If you’re wandering down Mayfair’s Curzon Street, you might spy a grand-looking church. You might want to pop inside for a look….
Oh, that’s not what I had expected.
This is, or was, in fact, sort of still is, the Third Church of Christ Scientist, a branch of The First Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston, Massachusetts and was the third church to be founded in London by local Christian Scientists, hence its title of ‘Third’ church. Built between 1908-11, this was a grand church, but in 1984, the main part was demolished to be replaced with the offices we see there today.
Which was certainly unexpected.
The First Church of Christ, Scientist was founded in 1879 in Massachusetts and grew rapidly. Despite the name, Christian Scientists avoid science, especially medical science in favour of prayer, which is about as effective a treatment as you might expect. Between the 1880s and 1990s, parents and others were prosecuted for, and in a few cases convicted of, manslaughter or neglect.
In recent decades, the followers of this form of Christianity have declined
But back at the turn of the 20th century, the church was growing fast, and their London followers were able to buy up a plot of land surrounding a mews in Mayfair for a church building.
Designed by the firm of architects, Lanchester and Rickards, the church was designed with a grand frontage and a large barrel roof hall behind with enough space for 1,000 people.
In a way, this is two buildings, as the frontage is very different to the hall, and if you didn’t realise, you might assume they were by different architects.
The hall was impressive though, with a very wide open space lacking the galleries around the sides that were common to churches of the time. The wide span was possible in part to building the main structure of the church from concrete to give it the necessary strength. Looking at overhead photos, it looks as if the church building has narrow spaces on either side, which is doubtless how they were able to let enough light in from the side windows in the ceiling. The curved ceiling means that all the offices were put into the stone-clad front building, which also included a second smaller hall on the first floor.
Completed in 1911, the Lower Hall was made available to the public as an air raid shelter during WW1 and WW2. From August 1940 it was also made available as a temporary refuge for 200-300 people rendered homeless by the air raids. One night there were 700 people given access. On only one Sunday, in October 1940 was there no Sunday service in the church – due to an unexploded bomb in the mews at the back of the church.
Eventually though with a shrinking congregation no longer needing such a large hall, in 1984, the church decided to create a smaller hall in the front part of the church building, and clear the rest for conversion into flats and offices.
And that’s what is here today.
The courtyard almost reminds me of Islamic gardens, with fountains and trees surrounded by the buildings. In fact, they nearly removed the fountains a few years ago but I am pleased to see they didn’t. The replacement plans looked quite plain in comparison.
So if you’re walking past and spy the doors are open, do go up those original stone steps and enjoy this most unexpected of church interiors.