The Church House is the home of 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, the Archbishops' Council and the Church of England Pensions Board, and a chamber for the General Synod, the building also provided a meeting place for the Parliament of the United Kingdom during World War II, and for some of the organs of the newly formed United Nations afterwards. It has more recently been the venue for several notable public enquiries.
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 Rt Rev. Dr Harvey Goodwin, Bishop of Carlisle, 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.
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. The leases on 10 and 11 Dean's Yard could be purchased outright and these became the offices of several other Anglican societies, and were inaugurated as the first Church House on 21 July 1888.
The Church House (1896)
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. The first part of the project was the Great Hall on the south of the site, the foundation stone for which was laid on 24 June 1891 by Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, 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 Most Rev. Dr Frederick Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, on 28 January 1902. The rest of Blomfield's projected building was never completed.
The Church House (present)
The current building, designed by Sir Herbert Baker, is a 1930s replacement of the original building. Its construction was authorised by an Act of Parliament. 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, the building was requisitioned for use as a chamber for the House of Lords. The first meeting of the United Nations General Assembly was held in Westminster Central Hall, on 10 January 1946. The Security Council met for the first time a week later, 17 January 1946, in Church House.
Today, the building is the headquarters of the Archbishops' Council, the Church Commissioners and all its boards and councils (since 2007), 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. Areas of the building are available on a private hire basis for conferences and events.
The Church House is also the meeting-place of the Annual Bond Solon Expert Witness Conference each November, which the largest gathering of Expert Witnesses in the UK.
- "The Church House 1888–1988 p. 3". www.churchhouse.org.uk. The Corporation of Church House. 1988. Retrieved 16 June 2016.
- The Church House 1888–1988 p. 4
- The Church House 1888–1988 p. 5
- The Church House 1888–1988 p. 6
- The Church House 1888–1988 p. 7
- The Church House 1888–1988 p. 8
- Church House (Westminster) Act 1934. London: HMSO. 1934. ISBN 0-10-512672-1.
- "History of the United Nations 1941–1950". United Nations. Retrieved 5 April 2016.
- "What is the Security Council?". United Nations. Retrieved 5 April 2016.
- "Church Commissioners complete sale of Millbank site". www.churchofengland.org. The Church of England. 29 March 2005. Retrieved 17 August 2015.
- Historic England, "Church House (1264037)", National Heritage List for England, retrieved 2 April 2018
- The Church House 1888–1988 – A Moment in the Life of the Church (1988), The Corporation of the Church House.
- Baker, Herbert (1940), The Church House – Its Art and Symbolism, The Corporation of the Church House.
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