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Guards Chapel, Wellington Barracks, Westminster

Description: Guards Chapel, Wellington Barracks

Grade: II*
Date Listed: 9 January 1970
English Heritage Building ID: 208702

OS Grid Reference: TQ2952279587
OS Grid Coordinates: 529522, 179587
Latitude/Longitude: 51.5004, -0.1354

Location: Birdcage Walk, Westminster, London SW1H 9 SW1E 6LB

Locality: Westminster
County: Greater London
Country: England
Postcode: SW1E 6LB

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Listing Text


Guards’ Chapel for the Household Division, 1838, 1877-9, 1955-6, 1962-3.

The architect of the original chapel of 1838 is not recorded, but it is assumed to be the work of Sir Frederick Smith in consultation with Philip Hardwick. Re-modelled 1877-79 by GE Street; destroyed 1944 except for the chancel and apse. War Memorial Cloister 1955-6 by HS Goodhart-Rendel. Chapel, incorporating existing fabric,1962-3 by Bruce George of George Trew and Dunn Architects.

Reason for Listing

The Royal Military Chapel or Guards' Chapel is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

*Architectural Interest: designed as a ceremonial place of worship and memorial, at all stages of its evolution the Guards Chapel has stood out from the body of military chapels for the attention to detail and high quality of the interior and in the 1960s rebuilding for the architectural quality and significance of the new chapel as a whole; a modern, forward-looking interpretation of the neo-classical ideology that informed the original chapel, echoing the restrained austerity typical of military chapels;
*Fixtures and Fittings: later C19 sanctuary designed by GE Street, with mosaic by Clayton and Bell executed by Salviati, Burke and Co and stained glass by JR Clayton now in the nave; throughout the chapel, fixtures and fittings donated as memorials; post-war memorial cloister; regimental colours some dating to C17;
*Historic Interest: memorial chapel associated with the Household Division of the Guards.


The Guards’ Chapel, or Royal Military Chapel as it was originally known, was built in 1838 as the place of worship for the Household Brigade, now termed Her Majesty’s Household Division. The Division comprises the Guards Division which is five regiments of Foot Guards - Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Irish and Welsh - and the two regiments of the Household Cavalry -The Life Guards and The Blues and Royals. For several centuries these soldiers have been integral to almost all the major campaigns that involve the British Army and are recognised for their supreme professionalism both in combat and ceremonial duties.

The Guards did not have a place of worship when the Wellington Barracks were built in 1834. Dr William Dakins, Precentor at Westminster Abbey, appointed as Chaplain to the Household Brigade in 1797, later becoming Principal Chaplain to the Forces, was committed to ensuring a place of worship was provided; the first service took place on 6th May 1838. The architect of the first chapel is not recorded but it is assumed that it was the work of Sir Frederick Smith, Royal Engineers, in consultation with Philip Hardwick. It was neo-classical in design, a Greek Doric temple, a form that could accommodate a congregation of over 1000. The interior was plain and devoid of any embellishment which became cause for criticism. In 1876 a committee was formed to initiate plans for the reconstruction of the chapel and employed the architect GE Street. His design, in the Lombardo-Byzantine style that was favoured for military chapels of the mid-C19, provided a nave and aisles with round-arched arcades and barrel-vaulted ceilings and an apsidal chancel. Ceiling vaults were picked out in alternate ribs of Bath stone and Roman red brick. The rich decoration included mosaic in the chancel designed by JR Clayton of Clayton and Bell and executed by Salviati, Burke & Co, 28 semi-circular terracotta lunettes by George Tinworth and stained glass by JR Clayton that together depicted stories and events from the Old and New Testaments. Much of the money was raised by families in memory of soldiers and officers who had served in the Brigade. Although a large proportion of the work was completed for the reopening of the chapel on 25 May 1879, the decoration of the apse continued thereafter and more embellishments and memorials to individual members of the Brigade were added as money was subscribed.

The chapel suffered superficial damage early in the Second World War. Temporary repairs to the roof were carried out by HS Goodhart-Rendel in 1940, a former officer in the Grenadier Guards and at one time President of the RIBA. However, on 18 June 1944 the chapel was largely destroyed by a flying bomb that struck the north-west corner, killing 120 people; the apse and chancel remained unscathed to the point that the candles lit during that service remained alight throughout the disaster. Restrictions on building after the war meant that a temporary chapel was needed; a Romney Hut was erected inside the ruins of the chapel and used until 1962. Rebuilding finally commenced in 1955-6 with HS Goodhart-Rendel’s War Memorial Cloister which housed the Regimental Rolls of Honour of all those who died while serving from 1939-1945. The Cloister would provide an entrance from Birdcage Walk to Goodhart-Rendel's chapel. The Cloister was dedicated on 28 May 1956 in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II. Unfortunately Goodhart-Rendel died before he could finish the plans for the rest of the chapel.

