05 October 2022

The Christian Science church
in Chelsea that was rescued
and became a concert hall

The Cadogan Hall in Chelsea is a former Christian Science Church designed by Robert Fellowes Chisholm in the Byzantine Revival style with some eastern elements (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

The Cadogan Hall is a 950-seat concert hall in the heart of Chelsea, off Sloane Square and Sloane Street, between Sloane Terrace and Wilbraham Place. This impressive building is the home of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. It is only steps away from Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Square, and with its domed campanile it too looks a church or, perhaps even, a mosque – because the building was designed as a Christian Science Church over a century ago.

The church was designed by Robert Fellowes Chisholm (1840-1915), and when it opened in 1907 it could hold a congregation of up to 1,400 people.

The Christian Science movement was founded by Mary Baker Eddy in Boston in 1879. The first Christian Scientists on these islands were Graves Colles and Marjorie Colles of Killiney, Co Dublin, some time around 1888-1893, and Christian Science came to Britain in 1890.

Mary Baker Eddy sent students to London, where fashionable West End women began to be attracted to it. The first Christian Science services in London were in one of the Portman Rooms, Baker Street and Dorset Street, in February 1896.

Three years after the original ‘Mother Church’ was completed in Boston, the London congregation moved into the old Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in Bryanston Street, near Marble Arch, in 1897.

The former Sephardic synagogue in Marylebone was built in 1861, but closed in 1896 when the congregation moved to Lauderdale Road. The building was remodelled and when it opened in late 1897 it was the first Christian Science church in Europe.

The former Christian Science church was built on the site of a disused Wesleyan chapel in Chelsea in 1904-1909 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Less than two decades later, the members bought a disused Wesleyan chapel on a freehold site in Chelsea for almost £40,000 in April 1903 and hired Chisholm as the architect for a new church. When building their own churches, Christian Scientists looked to their churches in Boston as examples. But Chisholm had worked in eastern architectural idioms in India, and provided a completely original design for the new Christian Science church in London.

However, a more traditional plan was asked for, and Chisholm provided a more traditional design in the Byzantine Revival style, with some eastern elements and seven coupled windows across the fa├žade.

Chisholm was a pioneer the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture in Madras. The Indo-Saracenic style was also known as Indo-Gothic, Mughal-Gothic, Neo-Mughal, or Hindoo style. This revivalist architectural style was used by many British architects in India in the late 19th century, especially in public and government buildings for the British Raj and palaces for princely rulers. It drew stylistic and decorative elements from native Indo-Islamic architecture, especially Mughal architecture, and, less often, from Hindu temple architecture.

Chisholm was born in London and even in his youth he was recognised as a talented landscape painter. He moved to Madras in 1865, where he became head of the school of industrial art.

Chisholm began to design the older building of Presidency College, Madras (1865-1870). His first buildings were in the Renaissance and Gothic styles, and he designed or rebuilt the Presidency College, Madras (1865-1870), the Nilgiri Library (1869) and the Lawrence Memorial School in in Ootacamund (1865-1869). The revenue board building in the Chepauk Palace complex (1871) was his first building in the ‘Indo-Saracenic’ style.

Chisholm became Consulting Architect to the Government of Madras in 1872, and designed the Napier Museum, Trivandrum, the Senate buildings of the University of Madras (1874-1879), the offices of P Orr & Sons and the Post and Telegraph Office in Ootacamund (1875-1883), and he enlarged and built a pavilion at the MA Chidambaram Stadium. He also designed the Bombay Municipal Offices and the immense Laxmi Vilas Palace in Baroda (Vadodara) in 1880-1890.

Robert Fellowes Chisolm incorporated both classical and Byzantine elements in his design of the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Chisholm returned to London in 1902, and his best-known building there was the First Church of Christ Scientist or Cadogan Hall near Sloane Square. He died on 28 May 1915 at Southsea at the age of 75.

The cornerstone of the Christian Science church was made of granite from Concord, New Hampshire, and was laid on 19 November 1904. As the church was being built, Christian Scientists in London had so grown in influence that over 9,000 people were invited to a Christian Science lecture by an American Bicknell Young in the Albert Hall in 1907.

The new church was built at a cost of £40,000 and was dedicated on 13 June 1909.

The church was built in the Byzantine style in Portland stone ashlar. It has a five-bay granite arcade on the ground storey, seven round-headed two-light windows above with carved capitals, a central entrance, and a dome-capped campanile at the south-east corner.

