The Chapel of St Mary the Virgin stands beside the drive leading to Etal Manor, at the east end of Etal village. As you pass between the nice little gate lodge on one side of the entrance drive and the stunningly precisely cut hedge on the other, it feels a little as if you are walking into someone's front garden. You are, but a sign set within the hedge makes it clear that the chapel is open to visitors.
Another sign, beside the drive just beyond the chapel, gently deters further exploration in the direction of Etal Manor, and should be respected.
St Mary the Virgin is set back a little on the right hand, or southern side, of the drive. With its steeply pitched roof and centrally positioned bellcote the church has a slightly odd but extremely attractive air of a Swiss chalet. A quick stroll around the outside of the building reveals a more complex form than is at first obvious. The external shape and design of the nave and chancel is reflected is smaller form in a chapel on the southern side of the building.
We usually find ourselves tending to agree with Pevsner's views on most things architectural, but the current edition of the Pevsner Architectural Guide to Northumberland is unduly sniffy about St Mary the Virgin, commenting that the church is "not an outstanding work of the architect" before going on to discuss the "excessively steep roofs" of the nave and chancel, and the south chapel "under [an] exceedingly steep roof of its own". Everyone to their own, perhaps, but we like it.
The architect in question was William Butterfield, a man with close links to the Gothic Revival movement and who was noted for his use of polychromy or, to put it another way, the use of multiple colours in buildings. This was applied to the Chapel of St Mary the Virgin in a fairly muted way, with walls of pink sandstone enlivened by bands of grey stone.
St Mary the Virgin was built in 1858, and was commissioned by Lady Augusta Fitzclarence as a memorial to her husband, Lt. Gen. Lord Frederick Fitzclarence, who had died on active service in India in 1854. Lord Frederick Fitzclarence was an illegitimate son of King William IV and his mistress, Dorothea Jordan, and had inherited Etal Estate while pursuing his military career. A rather narrow opening beside the organ gives access to the south chapel, which is dominated by the tomb-like memorial placed here to Lord Frederick by his widow. This is decorated with a foliated cross and a sword, befitting a warrior.
The main space within the church is divided roughly 60/40 between the nave and the chancel, with the two separated by a Gothic chancel arch. The two areas have very distinct decor, and the overall impression is of comfortable spaces that feel just right.