The Leper Chapel dates from around 1125 and is the second oldest complete building in Cambridge.

It was originally built as part of an isolation hospital for lepers, and has survived the centuries largely because of its association with the Stourbridge Fair.

The Fair began in the 12th Century and, in 1211, King John granted a Charter to the Leper Hospital allowing it to hold a three-day market on the Vigil of Holy Cross Day. Rent from the stalls added to the hospital’s income, otherwise derived from begging and from rent from land holdings.

The Fair grew to become one of the largest fairs in Europe by the 18th Century and existed for more than 700 years. By the 16th Century it lasted from 24 August to 29 September. There are references to the Fair in the writings of diarist Samuel Pepys and Daniel Defoe wrote a fascinating detailed description of his visit to the Fair in 1725.

By 1279 the hospital had ceased to admit lepers and the Chapel became a free chapel, not attached to a parish. A decline in leprosy could not have been the sole reason, as a new leper hospital was built in Cambridge in 1361. The growing size of the Fair and the wealth it attracted may have been a more important factor.

By 1750 the Chapel had ceased to be a place of worship and was being used to store stalls between Fairs as well as acting as a pub during the Fair. In 1783 it was advertised for sale as a store shed. Subsequently, it changed hands several times until 1816 when it was bought and restored by Thomas Kerrrich. He gifted it to Cambridge University who constantly found it difficult to maintain. The University put it into a sound condition for religious services and then gave it to Cambridge Past, Present & Future in 1951. A few years later the charity purchased the meadows next to the Chapel in order to protect the setting of this historic building.

Click here to read a 15-page "Brief History of the Leper Chapel" by Barry Pearce.

A book "Cambridge and Stourbridge Fair" by local historian Honor Ridout is available online and from local bookshops.

Click here to read a report "A Brief History & Analysis of the Leper Chapel" by Cortney Gjesfjeld. This is from an architectural and building conservation perspective.