An architectural critic called the church an ‘Indian Reminiscence in Chelsea’ and suggested that ‘one would not be surprised to see a muezzin call the faithful to prayer’ from the tower’s ‘lofty outlook.’

He told the readers of the Evening Standard that the ‘decorative details … are of an Anglo-Norman type well suited to the monumental character of the design.’ But, because it Christian Science was a religion from America, ‘its projectors were under the influence of [Henry Hobson] Richardson, that architect who has invested American architecture with proportions almost Cyclopean.’

The Architect and Contract Reporter thought differently: ‘The particular style of architecture for a Christian Science church should present no difficulties. The very early churches were mostly pagan temples converted into churches; when constructed as churches they exhibited many Eastern features.’ The writer was implying that Christian Science was returning to the time of primitive Christianity, where both classical and Byzantine designs were historically located.

The church had a three-manual pipe organ built by JW Walker & Sons in 1907 and installed in 1911. It was on a raised position on the platform.

The stained-glass windows were designed by the Danish artist and aristocrat Baron Arild Rosenkrantz (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The stained-glass windows were designed by the Danish painter, sculptor and artist, Baron Arild Rosenkrantz (1870-1964). He studied art in Rome under Modesto Faustini, who instilled an appreciation of the Italian masters. Rosenkrantz later studied under Jean-Paul Laurens and Benjamin Constant in Paris and was also influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites, JMW Turner, William Blake and Claude Monet.

When he was studying in the US in 1894-1895, Rosenkrantz made glasswork for Tiffany. While he lived in London in 1898-1914, he developed his reputation as an artist and made stained-glass windows for a wide range of English churches and mansions, including the Christian Science church in Chelsea.

Under the influence of Rudolf Steiner, Rosenkranktz and his wife moved to Dornach in Switzerland, but they returned to London after Steiner died in 1925. Back in London, he designed costumes, created stage decorations and decorated the interior of two theatres.

Rosenkrantz returned to Denmark in 1939 to organise an exhibition in Copenhagen for his 70th birthday in 1940. However, Nazi Germany invaded Denmark and he found it impossible to return to London was impossible. His moved to Rosenholm Castle in Jutland and died in 1964.

The Christian Science church in Chelsea was listed a Grade II building in 1969.

The congregation had fallen dramatically by 1996 and the building fell into disuse as a smaller congregation moved to Kensington (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The congregation had fakken dramatically by 1996. When a smaller congregation moved to an updated church building in Wright’s Lane in Kensington, the hall was sold and fell into disuse for several years.

Mohamed Fayed, then owner of Harrods, had bought the property, but because of its listed status he was unable to secure permission to convert it into a palatial luxury house.

Cadogan Estates bought the building in 2000 to safeguard its future. The property company is owned by Lord Cadogan, whose ancestors have been the main landowners in Chelsea since the 18th century, and the family gives its names to many nearby addresses, including Cadogan Square, Cadogan Place, Sloane Square, Sloane Street and Sloane Terrace.

Through its connections with Opera Holland Park, the Cadogan Estate found that the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was looking for a permanent base in London. Cadogan Hall was an excellent opportunity for the orchestra to benefit from the Cadogan Estate’s aim to bring the former church back to life in a way that befitted its character and civic presence.

The building was refurbished by Paul Davis and Partners Architects at a cost of £7.5 million. The changes included new lighting and sound systems and bespoke acoustic ceiling modules in the performance space. The hall reopened as a concert hall in 2004.

The 1911 Walker organ was carefully dismantled and put into store. The original intention was to install the organ in a church in the Midlands. Instead, however, it was installed in Christ the King Catholic Church in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 2009-2010. Walker’s organ case, an integral part of the character of the auditorium, remains in place in the concert hall.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO), now the resident music ensemble at Cadogan Hall, is the first London orchestra to have a permanent home. It gave its first concert as the resident ensemble of Cadogan Hall in November 2004.

Cadogan Hall has become one of London’s leading venues. Its surroundings makes it a choice for some leading orchestras and the chosen venue for the BBC Proms Chamber Music Series. It also offers a vibrant selection of contemporary, jazz, folk and world music events as well as talks, debates and conferences.

Cadogan Hall is the home of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and one of London’s leading venues (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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