There are some places in London that simply take your breath away. The Arab Hall in Leighton House is one of those. The Soane Museum is another, as is Two Temple Place. Then I visited Fitzrovia Chapel where every square inch screams of bling without a Swarovski crystal in sight. This may just be London’s most dazzling architectural space, and chances are, you don’t even know it exists.
Strolling through Fitzrovia, you might come across a pleasant but unprepossessing red brick church tucked away in Pearson Square. This is a case of never judging a chapel by its cover – you’ll definitely want to take a peek at this jewel-box Byzantine interior. And yes, it’s free.
The 1891 chapel was originally designed by John Loughborough Pearson, the Gothic Revival genius behind Two Temple Place, Truro Cathedral, and Cliveden’s jaw-dropping interiors (his motto was that his designs should bring people to their knees.) It was completed by his son, Frank Loughborough Pearson who added the mosaic flourishes and much of the bling.
The Grade II listed chapel was originally part of the Middlesex Hospital that closed in 2005 and was subsequently demolished. The site was bought by the Candy Brothers who were going to wave their über-expensive developer’s wand over it, but they pulled out. In 2013, new developers took over the site, and following a £3 million restoration job, Fitzrovia Chapel opened its newly-buffed interior in September 2015. Today, the Fitzrovia Chapel is the only surviving building of the Middlesex Hospital whose notable patients include Rudyard Kipling, Peter Sellers and Winston Churchill.
Architects Caroe and Partners were tasked with the extensive restoration and repair work. The roof was replaced, mosaics were fixed and the stained-glass windows were renovated off-site and re-installed. In some areas, up to 70 percent of the gold leaf had been damaged, so most of the tiles needed re-gilding. And what had hitherto been a candle-lit chapel now needed a twenty first century upgrade to electric lighting.
During the restoration work, mosaics were fixed and 70 percent of the gold leaf had to be replaced.
The chapel font is carved from a solid block of green marble and is a copy of the font in Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia.
The sublime mosaics were designed by Frank Pearson who was inspired by Italian work found in Venice and Rome.
Rudyard Kipling died in the Middlesex Hospital. His body was held in state in the chapel, prior to his burial in Westminster Abbey.
Seventeen marbles were used in the chapel, imported mostly from Italy.
The original organ was made by Lewis and Co in 1870 but was removed and replaced with an Allen electric organ. The pipes, though, are still original.
On 22 January 2017, the first episode of the BBC thriller Apple Tree Yard was filmed in the Fitzrovia Chapel.
Many of the windows commemorate those who died in the First and Second World War.
The Fitzrovia Chapel is not consecrated and is available for non-religious ceremonies and weddings, exhibitions and photo shoots. It also runs events throughout the year and is open to the public on Wednesdays from 11am to 4pm.
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