Fitzrovia Chapel: A Historic Gem in Central London

Nestled in Pearson Square, Fitzrovia Chapel is a hidden gem in the heart of London. Despite its unassuming exterior, the chapel boasts a rich history that spans centuries. Once a hospital chapel, it has survived demolition and closure to become a privately owned exhibition space that preserves its unique character and beauty.

In this article, readers will discover the fascinating history of Fitzrovia Chapel, from its humble beginnings to its present-day status as a beloved cultural landmark. Through exploring its past, visitors can gain a deeper appreciation for the chapel’s enduring significance and understand why it’s worth a visit.

Key Takeaways

  • Fitzrovia Chapel is a hidden gem in the center of London with a rich history.
  • It was once a hospital chapel and has survived demolition and closure to become a privately owned exhibition space.
  • Visitors can gain a deeper appreciation for the chapel’s significance by exploring its past.

Why Visit Fitzrovia Chapel?

Exhibitions + Meditation

Fitzrovia Chapel is a Grade II-listed chapel that showcases some of the finest Gothic revivalist architecture in London. Although it was never officially consecrated, the chapel remains a popular destination for people who want to take time to reflect and admire the bright and airy interior and stunning stained glass windows.

The chapel is open to the public every Wednesday from 11 am to 5 pm, providing visitors with the opportunity to explore the site and take in some of the finest artistic displays in the city. Additionally, the chapel hosts meditation sessions and is available for hire for special occasions such as weddings and corporate functions.

An Impressive Renovation

Fitzrovia Chapel underwent a complete restoration between 2013 and 2015, resulting in a beautiful and lasting testament to the rich history of the Middlesex Hospital and the Gothic revivalist era. The renovation has transformed the chapel into a stunning venue that showcases the beauty of the past while providing a modern and comfortable space for visitors to enjoy.

The renovation project has preserved the original features of the chapel, including the stained glass windows and intricate carvings, while also updating the space with modern amenities such as heating and lighting. The result is a unique and impressive venue that is a must-visit for anyone interested in Gothic revivalist architecture and the history of London.

The History of Fitzrovia Chapel

Foundations of a New Chapel

The Fitzrovia Chapel has a rich history that dates back to the mid-19th century when people recognized the need for a space of quiet reflection, prayer, and peace in the fast-paced and often mentally draining environment of hospital wards and surgeries. However, there was no money or appetite among hospital governors to meet the pastoral and spiritual needs of patients and staff.

In the 1890s, the Board of Governors of Middlesex Hospital keenly felt the absence of space within the confines of the hospital to nurture and provide for the tough times experienced by the hospital community. Suggestions of a memorial to the late local MP, Major Ross, who had chaired weekly board meetings at the hospital for more than two decades, had been part of lengthy discussions. Approaches were made to friends of Ross, asking if they wished to contribute to a memorial fund in his memory, and that such a memorial would take the form of a hospital chapel.

A Lengthy Build

The board approached John Loughborough Pearson, one of the era’s best-renowned architects of churches and chapels, to design a building to suit their needs, fit the small plot of land, and “bring people to their knees.” Pearson’s design indeed contained the wow factor, meeting the needs and providing an architectural masterpiece that comprised all of the most beautiful features of the Gothic revivalist design.

Construction began in 1891 after Pearson had spent months traveling Europe to gather materials and the best craftspeople capable of realizing his vision. Although the chapel’s impressive shell and exterior were completed within a year of the foundations going down, it would take over 40 years of painstaking toil before the chapel was finished to fully open its doors and present the hospital community with its beautiful, bewildering oasis of calm.

Pearson died in 1897, and letters from his son, Frank, to the board of governors stated that he was determined to complete his father’s work. Piece by piece, the interior of the chapel took shape. Artisans from mainland Europe installed wall panels, laid intricate floor mosaics, built the baptistry, and designed the excellent stained glass that shone and cast colorful shadows throughout the building. The work was time-consuming due to the vast expertise required and the detail that went into the design. Delays in funding contributed to the lengthy build time as monies were donated piecemeal, funding single features or specific items at a time. There were long periods when no work took place in the chapel. But – a gothic triumph – the chapel was finally completed in 1935.

The Unconsecrated Chapel

The opening service in the chapel took place on Christmas morning in 1891. From then on, it became a regular place of refuge for hospital staff, patients, and their families, even as work continued on the spectacular interior. Although the chapel received a blessing from a London bishop in the late 19th Century, the building was never consecrated by any Christian denomination, as is the case with all hospital chapels and other public chapels for contemplation. The non-denominational existence of the chapel ensured it was open to people of all faiths. Indeed, at times, a rabbi worked alongside the hospital chaplain.

The Fitzrovia Chapel survived heavy bombing during World War II to serve the Middlesex Hospital community for 115 years before merging with nearby UCH. At this point, the building was no longer required. As the hospital was demolished, the remarkable building emerged into the public consciousness for the first time.

Preservation and an Arts Space

The NHS sold the land on which the Middlesex Hospital stood for development. It was agreed that the developer should contribute towards the building’s restoration and hand over ownership to a charitable foundation to see it serve the local community as a place for the arts. Between 2013 and 2015, restoration took place, with repairs to sections of the mosaic ceiling and a new lighting system installed that uplights some of the chapel’s most incredible features.

The Fitzrovia Chapel Foundation now manages the chapel, and it is a secular chapel used for non-religious weddings, civil partnerships, baby namings, and memorial services. It also serves as one of London’s most beautiful art exhibition spaces, hosting several outstanding displays since 2017. Notable displays have included The Ward, which followed the lives of four young men on London’s first AIDS ward at the Middlesex Hospital, and Everybody was Furious, which focused on the former Fitzrovia resident Nina Hamnett. Others include Portraits of NHS Heroes, which celebrated the nurses and NHS staff during the COVID-19 pandemic, and a photographic exhibition of nurses by American photographer Lee Miller during her travels across Europe during World War II.

Fitzrovia Chapel: Practical Information

  • Address: 2 Pearson Square, London, W1T 3BF
  • Opening Times: Wednesdays, 11 am to 4 pm
  • Website: [Not provided]
  • Price: Free