Basil Fulford Lowther Clarke’s passion for churches and church architecture was accompanied by a desire to encourage interest in them and to share what made them special. All this resulted in many published works covering a wide variety of topics – and it is something that we aim to continue in London’s Unseen Chapels.

London is teeming with chapels of all shapes and sizes, often out of view of the main tourist routes. Sadly, then, many people miss them. But chapels have much to offer in addition to their spiritual value. They are steeped in history, concerning both individual people and international events, provide friendly and welcoming spaces, and have for hundreds of years been places in which people have found respite and comfort. Canon Clarke knew all of this, and his copious notes on the history and architecture of the chapels offers a starting point for anyone with even a cursory interest in London’s chapels.

In this, the first feature on ChurchDays for London’s Unseen Chapels, we want to provide a selection of chapels which serve to illustrate these themes best and hopefully to inspire people to visit and to find out for themselves!

For Everyone

In a broad sense, chapels are, more often than not, for the use of everyone. But the ones listed here are ones that were constructed with a specific person or group of people in mind. They show the multi-purpose use of chapels and how they can welcome often-neglected groups of society.

 

Chapel of St Christopher, Great Ormond Street

Great Ormond Street is a world-famous children’s hospital, but it is equally famous for the chapel of St Christopher, which was built in 1875 especially for the young patients. Not only is St Christopher’s for children, it is built on a scale for children. Miniature pews and the ‘teddy bear choir’ provide a quiet and welcoming space for children who are facing extreme difficulties. Churches and chapels are often thought of as very adult places, traditionally places of sincerity and often not constructed with children in mind. St Christopher’s, on the other hand, provides a striking example of an alternative.

The Chapel is open at all times for quiet and prayer.

Chapel Website          Find Chapel on Map

Mary Sumner House Chapel

The Mary Sumner House Chapel is a place with a sharp focus on women, being part of the headquarters of the Mothers’ Union. It is full of images and artwork celebrating women and the international outreach of the organisation and the work it does. The House and its chapel are eponymous with the founder of the Mothers’ Union, but Mary Sumner is not the only person celebrated. Windows show images of Julian of Norwich and St Hilda of Whitby, and the roll of honour remembers the names of members of the Union who lost their lives during wartime.

The chapel is not currently open to the public without appointment, please visit the website below for more details.

Chapel Website                    Find Chapel on Map

Fulham Palace Chapel

Fulham Palace Chapel is an example of a chapel arguably at the other end of the spectrum. Fulham Palace was home to the Bishops of London for over 1,000 years and the chapel there (in all its different iterations) remains the private chapel of the bishops. For hundreds of years, then, this particular chapel was built for and would have been used only by a very small number of people associated with an important man in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. But today the chapel is open to visitors so all can experience and share the wonderful architecture and art inside.

The Palace is open to visitors from 12:30pm on weekdays, more information is available at the website below. Photo credit: Kasja Kax.

Chapel Website          Find Chapel on Map

Local and National History

Chapels may seem, at first, very local buildings. This is not surprising, as they were often built to serve the spiritual needs of a small community. But as well as telling stories of local people, there is also much to be learnt from chapels of pivotal national and international events.

 

St Peter ad Vincula, The Tower of London

Some of the pivotal events in the history of England, and specifically in its religious history, were the reformations of the sixteenth century. Henry VIII’s actions changed the religious, cultural and political climate for centuries to come, and nowhere are the effects of this turbulent time better felt than in the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London. Part of the reason for Henry VIII’s break with Rome was his desire to marry Anne Boleyn, but the romance eventually turned tragic, and Anne was buried by the altar here after her execution. Buried here too are Thomas More, who was executed for his beliefs, and Lady Jane Grey, the nine-day queen of England.

The Chapel is open along with the Tower from 9am to 5:30pm.

Chapel Website          Find Chapel on Map

Temple Church

Temple Church is perhaps the chapel with the most significant connections to events of both national and international significance. It was founded as the English home of the Knights Templar, an international organisation of warrior-monks, the purpose of which was to defend both pilgrims and the Christian lands in the Holy Land. The tomb of William Marshal also links Temple Church to Magna Carta. Marshal was fundamental in both setting out the terms of the charter and organising its sealing at Runnymede. For 800 years Magna Carta has been employed as a beacon of liberty and democracy, and Temple Church is a physical embodiment of the same.

The church is open during the week, typically from 10am to 4pm, and visitors are more than welcome.

Church Website          Find Church on Map

St Thomas' Hospital Chapel

The chapel at St Thomas’ Hospital has intimate connections with Florence Nightingale, and thus not only with the Crimean War but also with the development of modern nursing throughout the world. Florence opened the Nightingale Training School at the hospital in 1860, and it was upon her recommendations about the environment in which the sick should be treated that the chapel was designed. Her experiences in the Crimea and the dreadful conditions wounded soldiers were in had a profound influence on subsequent developments in the field, both at home, as in this chapel, and internationally.

The Chapel is open from 7am until 10pm for quiet and prayer.

Chapel Website          Find Chapel on Map

Grand yet Intimate

Chapels are almost always beautiful buildings, in their own way. But when compared to parish churches, and especially cathedrals, their smaller scale provides a warm sense of intimacy. So too do the histories associated with chapels, which provide glimpses into the intimate and personal lives of people in the past.

The Guards Chapel, Wellington Barracks

The Guards Chapel perhaps embodies the intimate grandeur that is potential in chapel architecture better than any other. It is a huge and open space, and the eye is drawn to the commanding golden apse. This is but a hint at the original spectacle, as the chapel was hit by a V-1 in June 1944, killing 121 people. This tragedy, and the subsequent rebuilding provide the intimate aspect of this grand space. The plain style of rebuilding, now decorated with regimental flags, is a reminder of the tragedy of war, but also of the resilience and bravery of the human spirit.

The Chapel is open to all members of the public from 10am to 4pm.

Chapel Website          Find Chapel on Map