The history of the chapel of the former Middlesex Hospital.
Not many people know about the Fitzrovia Chapel. This beautiful hidden gem is tucked away in a quiet modern apartment and business complex just off Mortimer Street. I first heard about it when it took part in Open House London in 2015, but unfortunately didn’t get round to visiting it until now.
The reason it’s probably so little known is down to fact the chapel was built exclusively for patients, staff and visitors to former Middlesex Hospital in Fitzrovia, which closed in 2005. The Middlesex was a teaching hospital and opened in 1745. The chapel was designed by Victorian architect John Loughborough Pearson (1817-1897) in 1891 as a memorial to the hospital’s former chairman Major Ross MP. The construction was funded by two of the hospital’s top surgeons Lord Webb Johnson (1880-1958) and Sir John Bland Sutton (1855-1936). Pearson was renowned for the Gothic Revival style of architecture and focused his career on churches and cathedrals. He worked on Truro Cathedral, St Augustine’s (Kilburn), St Margaret’s Westminster, Bristol Cathedral and Wakefield Cathedral, among many others. Building the Chapel took decades and following John’s death in 1897, his architect son Frank (1864-1947) took over managing the project, which was finally completed in the mid-1920s. However, by the time the Chapel opened in 1929, the surrounding hospital buildings were deemed structurally unsound and were rebuilt, opening in 1935.
From outside, the building is simple red brick, with no hint of what beauty lies inside. Entering the Chapel you are met by memorial plaques of white marble commemorating medical staff and benefactors of the hospital. Stepping into the nave, you are greeted by a stunning gold mosaic ceiling stretching back to the chancel. The walls comprise of marble and stained glass windows. Looking around the intimate space, it’s no surprise to learn the architects were inspired by the churches and Gothic architecture of Germany and Italy, with Frank particularly finding influence in Venice. The chancel’s mosaic (above the altar) was installed by craftsmen from Italy and was completed between 1897-1901.
For decades, the Middlesex Hospital Chapel (as it was known) was a place to find solace and comfort during a stressful time for the patients, visitors and staff. When the hospital closed in 2005, the chapel fell into disuse. Rain seeped into the old roof and damaged the mosaic and marble. Although the site was quickly bought by a developer, the financial crash in the late Noughties hampered work. Finally, in 2011, conservation architects Caroe & Partners took over restoration of the chapel, which had been Grade II listed in Feb 1970 and at one point ended up on the Historic England’s at risk register. The restoration and preservation was a huge £3million project, with up to 70 per cent of the ceiling’s gold leaf required re-gilding.
Today, the chapel goes by the name Fitzrovia Chapel and is the only surviving building of the former hospital. It sits in a quiet corner of Pearson Square – a new complex of high-rise flats and businesses – named after the architect who envisioned this stunning little place of worship. Today, it is available for non-religious or civil weddings, art exhibitions and other community events. It is occasionally open to the public and in September 2017, will be open during Open House London.
- Fitzrovia Chapel, Pearson Square, Fitzrovia, W1T 3BF. Nearest station: Goodge Street or Tottenham Court Road. The chapel is open to visitors on Wednesdays 11am-4pm with free entry. For more information, visit the Fitzrovia Chapel website.
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