The Fitzrovia Chapel is a magnificent Grade II* listed building that was originally housed within The Middlesex Hospital. The hospital no longer exists, but the chapel was beautifully preserved and restored. It now sits in the centre of the new development of Fitzroy Place.
The Middlesex Hospital was first opened in 1745, although the chapel was designed in 1891 by celebrated Victorian architect John Loughborough Pearson and completed posthumously in 1929 by his son Frank. It was built as a memorial to Major Ross MP, former Chairman of the Board of Governors of The Middlesex Hospital, and was funded by two renowned surgeons from the hospital, Lord Webb Johnson and Sir John Bland Sutton.
Awarded the prestigious Royal Institute of British Architects gold medal in 1880, JL Pearson worked on some of Britain’s finest ecclesiastical buildings, including Truro Cathedral, Bristol Cathedral and St Margaret’s, Westminster. Today the chapel has a new setting, within a modern square named after the architect (Pearson Square).
The architecture was inspired by Gothic architecture of north Germany and Italy. Within an unassuming red brick enclosure, the chapel has a simple rectangular nave with a small narthex at the entrance. JL Pearson was part of a Gothic Revivalist movement, while his son, Frank, took his inspiration from a wider palette of architectural styles. One of the most striking features of the chapel is the beautiful and ornate mosaic ceiling of the chancel.
It was designed by FL Pearson following his close study of medieval Italian architecture and, in this particular instance, of the basilica of St Mark’s, Venice, and various lesser known churches in Rome. The chapel’s chancel mosaic was first completed between 1897 and 1901, and was installed by Italian craftsmen using imported materials, as was much of the subsequent decoration of the building.
After two decades of work, the main structure of the chapel was complete by the mid-1920s, yet it was around this time that the main hospital was found to be structurally unsound. A complete rebuilding programme was started around the still unfinished chapel. In 1928, the Duke of York, later King George VI, laid the foundation stone for the new hospital building.
The new Middlesex Hospital was finally completed in 1935, although the chapel itself was formally opened a few years before this, in 1929. In the same year, the open timber roof in the nave was replaced with vaulting and a mosaic to match the mosaic in the chancel, with this ceiling finally completed in 1939.
The Middlesex Hospital closed its doors in December 2005 and sold the site to a developer. The final redevelopment scheme preserved the chapel and the façade of the historic radiation wing on Nassau Street.
Due to the international financial crash in the mid-2000s, the site lay dormant for some years. The chapel remained visible as a little island in the middle of the vast, empty site, with just the adjacent Nassau Street façade keeping it company.
In 2011, the redevelopment was finally begun by new owners Exemplar and Aviva. The chapel was carefully underpinned, as all around it excavations began to build a four-storey-deep underground car park. As part of the planning agreement with Westminster City Council, it was agreed that the developers would fund the restoration of the chapel, and that it would have a community and cultural focus, and be overseen by an independent charitable foundation.
The Fitzrovia Chapel Foundation was created to provide a sustainable future for the building.
A plaque marking the former Middlesex Hospital’s role in the history of the site has been added to the chapel.
The restoration of the chapel was carried out by conservation architects Caroe & Partners, with the biggest task facing them being the repair of the incredible mosaic and marble interior. Over the years, rain water had seeped inside the old roof, damaging and detaching many of the mosaic tiles and marble panels. Once the roof had been replaced, the interior could be restored, which involved replacing up to 70 per cent of the gold leaf on the ceiling, re-gilding most of the tiles, as well as re-attaching or replacing the marble panels. The exterior brickwork was also repaired and repointed, obliterating some of the damage that had been caused by temporary buildings and huts that had clustered around the chapel through the year. This had made it almost invisible as a stand-alone building.