Building » Chapel – Diocesan Seminary (Allen Hall)

Chapel – Diocesan Seminary (Allen Hall)

Beaufort Street, London SW3

A well-detailed modern chapel by Hector Corfiato, built to replace a bombed Romanesque Revival convent chapel of 1910-12. The chapel and the attached convent buildings are now the home of the Diocesan Seminary, Allen Hall (which traces its origins back to the seminary established by Cardinal William Allen at Douai in 1568). The buildings are on part the site of St Thomas More’s house at Chelsea, from which a listed garden wall survives.

Beaufort Street was built in the eighteenth century over part of the site of Thomas More’s house (later called Beaufort House) in Chelsea. In 1886, 28 Beaufort Street was bought from the Earl of Cadogan by Fr Kenelm Vaughan (brother of Cardinal Vaughan) for the Brotherhood of Expiation, which he had founded. Two artists’ studios behind 28 Beaufort St (designed in 1879 by William Burges for the painters Louise and Joe Jopling) were converted into a chapel. In 1898 the building was taken over by the Sisters of Adoration Réparatrice who had been invited to England by Cardinal Vaughan. The convent chapel was served by priests from Our Most Holy Redeemer, Chelsea (qv). On 5 October 1910, the foundation stone was laid by the Bishop of Amyela for a new chapel in the Romanesque Revival style, designed by Charles George Keogh (1848–1943). The chapel was opened on 21 March 1912 by Cardinal Bourne. It was dedicated to the Most Holy Sacrament and the Blessed Thomas More. Around the same time the L-plan courtyard building behind the original no. 28 was erected.

The chapel was nearly completely destroyed by bombing in 1940 and was still in ruins by 1948. By 1957, the west end was used as a garden. It was replaced by a new chapel in 1958, designed by Hector Othon Corfiato (1893–1963) and built within 12 months. Following his studies at the École des Beaux Arts, Corfiato came to England in 1922, in order to teach at the Bartlett School of Architecture, whose director he became in 1946. He built relatively little and his largest works are university buildings in Nigeria. Among his works in England are an extension to University College London and three churches and two chapels, all Roman Catholic. These include a Carmelite chapel in Blackburn; and the listed churches of St William of York, Stanmore (qv), and Notre Dame de France, Leicester Square (qv).

Archbishop (later Cardinal) Godfrey laid the foundation stone for the new chapel in Beaufort Street on 8 April 1958. It was opened and consecrated on 7 November 1958 by Bishop Cashman, Auxiliary of Westminster. The consulting engineer was Ove Arup & Partners, and the general contractor was C.P. Roberts & Co Ltd. The furnishings included artworks by Professor Georges Saupique of Paris, with whom Corfiato also worked on Notre Dame de France; Harry Warren Wilson of the Bartlett, who made the ornamental designs in the sanctuary; and the Hungarian-born artist Endre Hevezi (born 1923) who designed blue ceramic panels in a Chagall-like manner. The monstrance was made by Arthus-Bertrand of Paris.

In 1975, the Sisters left for London Colney and the buildings were bought by the Archdiocese of Westminster for use by Allen Hall, the Diocesan Seminary. This is the successor institution to the English College founded in 1568 by William Allen (later Cardinal) in Douai, Flanders (now in France), which in 1793 moved to England as St Edmund’s College in Old Hall Green, Ware (1793-1975).

There have been some alterations to the chapel over time, especially when the chapel was converted for use by the seminary. The small rail, which screened off the front part of the chapel for use by the community, was removed (figure 2, right). A beaten aluminium crucifix with a gilded cross (by Professor Georges Saupique) which was originally on the main façade was moved to the apse (figure 3). The original terrazzo floor has been covered by carpeted timber platforms in the sanctuary and part of the nave. (Originally, the heating was by means of underfloor heating which is now no longer operational and the chapel is heated – unsatisfactorily – by heaters in the arches to the aisles.) The original artificial lighting was concealed and the present unsightly system of uplighters was inherited from a parish church. The original pews have been replaced by chairs.

About twenty years ago, the sanctuary was reordered, which entailed the removal of the marble altar with the curved steps behind, the suspended canopy and probably the marble communion rails (figure 2, left). The seminary is now planning to ameliorate some of these changes by reordering the sanctuary as part of a general refurbishment programme under Colin Kerr of Molyneux Kerr Architects. The aluminium cross will be returned to the west front, and a new underfloor heating system, stone floor and lighting system will be installed. The sanctuary will be furnished with a new wall screen, tabernacle stand and altar. The chairs will be replaced by pews. The surviving original decoration including the vertical ‘friezes’ and the ceramic panels will be retained.

The chapel was built in 1958 from designs by Hector Corfiato. It was constructed using a reinforced concrete frame and two-inch Matlock grey bricks for the external and internal wall surfaces. The shallow-pitched roof is clad in copper. The plan is longitudinal. The west elevation is dominated by a full-height grid of reconstructed stone below an overhanging roof. Stronger mullions divide the elevation into a wider central part and two narrower sections. The lintel over the central west door is inscribed with ‘VENITE ADOREMUS’. The south elevation is entirely of brick, apart from a band of small clerestory windows under the roof and a full-height grid window to the sanctuary. The east elevation is entirely blind, with a canted wall in a shallow V-projection which internally appears as an apse.

The downward-tapering ribs of the portal frame divide the interior into five nave bays and two sanctuary bays. The ceiling has a shallow pitch and is painted with blue rectangular panels. Below the raked organ gallery is the timber porch with small statues of St Thomas More and St John Fisher on either side. Set in front of the porch is an oval marble font whose Latin inscription includes the date ‘1821’. Each nave bay has two rectangular, stone-framed openings into the narrow, flat-roofed side aisles which have circular skylights. Set between these openings are blue ceramic panels depicting ecclesiastical symbols by Endre Hevezi.

The sanctuary consists of a regular-sized bay with full-height grid windows to the south and north. Beyond it is a flat-arched chancel arch to the four-sided canted apse. Above a dado zone, which still has the raking outline of the former high alter steps, are two vertical ‘friezes’ (probably of fibrous plaster) incised with floral patterns (by Harry Warren Wilson). Between them hangs the aluminium crucifix formerly on the west elevation (by Prof. G. Saupique). A temporary hanging cross with a chalk drawing of a Cimabue crucifix is suspended from the chancel arch. The ceiling of the apse is flat, with blue-coloured diagonal grid coffering.

The foundation stone is set into the north side of the apse. The tabernacle is in the form of a small aedicule with marble Ionic capitals with gilt urn finials. The altar is of timber and was made by a former student. The lectern is also of timber. The Stations of the Cross are modern unpainted timber reliefs mounted on irregular-shaped timber panels.

The chapel originally had a screened gallery for sick sisters. This was not visible during the visit and may have been blocked up.

Heritage Details

Architect:

Original Date: 1958

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed