The Fitzrovia Chapel is as neat as a new pin; small, unassuming, red brick exterior, curved apse and all unnecessary details out of sight. A building with hospital corners and north of Oxford Street it was at the heart of Middlesex Hospital until the 250-year-old institution closed in 2005 and its site was demolished for development.
The deal was that the Grade II* listed chapel should be preserved, so a towering, sharp-edged apartment now forms the core of the cluster of offices and restaurants. The nave overlooks The Arber Garden restaurant next door, a table for two framed in the arched entrance. A discreet glass and steel extension has been added as office space at the rear, and outside there are young magnolia trees, outdoor seating and a huge stone artwork.
You won’t believe your eyes when they open the door. It’s as if a side chapel was stolen from St Mark’s in Venice and parachuted into a completely mundane setting. Light reflects off the vaulted ceiling of the dazzling golden mosaic. Gothic stained-glass windows shimmer with saints and doctors—sometimes both—and a corridor of pale blue mosaic tiles glides into what is strikingly reminiscent of an altar parapet and altar.
He looks religious but is not. It was opened by the Bishop of London, but was never consecrated and has always been open to anyone of any faith or belief at all.
The chapel was built thanks to donations and was commissioned by gothic-loving religious architect John Loughborough Pearson, although he died before it was built. His son Frank took over and was responsible for most of the gorgeous interior.
There are 17 different marble and mosaic tiles on each side of the nave, as lively as butterfly wings and with transepts. The entrance narthex is more restrained, covered with gilded white marble memorial plaques of the same size, with names, dates and causes of death.
“It costs 20 guineas each for big and good,” said one of the two volunteer guides, a former Middlesex nursing student. But there are also smaller ones. They were in a recessed passage; Plaques to nurses who died of typhus, typhoid fever, flu or scarlet fever.
“I think I remember him,” said Brigadier General Sir Geoffrey Hardy-Roberts next to a plaque. “He was a great manager. would come to the canal [the ward’s laundry/bathing area] in the early hours and ‘Do you have enough sheets, Nurse?’ say.”
It’s oddly poignant to be in this jewelery box left over from bustling hospital life long ago rolled into nearby UCH. The nave, where Rudyard Kipling’s body lay before his burial, is now used for secular wedding ceremonies or arts events and private functions.
It just shows that the developers – in this case London-based Exemplar, working with contractors Sir Robert McAlpine on a flawless, £3m heritage restoration – are upping the stakes.
A small, absolutely non-religious miracle.
The Fitzrovia Chapel (020 3409 9895; fitzroviachapel.org) opens most Wednesdays between 11am and 4pm. Check the event schedule before visiting.
Six more beautifully decorated chapels
Sandham Memorial Chapel, Hampshire
Another plain exterior that hides a gem. The ‘Holy Box’, 19 of Sir Stanley Spencer’s murals inspired by Giotto’s work, was commissioned in 1926 to commemorate a soldier killed in the First World War.
King’s College London Strand Campus, London
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