The commission for a new chapel was given to Bruce George of the architectural practice George Trew and Dunn. The design for the chapel was approved in 1961 and building work started in 1962. The brief set out to integrate Street’s apse and chancel, Clayton’s stained glass windows and Goodhart-Rendel’s cloister with a new building, constructed on the existing foundations. The majority of the furnishings and fittings were provided as gifts or memorials. The chapel was completed in November 1963 and dedicated on 26th November by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the presence of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh representing the Queen, the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret, Princess Royal and Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone. The chapel was awarded the Civic Trust Award in 1964.

Continuity of site and purpose was fundamental to the design of the new chapel, which despite the structural difficulties this imposed, was built on the foundations of Street's chapel. The concept of the building as a classical temple reflected the neo-classical ideology of the original chapel. The chapel embraces Street’s apse without attempting to emulate it, allowing the high quality and interest of the interior of the apse to form the focal point of the new building. It also incorporated Goodhart-Rendel's Memorial Cloister, the only section of his post-war project to be built, by setting up a cross axis at the west end of the chapel that creates a processional route and vista between the cloister and the Household Division Cenotaph in the nave.

The high quality of materials and craftsmanship of the interior of both Street’s apse and Goodhart-Rendel’s cloister, both very different architecturally, are matched by the careful choice of materials and detail in the new building. It successfully incorporates surviving elements of the earlier chapel – its glass and the font - without attempting revivalist reconstruction, while embracing new materials and fixtures that were donated by regiments associated with the Guards, that in turn contribute to its significance. The building does not attempt to assert the importance and dignity of its purpose as a memorial through anachronistic pastiche or reconstruction but is a building of its time, suitable to the needs of a modern army, and achieved in its structure and aesthetic. This attitude was fundamental to the brief for the design of the new barracks that followed.

The setting of the chapel also resonates with the design and purpose of other post-war memorials and chapels such as the memorial at the American Cemetery, Madingley. The reflective pool to the west of the Memorial Cloister was outlined in the 1961-2 scheme and constructed in the early 1970s. The memorial garden to the north of the chapel was installed in the 1980s and consists of a fountain and planting in the shape of the Brigade insignia. A bronze statue to Field Marshal The Earl Alexander of Tunis (1891-1969) by James Butler (1985) stands to the north-west of the chapel.

GE Street (1824-81) was one of the greatest figures in Victorian architecture. Although born and educated in London he was articled to the Winchester architect Owen Carter from 1841. He then spent time in the office of George Gilbert Scott from 1844 before commencing practice in Wantage in 1848. Growing success led to a move to London in 1856 and a career which saw him become one of the leaders of the Gothic Revival. Much of his work is characterised by a strong, muscular quality which was much admired from the 1850s. He was also an early pioneer of the use of polychromy. His most ambitious work is the Royal Courts of Justice in London for which he gained the commission in 1868. He was diocesan architect for Oxford, York, Winchester and Ripon. He was awarded the RIBA Royal Gold Medal in 1874. His fame and status is reflected in the fact that, like his former master, Scott, he is buried in Westminster Abbey.

HS Goodhart-Rendel (1887-1959) was a key figure in both the 'traditionalist' school of C20 century British architecture and the post-war revival of interest in Victorian design. An Anglican by upbringing and a Roman Catholic by conversion, he did much work for both churches, whether in the Arts and Crafts Gothic manner of Holy Trinity, St Leonards-on-Sea (1945-54) or the Byzantine-Romanesque style of Holy Trinity, Bermondsey (1951-60). Familiar with the repair of bomb-damaged buildings, he was responsible for the restoration of the church of St John the Divine, Lambeth of 1870-74 by GE Street. He was president of the Architectural Association in 1924-5, Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford in 1933-6, and president of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1937-9. In 1958 he became a founder member of the Victorian Society, reflecting a lifetime's study and admiration of the architecture of the C19

