Most hospitals, in addition to the more chemical treatments, also offer spiritual guidance to those who want it, and often have a chapel set aside for the purpose of prayer or contemplation. Most hospitals also being fairly modern in design also tend to have rather bland chapels.
However, Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) has something that would delight anyone who likes historic buildings, a chapel that dates from 1875 and built in the High Victorian style that almost out-Pugins Pugin for sheer over the top decoration.
It’s not surprising that the interior reminds you of Pugin, as it was designed by Edward Middleton Barry, third son of Sir Charles Barry (architect, along with Pugin of the Houses of Parliament).
Completed in 1875, it is dedicated to the memory of Caroline, wife of William Henry Barry (eldest son of Sir Charles Barry) who gave £40,000 for the building of the Chapel and provided a stipend for the chaplain.
Two conditions attached to the endowment were that at least one service should be held each week, and that the service should be conducted in accordance with the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England.
It is justifiably described as a real ‘tour de force’ of high Victorian ecclesiastical style, and arguably the most sumptuous hospital chapel in the country. Oscar Wilde said that it is “the most delightful private chapel in London”, and who am I to argue with him?
At first, the Chapel was illuminated with candles from chandeliers hung from the ceiling but, unfortunately, the wax used to fall on the worshippers in the pews! Thanks to the generosity of publishing magnate, Sir John Murray, electric light candles soon replaced the beeswax originals. Although functionally better, beeswax candles do burn with a rather pleasant smell, so the change would have cost a little something in the atmosphere.
Although the chapel appears unchanged, it did undergo a very rude awakening in the late 1980s, when the old hospital was sent to the knackers yard and a new building erected (itself, being rebuilt now). Unfortunately, the chapel was in the wrong place, and as demolition was unthinkable, they managed to construct a concrete raft underneath it and slide the whole chapel to a new location within the hospital grounds.
Popping in to have a look, the chapel is a short walk from the main entrance and signposted. A quick check with the vicar that photography was OK, as the chapel was empty when I visited.
It’s quite a small room, with four rows of seats on either side of the main aisle and a dramatic altar at the end. The terrazzo floor is by the Italian mosaicist Antonio Salviati and is said to be modelled on a pavement in St. Mark’s, Venice.
Actually, the small size adds to the delightful nature of the building, giving it a more intimate feel and making the decoration less excessive than it might appear if in a larger building.
The stained glass depicts the Nativity, the childhood of Christ and biblical scenes connected with children, and above is a series of angels holding tables inscribed with the Christian Virtues.
Being the famous children’s hospital, it is not surprising to see lots of soft-toys dotted around the window sills and behind the altar. These are known as the Teddy Bear Choir, which is a delightful idea. Rather sadly, a notice by the door asked people not to take the bears away. It seems that the darker side of human nature can’t be curbed, even here.
St Christopher’s Chapel is located on the ground floor of the Variety Club Building (VCB) and is open at all times. A historic donation box is by the door if you pay a visit.
More photos in my gallery here.
Article last updated on December 11th, 2020 at 08:17 am