Church House, Westminster

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Coordinates: 51°29′52″N 0°7′46″W / 51.49778°N 0.12944°W / 51.49778; -0.12944

Church House is the headquarters of the Church of England, occupying the south end of Dean's Yard next to Westminster Abbey in London. Besides providing administrative offices for the Church Commissioners and a chamber for the General Synod, the building also provided a meeting place for the Parliament of the United Kingdom and some of the organs of the United Nations during the Second World War, and has more recently has been the venue for several notable public enquiries.

Origins[edit]

The idea of a central meeting and administrative building for the Church of England had been raised twice in the mid 19th century and was finally acted upon in 1886 when the Bishop of Carlisle, Dr Harvey Goodwin, suggested in a letter to The Times that the church should construct a "Church House" as a memorial of the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Accordingly, a charity called the Corporation of the Church House was founded by Royal Charter on 23 February 1888, with the aim of raising the necessary funds and executing the project.[1]

A site was selected in Dean's Yard, close to Westminster Abbey and Westminster School. During 1888, sufficient funds had been raised to purchase the freehold on a block of buildings occupying the south side of Dean's Yard and bordered by Great Smith Street, Little Smith Street and Tufton Street. These buildings included the Westminster Free Library (which relocated to the other side of Great Smith Street) and a boarding house for pupils at Westminster School.[2] The leases on 10 and 11 Dean's Yard could be purchased outright and these became the offices of the corporation several other Anglican societies, and were inaugurated as the first Church House on 21 July 1888.[3]

The 1896 Church House[edit]

In November 1889, Sir Arthur Blomfield was selected to design the new building which was intended to occupy the whole site; the south façade of his plans bore some resemblance to Hampton Court Palace. Meanwhile, difficulties with fund raising and obtaining the leases of buildings on the site caused a considerable delay.[4] The first part of the project was the Great Hall on the north of the site, the foundation stone for which was laid on 24 June 1891 by Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught,[5] and was opened on 11 February 1896 by Prince George, Duke of York. Fund raising for the western block of the project was quickly under way; which was to include a library and a hall for meetings of the Convocation of Canterbury. This hall was to be named after Henry Hoare, who had been instrumental in the revival of the Convocation in 1852 (its first meeting since 1717). The hall was opened by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Frederick Temple, on 28 January 1902. The rest of the Blomfield's projected building was never completed.[6]

The present Church House[edit]

The current building, designed by Sir Herbert Baker, is a 1930s replacement of the original building. Though delayed at first by the depression of the early 1930s, the foundation stone was laid by Queen Mary on 26 June 1937, and the building was officially opened by King George VI on 10 June 1940.

After the building's Assembly Hall was directly hit during the Blitz and yet suffered little damage, Winston Churchill requisitioned the building for use as makeshift Houses of Parliament. The first meetings of both the United Nations Security Council and United Nations Preparatory Commission took place in the Hoare Memorial Hall on 17 January 1946.

Today, the building is the headquarters of the Archbishops' Council, the Church Commissioners and all its Boards and Councils as well as of the Church of England Pensions Board and the National Society. It is the meeting-place of the General Synod of the Church of England each February (alternating with York in July) and for special and inaugural sessions, usually in November.

The building was made a Grade II listed building in 1988,[7] and is currently used as a conference centre when the general synod is not in session.

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