The practice which was renamed George Trew and Dunn in 1959 was first set up in 1908 by William Pite on winning the commission for King's College Hospital, Dulwich. Although primarily known for their pioneering hospital buildings for health authorities in, for example, Teesside, Kent and Canterbury and Aberdeen, George Trew and Dunn gained a reputation for their sympathetic approach to historic buildings, notably at the highly sensitive site of the Royal Naval Hospital, Haslar, Gosport where they responded to ‘the challenge of reconciling ancient beauty with modern usage.’(Architect,1973, 60). Then known as George Trew Dunn Beckles Willson Bowes, the practice won the prestigious commission to rebuild Wellington Barracks in 1972, tasked with incorporating the existing historic buildings into a new barracks, suitable for the needs of a modern army.


MATERIALS: the 1962-3 chapel is of reinforced concrete frame construction with brick infill panels, faced externally with ‘Granitex’ rendering of white marble chippings and mica bound together with white Portland cement which is lightly hammered to provide a rough textured finish. The plinth is of Portland stone, other dressings are of black Welsh slate. Bronze fittings. Tubular steel trusses support the low pitched roof which is covered by insulated copper. The Memorial Cloister is of red brick on a Portland stone plinth, with a Portland stone entrance and other dressings and five copper-clad domes to the roof. The sanctuary is of stock brick, faced internally in marble and mosaic.

PLAN: rectangular plan, a modern interpretation of the classical temple, echoing the neo-classical ideology behind the original chapel; internally incorporating the C19 apse, flanked by vestries; chancel, nave, narthex and west portico. To the north the Memorial Cloister projects at right angles and forms a cross axis aligned with the Household Division Cenotaph in the SW corner of the chapel. Side chapels line the south wall of the nave.

EXTERIOR: the main entrance to the chapel is from the west via six steps that lead to a tetrastyle portico of three low, broad openings separated and terminated by four higher but narrow openings set into the stark, flush facade that is pierced by a single square opening containing a Greek cross. The portico is top lit, between a framework of horizontal, narrow concrete slabs. Behind the portico is a glazed west window that extends the width of the building, divided by simple mullions and a single transom, and contains stained glass by JR Clayton from the earlier chapel depicting scenes from the Old Testament to the north side and New Testament to the south. Below, within the central bay, are three pairs of bronze doors, a gift from the Sixth South African Armoured Division, to whom the Guards were attached in 1944 when the original chapel was destroyed. The doors are flanked by inscriptions to those whose monuments were included in the earlier chapel. Six uplighters are fixed at intervals above the doors. Between the portico and west wall bronze trusses each enclose a cross.

The nave is inscribed on the north and south with a continuous narrow fillet of black marble. The north elevation overlooking the Memorial Garden is lit by a row of 52 plain, vertical, slit-windows at lower level. Six full-height openings at the east end form a closed east portico that envelopes the C19 apse, which is finished in gold-painted render. A small bell turret rises from the north wall of the nave, above a cross fixed to the nave wall. The inscription on the bell is taken from I Kings, ch. 9, v. 3, the text used by Dr Dakins in his sermon at the dedication of the original chapel – 'I have hallowed this house which thou has built, and Mine eyes and Mine heart shall be there perpetually.' The east end is plain except for a recessed panel and plaque inscribed with the Household Division’s insignia with the motto ‘Septem Junta In Uno – Seven Joined in One’. The south elevation is staggered, as if the wall has been peeled back from the main structure, in six equal bays which accommodate the Regimental Cloisters; each bay has a narrow south-west facing window supported by a horizontal metal truss containing a cross.

The Memorial Cloister, in a traditionalist classical revival manner, projects north at right angles towards Birdcage Walk. It is of red brick on a tall Portland stone plinth and with other stone dressings. The single-storey, enclosed cloister is of five bays of which the end bays are top lit. It has a continuous, deep eaves cornice with moulded brackets, above a moulded entablature. The east elevation is punctuated by stone-lined, round-arched blind alcoves. To the north, steps enclosed by parapet walls lead up to the entrance which breaks forward slightly. A pair of panelled entrance doors in a wreathed architrave are flanked by square pilasters, one-and-a-half to each side, below the inscription 'Pro Patria Mortuis' on the frieze above. The east elevation has three pairs of French doors and steps leading down to the Memorial Garden, set between paired pilasters. The cloister is attached to the north elevation of the chapel by a part-glazed link. To the west the chapel overlooks a reflective pool that was built in 1973.

