In a posh Kensington square, what looks to be a classic Victorian Anglican church is actually a French Catholic convent. It’s owned by the Religious of the Assumption, a Catholic women’s congregation founded in France in 1839, and now an international organisation.
The congregation set up a base in the UK in Earl’s Court in 1857, but were renting the site, so a couple of years later they were able to buy up a large block of houses on Kensington Square. The houses were used for a number of functions, to house the growing order and for a couple of schools. Having moved to Kensington Square, they started building a chapel.
Work started in July 1870, initially only on a small choir behind Numbers 21 and 22, but over the next few years as funds were raised more of the chapel was built and in 1875 the front of the houses were demolished to reveal the chapel behind.
The architect George Goldie went for a design called early French Gothic with a mix of stock bricks and bands of black and red with Bath stone dressings. Inside, a small corridor leads to another set of doors, and then into the main chapel, and a glass wall. Locked.
As it’s a convent, entry is probably barred to mere heathens such as myself, but had I been so minded, there were a few prayer stalls on the outer side of the wall so people can still pray and see the altar.
It’s a plain chapel, with a striking blue ceiling and a high row of stained glass windows. Being Catholic, it’s no surprise to have side chapels as well, and this space has two smaller ones at the rear — and conveniently close to the glass wall.
With the public space being limited to the rear of the chapel, it’s hardly somewhere to say you can pop in for a bit of a break, but if in the area, anything you wouldn’t normally think of looking inside is worth a peek.