Just under 300 years ago, a new church opened on land granted to four undertakers on a peppercorn rent, and it’s still there, standing proud in modern Mayfair.
It was Sir Richard Grosvenor who agreed to lease a plot of land in his developing estate to a syndicate of four “undertakers” led by Benjamin Timbrell, a prosperous local builder.
The lease, for 99 years, was on a peppercorn rent.
Sir Richard laid the foundation stone on 7th April 1730, and the chapel opened almost exactly a year later. Sir Richard lived just long enough to see the chapel open, as he died the following year, aged just 43.
The architecture of the church as seen externally is distinctive, and if it looks a bit American, that’s because it was based on the recently completed St Martin in the Fields. The architect published a book about the design, and it became effectively a blueprint for many New England churches — so today this British precursor looks American.
Coincidentally, the chapel was used during WWII by American soldiers based locally and by staff at the nearby US Embassy until it decamped to Nine Elms.
When the lease expired in 1829, the chapel was brought within the parochial system as a Chapel of ease to St George’s, Hanover Square.
From the outside, it presents a simple design of brick and stone edging with a church steeple and clock in the centre. The whole church had been blackened by pollution, so it must have been quite a visual shock to locals when the dark brick and steeple were cleaned in 1951, restoring their original colours.
The modest brick exterior contains an elegant white-painted interior flooded with light from clear-glazed windows. The interior was a classic Georgian dark wood church until 1912, when it was refurbished by John Ninian Comper to give it the light appearance that it has today.
A screen of white reredos is an unusual sight in a chapel these days, but here they remain, although were once painted with scenes from the ten commandments and are now plain white. Peer through into the sanctuary, and there’s a rich blue and gold ceiling with angels supporting a sunburst.
Above the door is the organ, which is the latest in a long line of organs, the current one dating to 1991.
The chapel’s location traditionally made it popular for the wealthy and well connected, and scanning newspaper archives, in the 19th century, they’re packed full of reports of weddings by Prince this, Lady that, visits by Dukes and so on.
These days it’s rather quieter, but also open Mon-Fri to visit, so if in the area, pop in for a look.
Yes, the wedding at the start of the Richard Curtis film Love Actually was filmed in the Grosvenor Chapel.