The Leper Chapel -

Cambridge's Oldest Complete Building

The Leper Chapel

"The Leper Chapel is one of Cambridge's magical spaces. Next to a busy road, opposite the football stadium and along from an unattractive medley of superstores, it is an unexpected oasis of tranquillity, mystery and beauty". Richard Spaul - insitu Artistic Director
The Chapel of St Mary Magdalene, known as the Leper Chapel, dates back to the 12th century and is thought to be the oldest complete building in Cambridge.

This Grade 1 Listed Building has a fascinating and well documented history. It was originally built as part of an isolation hospital for lepers, and has survived the centuries because of its association with Stourbridge Fair.

Leper Chapel - Stourbridge Fair circle danceThe University of Cambridge gave the Chapel to the Society in 1951, since when we have cared for the fabric of this fine Romanesque building.

Today, the Chapel is used increasingly for a variety of arts, cultural and community events through the year, as well for regular worship.

We work with the Friends of the Leper Chapel to promote the use of the Chapel and organise events.

Celebrating Stourbridge Fair

Fair PeddlerIn 1199 King John granted the Leper Hospital the right to hold a three-day fair on the Vigil of Holy Cross. Rent from the stalls and booths added to the hospital's income, which was otherwise derived from begging on the roadside, and from crops which they grew. Stourbridge Fair became the largest medieval fair in Europe and existed until 1933. It attracted merchants and visitors from all over Britain and overseas, selling and buying a variety of goods including silk, wool, garlic, hops and cheese. Many of the commodities that were sold live on in the names of the surrounding streets - Garlic Row, Oyster Row, Mercers Row and Cheddars Lane.

Our Annual Recreation of the Fair in September is a more modest community event but just as exciting! There are stalls selling cheese, apple juice, garlic, cakes, honey and beeswax and entertainments including medieval dancing, story telling and living history talks. An alchemist and peddlars mingle with the crowds and the University of Cambridge Proctor and Constables keep order!

Lavender Lady


Arts, Cultural & Community Events at the Chapel

With the Friends of the Leper Chapel, we regularly host events such as concerts, poetry readings, storytelling, theatre and art exhibitions at the Chapel. Please visit our Leper Chapel events page for more details.

We have developed a close link with theatre companies some of whom have created innovative productions especially for performance at the Chapel. Click here to see examples of past performances.

If you are interested in holding an event or exhibition at the Leper Chapel please download this pdf for more information.

Religious Services

The Vicar of the Church of Christ the Redeemer on Newmarket Road in the Parish of Holy Cross is responsible for worship at the Chapel. There is a communion service on the 1st Sunday at 9 am, to which all are welcome, and special services are arranged at Christmas and Easter.

Leper Chapel Map Enlarged view of Leper Chapel mapEnlarged view [+]

Image produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map service. Image reproduced with kind permission of Ordnance Survey and Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland.

Finding the Leper Chapel

The Chapel is located at Barnwell Junction on the Newmarket Road, Cambridge, CB5 8JJ (opposite Cambridge United Football Ground).

OS map Reference: TL 471 594 GB Grid

Visiting the Leper Chapel

Group Visits: We welcome visits by organised groups, when booked in advance. To book a visit please e-mail or call the Cambridge Past, Present & Future Office (Tel: 01223 243830).

Parking: Please note there is no parking at the Chapel itself (please do not block the private driveway to Barnwell Junction). Please park in nearby streets or come by bus, bike or on foot.

Access: Access on foot is from Newmarket Road, via a long flight of shallow steps. We regret that access for wheelchair users is not available at the present time.


It is FREE to visit the Leper Chapel on Open days

Public Transport
by bus - use the Stagecoach Citi 3 service and get off at the Coldhams Common/Ditton Walk stop. It is also possible to use the Newmarket Road P & R bus.

Caring for The Leper Chapel - How you can help

Leper Chapel - entranceThe Chapel is held in much affection by the local community and people are fascinated by its history. Events held at the Chapel are always well supported, and we would like to extend its use for educational visits, arts and cultural and community events.

Using the Chapel to its full potential is constrained, however, by the lack of basic facilities. Together with the Friends of the Leper Chapel, we are developing plans:

  • for a small building at the rear of the Chapel to provide toilets, kitchen and storage, together with
  • improved access for disabled visitors.

We also have further work to do to conserve the fabric of this important historic building - which will cost at least £50,000.

Please support our work maintaining and improving the Leper Chapel use for the community by clicking here to find out more about donating to or joining Cambridge Past, Present and Future.

Contact and Further Information:

Contact Cambridge Past, Present & Future Head Office
Friends of the Leper Chapel Information

Further Reading

'A Brief History of Stourbridge Leper Chapel' by Dr Barry Pearce to order please see our Publication List (pdf file 15kb).

Cambridge Past, Present & Future