Built from love, it is far from the lavish scale of the Taj Mahal, but the sentiment behind the red sandstone chapel in an Arbroath cemetery was every bit as passionate.

Nineteenth century artist Patrick Allan Fraser wanted to construct an exquisite chapel of rest that would pay suitable homage to his adored late wife, Elizabeth.

The result would be an unconventional and remarkable architectural Arts & Crafts gem, with breathtaking carvings, towering pillars, elaborate towers and turrets, and intricate details that pay homage to the beauty of nature.

Although a treasured feature of the town for more 140 years, eventually the A-listed Fraser Mortuary Chapel was showing signs of needing some tender loving care.

Placed on the Scotland’s Buildings at Risk register in 2008, some of its external carvings were starting to erode, and one of its lavish parapets was in need of extra support.

Now, exactly 150 years since Elizabeth’s death at the age of just 38, there are new moves to secure the future of the remarkable homage to love and give it a fresh role as venue for art events and community gatherings.The Herald:

To mark its new era, the changing of the clocks and the arrival of winter, pupils from two Arbroath primary schools will gather on Sunday at the town’s Western Cemetery, for a lantern-lit walk to the chapel.

The event, All aglow, will see the chapel doors unlocked and the lanterns, each with an individual design, placed inside as dusk falls, creating a warm glow to signify the chapel’s rebirth.

It has been organised by Hospitalfield, the Arbroath-based cultural organisation based at Hospitalfield House, the grand country house which the couple remodelled into an Arts & Crafts treasure, and Scotland’s first art college.

It marks the start of a series of events and discussions aimed at bringing the chapel back into more regular use, as well as repairs to ensure it is protected into the future.

Part of the chapel’s revival includes a new name: having revealed plans to revive it with the local community, one of the first suggestions was to switch from The Mortuary Chapel to The Memorial Chapel, to avoid putting off young people from visiting.

Lucy Byatt, Director of Hospitalfield said: “Like all things that spin through time, the chapel remains the same, but the context changes around it and now is the time for us to bring it back to use.”

The Herald: Carved pillars inside The Memorial Chapel feature flora and fauna of the surrounding areaCarved pillars inside The Memorial Chapel feature flora and fauna of the surrounding area (Image: Hospitalfield)

Arbroath-born Patrick Allan – who, unusually for the times, opted to take his wife’s surname – was the son of a weaving merchant who swapped training as a solicitor to pursue his passion for art.

He had been commissioned to illustrate an edition of Sir Walter Scott’s The Antiquary in 1842, and arrived at Hospitalfield House, the country pile that has inspired the author to create ‘Monkbarns’, the home of the story's hero, Jonathan Oldbuck.

There he met Elizabeth, a widow eight years his senior, heiress to the grand country property and who shared his passion for art.

They married the following year and set about a substantial remodelling of Hospitalfield House, embracing medieval Gothic architecture which harked back to the property’s origins as a 13th century leprosy and plague hospice, founded by monks from nearby Arbroath Abbey.

Using local craftsmen and artists they expanded the house and created a significant early Arts & Crafts building, resplendent with crenelated parapets, crow-stepped gables and oriel windows, with rooms stuffed with art.

The Herald: Highly carved wooden pillars echo Arts & Crafts styleHighly carved wooden pillars echo Arts & Crafts style (Image: Hospitalfield)

When Elizabeth died in 1873, Patrick poured heart and soul into creating a place of eternal rest for his wife, her parents and, when the time came, for him.

The chapel took nine years to build, with architectural features that echo the Scots Baronial and European Gothic styles of the couple’s Hospitalfield House home and stunning carved wood interiors.

Ms Byatt added: “The Memorial Chapel is an architectural wonder of international significance and one of the best buildings of its date in Scotland.

“Built by local craftspeople here in Arbroath using sandstone from a nearby quarry, its design by Patrick Allan Fraser showcases the best of the Arts & Crafts movement.

“Intricate carvings in the building celebrate local flora and fauna here in Angus and the many references to Elizabeth Allan Fraser and her family share highlight the love between them both.

“By the 1870s Allan Fraser had been working with a team of craftsmen, their work can be seen at Hospitalfield House and other buildings across this part of Angus and beyond.

“The chapel presented a special opportunity for them and the teams of apprentices working under them, to show off their skills.

“The use of local red sandstone from local quarries, the depiction of local flora and fauna were all central to the values of the Arts & Crafts movement.”

The chapel features breathtaking architectural carvings which have seen it described as “one of the most splendid monuments in Britain” and likened to a miniature version of the 15th century Rosslyn Chapel in Midlothian.

Alongside extraordinary hand carvings of local plants and animals is one highly detailed frieze depicting a Scottish funeral procession with pall bearers, coffin, and mourners.

The Herald: The wooden caskets of Patrick Allan-Fraser and wife Elizabeth are covered in beautifully carved plants and flowersThe wooden caskets of Patrick Allan-Fraser and wife Elizabeth are covered in beautifully carved plants and flowers (Image: Hospitalfield)

A progressive thinker, Allan Fraser opted against having the chapel consecrated, so it could be used by all religions. Then, having spent around £20,000 on its construction, the grieving widower moved to Rome.

He died, childless, in 1890, having endowed the Arbroath house to the Hospitalfield Trust as an art college, and the chapel to the town council. He is interred alongside his wife in the chapel; their wooden caskets featuring amazingly intricate maze of carved flowers and plants.

Hospitalfield went on to become a focal point for Scottish art and artists, among them James Cowie and Joan Eardley, through residencies and fellowships. But as time passed, the chapel’s doors rarely opened.

When Hospitalfield Trust took over a long-term lease for the chapel five years ago, it unlocked vital funding needed for its restoration.

The Trust is now working with locals to discuss the future of the building.

The Herald: Carved detail from one pillar within The Memorial Chapel, ArbroathCarved detail from one pillar within The Memorial Chapel, Arbroath (Image: Hospitalfield)

Ms Byatt added: “The first thing they asked for is could we change the name from Mortuary Chapel to Memorial Chapel. The concern being that using the term ‘mortuary’, in this time, would be off putting particularly for young people.”

Work to restore and update the chapel is being planned as part of Hospitalfield’s Future Plan capital development programme, supported by the Tay Cities Deal and National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The Herald: View from the west facing balcony View from the west facing balcony (Image: Hospitalfield)

Graeme Dey, MSP for Angus South said: “Historic buildings like this are such important assets to our communities, and of course Arbroath has a particularly strong offering in this regard.

“I look forward to seeing the Chapel’s restoration progress, with the clear benefit this can bring both in terms of opening up an incredibly grand space for local occasions and adding to the tourist draw of the town and wider region.”