Saving an old chapel at the heart of brand new flats
consultation with residents.
When the site was sold, the chapel had been stripped bare, and a senior officer stated that it was of “no architectural or historical interest whatsoever”. Despite this dismissal, the heritage value of the chapel, and in particular two tile panels, was eventually recognised five years later. In 2012, the chapel was awarded a Grade II listing that protected its future existence.
Built in 1859, the small Romanesque-style chapel is all that remains of the massive barracks buildings designed by George Morgan after the Crimean War. For many soldiers it was not just a place of worship, but a community centre. Hundreds of army personnel were married and had children christened here, and it survived bombings in the Second World War as well as the demolition of the original Victorian barracks.
The panels, which have been restored and remain in situ, bear the names of soldiers killed in action in the 1880s and are of particular significance for being among the first plaques dedicated to non-officer-class soldiers.
“The chapel has a series of remarkable tiled panels commemorating private guardsmen who died between 1885 and 1888,” Delcia Keate, English Heritage’s senior designation adviser, said when the chapel was listed in 2012. “Memorials to named private soldiers were uncommon in the late-19th century, and these show how the most jun- ior ranks in the Victorian Army were gradually being accorded the respect of remembrance.”
Francesca Wilkinson, senior design manager for Qatari Diar, has led the team that has undertaken the restoration, including the order for the new bell from John Taylor & Co, whose previous commissions include bells for St Paul’s Cathedral and York Minster. “The restoration has been a two-year project and it has involved bringing in many specialised trades, some of whom still work in a very hands-on, back-ofthe-envelope fashion,” she says.
“We have created a new set of windows to replace some offensive frostedglass ones that had been installed following bomb damage in the Second World War. The rose window has been painstakingly repaired and cleaned, and it has become the motif for Chelsea Barracks. We have also commissioned a red rose from Kew Gardens which will be planted around the new buildings.”
Architecturally, the luxurious new apartment blocks in the first three phases of the project, designed by Squire and Partners, take their cues from notable mansions in nearby Belgravia, and are lower and more traditional than the steel and glass apartments in the original proposals. Two-bedroom apartments at Chelsea Barracks start from £5.25million, and townhouses are available from £37million.
Among other notable changes in the master plan is the creation of a much larger public realm that will include gardens and cycleways, as well as shops and restaurants. A sculpture inspired by London’s oldest botanical garden – the Chelsea Physic Garden – has been commissioned from British artist Conrad Shawcross, while the chapel itself is to become a new art gallery.
“Chelsea Barracks has placed a significant emphasis on both craftsmanship and art in its plans for the community,” says Lee Hallman, head of design at Qatari Diar.
It will be the first time for 150 years that the public will be able to hear the bells chime, and have access to this site, which has played such an important military role in British history.
The bell, main, that is in the chapel at Chelsea Barracks, below right, was made by John Taylor & Co, the last surviving bell maker in the UK, below