INTERIOR: the chapel interior is austere yet powerful, and prolifically endowed with memorials to the Household Cavalry and Guards' regiments. The interior is simply treated with plain white walls of rough plaster. The ceiling of the nave and narthex are of polished Columbian pine, the floor is of black/grey composition tiles. Square ceiling lights emit natural light into the nave while artificial lighting is concealed within the ceiling and distributes light throughout the space by a series of reflectors and shades projecting from the ceiling.

Pairs of bronze doors lead from the portico to the narthex which is separated from the nave by a monumental full height Portland stone screen of three tiers of flat-arched openings. The list of memorial inscriptions continues into the narthex. The Household Brigade Cenotaph stands in the SW corner opposite the entrance to the Memorial Cloister. It takes the form of a moulded stone sarcophagus with a polished timber lid, set within a recessed chamber, which resembles the simplified, shortened profile of a buttressed church spire. Windows within the recess fill the chamber with natural light.

Six Regimental cloisters or chapels line the south side of the nave, one for the two Household Cavalry regiments and one each for the Foot Guards, each with its coat of arms carved on a rear wall of Portland stone, and each with a Portland stone altar table. The windows are decorated with cut and etched designs on white glass chosen by the regiments. These include the Archangel Gabriel by John Hutton (Grenadiers' chapel) and work by Gordon Beningfield, Lawrence Whistler and Rosemary Barnett. The same etched treatment on white glass is intended for the 52 slit-windows in the north wall, as the need for memorials arises. Coloured glass is restricted to Clayton’s stained glass in the west wall, that was saved from the former chapel. The heavy square-based stone and marble font from Street’s chapel, embellished with intricate stone inlay and carving, stands in the nave.

A low screen of white Pentelic marble, that incorporates the C19 iron chancel gate by J Leaver, precedes Street’s highly decorated apsidal sanctuary that dominates the east end. The screen is flanked by panels of cast aluminium designed by Geoffrey Clarke ARCA (1963) 'Passive Standard' to the north and 'Active Standard' to the south, with the choirs and musicians galleries behind. The pulpit and desk in front of the screen are of white marble: the pulpit was a gift of the Royal Family and has a Celtic cross incised in the front; the desk has the Household Division emblem. Nave pews (seating 500) and choir stalls are of polished afrormosia wood. Underfloor heating avoided the need for intrusive heating.

The chancel, between the screen and Street's sanctuary, and treated as the nave, houses the choir stalls, white marble-fronted musicians’ and organ galleries; the floor is of white, black and grey marble laid in a geometric pattern. The chancel is lit by circular pendant lights. The organ and trumpets were installed in 1971; the organ was subsequently enlarged.

Sanctuary: the walls, columns and arcades of Street’s apsidal sanctuary are lined in veined cream and brown marble with cornices and capitals picked out in gold. The sedilia is of red, black and white marble. Lavish, gilded mosaic decoration, designed by JR Clayton of Clayton and Bell and executed by Salviati, Burke and Co and completed by 1911, depicts the Story of the Passion, with the Crucifixion immediately behind the altar and Christ in Majesty above, within the vault. Flanking walls depict figures of the Apostles; above the sedilia, angels carry scrolls inscribed with the virtuous qualities - love, peace, goodness, temperance and so on. To the north is The Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Floors are of encaustic tiles. Floor mosaics and the altar are of coloured marble, with a frontal panel in blue and gold mosaic, designed by Sir Nevile Wilkinson (1937), who had served in the Coldstream Guards. The sanctuary steps is a memorial to King George V, unveiled 1936.

Memorial Cloister: from the west end of the nave four steps descend to the interior of the War Memorial Cloister laid out in five bays, each bay under a vaulted roof of coursed ashlar blocks, supported on moulded stone piers. On each side, apsidal chambers house memorials to each regiment, except for the central three bays overlooking the Memorial Garden which have pairs of full-height fully-glazed small-paned doors. The central aisle has a white and black marble floor that leads to the entrance on Birdcage Walk. Black marble floors line the memorial chambers and each is defined by a carved, wall-mounted stone plaque bearing the regiment’s insignia and a low Portland stone plinth supporting a book of remembrance on a gloss-black moulded stone base.

Reflective pool, to the west of the Memorial Cloister, conceived as part of the George Trew and Dunn scheme, and constructed in 1973.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.