For sale: Chapel with fine view of heavens

Robert Bows at The Old Chapel in Leathley. Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe.
Robert Bows at The Old Chapel in Leathley. Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe.
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Light pollution is a major issue for astronomers, so when Robert Bows decided to build his own observatory, the hunt was on to secure a site with dark skies.

The amateur stargazer found it after spotting a For Sale sign for Leathley Little Chapel, near Harrogate. The grounds provide the perfect south-facing view of the galaxy, while the building is now one of the country’s most unusual hobby rooms.

Mr Bows, who spent £7,000 on the Pulsar rotating dome and powerful telescope, has enjoyed a privileged view of the sky at night with regular sightings of Jupiter and the colourful Orion nebular. The former Methodist chapel is now his very own centre for astrology and cosmology.

“We were looking for somewhere that would facilitate our personal interests and somewhere in the countryside with dark skies was a must because I wanted my own observatory.

“When we saw the chapel, we knew it would be ideal,” says Mr Bows, a former university lecturer, who lives in Otley.

The semi-retired couple are now looking for a buyer for the grade two star listed property, which could be converted to residential use, subject to planning permission. It is for sale with Hunters in Otley for £150,000.

“Ideally it would be someone with an interest in astronomy because of the observatory,” says Mr Bows.

He and his wife bought Leathley Little Chapel in 2003 and spent £15,000 renovating it.

The first job was to make it watertight, re-point and repair and decorate it, while taking care not to disturb its historic features, including three tiered pews and the pulpit.

Although used for regular worship from 1826 until its recent closure, it had no running water and no toilet, although it has got electricity.

Chapel-goers must have made their own arrangements or, perhaps crossed their legs, but Mr and Mrs Bows came up with another solution.

They created a makeshift toilet outside using a lean-to and a portable loo with a caravan-style cassette. They also made a kitchenette with a Calor gas stove and bottled water.

“We have enquired and whoever buys it next should easily be able to connect to the sewage system and water supply as there are pipes on the street close by,” says Mr Bows.

“We never bothered because we didn’t need to. If someone wants to convert it into a home that’s a different matter, and that does seem the most likely use.

“We had an architect look at it and he thought it would be possible to take a proposal forward for residential conversion.”

Harrogate Council also says it would look at a proposal to remove the pews which, although historically important, restrict the amount of useable space.

Mr and Mrs Bows are selling the chapel and their home in Otley to buy one property that will fulfil all their needs.

“It’s a beautiful spot up there in Leathley but we’d like somewhere where we can combine everything,” said Mr Bows.

“We’re looking for a house with land in an area with dark skies so I can have an observatory. Another interest we have is growing our own fruit and veg, so we’d like to expand that and find somewhere with more land where we can put up polytunnels.”

For further details of the Leathley Chapel, contact Hunters, Kirkgate, Otley, tel: 01943 660002.