-watch beetle were discovered in the Chapel roof.

The painting over the altar (copied by Cranke from part of a Rubens painting in Antwerp) was added in 1786. In 1884 Charles Kempe, the renowned stained glass artist and a graduate of the College, was asked by the Master and Fellows to redesign the interior.

There was no music in the Chapel until 1893, when an organ was placed in the ante-Chapel as a result of a petition by the undergraduates. Built by Charles Martin of Oxford, the 1893 organ survived for 100 years before it was decided that a new organ was needed. The new organ by Canadian organ builder Fernand Létourneau was his first in England.

In 1972 the College Chapel, which had suffered serious damage both within and without from two and a half centuries of pollution, was fully restored by the generosity of an American alumnus and major benefactor, Dr. Damon Wells (1961), whose name it now bears.

A Gentle History of the Damon Wells Chapel, Pembroke College, Oxford (by Chaplain Emeritus Rev Dr John Platt and alumnus Brian Wilson) is a readable 144-page history which outlines the stages of the Chapel's life and the gifts which have enabled it to be the base of liturgical, pastoral and welfare work in the College. It includes splendidly executed colour photographs, a "gentle amalgam" of anecdote and history, and images of Chapel grafitti - so if you find your name there, prepare to be deaned! Available from the College priced £15 + post & packaging.