Until fairly recently, there was a large plot of empty land in central London, sealed off, and incongruously, a small church sat alone in the wasteland.
This was the site of the Middlesex Hospital, closed in 2005, the land cleared in 2008, and then left empty until just a couple of years ago.
The former Middlesex Hospital, as with most hospitals cares for the body and the mind, and in the 1920s constructed a small chapel for those whose minds sought higher healing.
When the hospital building was demolished, as it is a Grade II* Listed building, the chapel was preserved, resulting in the bizarre sight for many years of a small “church” sitting in the middle of nothingness.
Until a few years ago, then a cluster of generic modern offices and flats sprung up around it.
During the redevelopment of the site, the chapel was kept stable on a column of soil surrounded by deep piles while the surrounding hospital buildings were demolished for the second time in the chapel’s history. Four floors of basement for the new housing car parks were then excavated round it.
The chapel fabric and interior were then subject to a £2m restoration and the building re-endowed with maintenance funds by the developer. The planning gain agreement stipulates community use of the restored chapel and it is to be leased to All Souls Langham Place church, who will guarantee public access.
This weekend was in fact the first chance to visit the restored chapel.
The exterior has been cleaned up, probably too well, as it looks positively modern, and totally out of keeping with the rest of modern the buildings in the area. It’s also been squashed up against a restaurant, for reasons which become shockingly clear upon entry through a small side door.
The former front door is now infilled with glass, resulting in the chapel becoming decoration for the restaurant.
However, turn away from mammon, and look towards the rest of the chapel, and the full glory of God is revealed in a magnificent mosaic decoration. As with many smaller chapels of this time, the decoration is heavy, but in small spaces curiously not too overwhelming.
A small altar remains, but at the moment, the chapel is devoid of any seating — possibly just for the weekend to cope with camera wielding crowds.
The stained glass windows recall its medical heritage, and the side room is filled with plaques in the memory of former doctors or trustees who were prominent in the chapel’s history.
Curiously, the chapel was never consecrated, and is officially a secular place. The current trustees are seeking a marriage permit, so, in theory, it could hold gay weddings, should someone want one in a technically secular, but aesthetically undeniably religious setting.
At nearly a hundred years old, the chapel has been given a new lease of life.