Prior to the Jubilee year of 1887, two separate schemes had been suggested in 1867 and 1884 to establish a central business and meeting centre for the Church, but these had foundered owing to lack of interest. In 1886 the proposals were revived and linked as a means of raising a national memorial for the Church of England to mark Her Majesty's Golden Jubilee. Once again the popular interest was only lukewarm, but the sponsors were persistent and the Corporation of the Church House was founded by Royal Charter on 23 February 1888.
This third attempt, although not proving an instant success and, in consequence, being undertaken in far from ideal circumstances, eventually did fulfil many of the hopes of its founders, and the first Church House with its Great Hall provided the meeting place for the first meetings of the Church's National Assembly, the forerunner of today's General Synod. Fifty years later, when the 'New Church House' was built, the dreams of the original founders were ultimately achieved, but we jump ahead of ourselves, and must come back to that later.
Apart from the abortive schemes of 1867 and 1884, the seed from which the Corporation grew and flourished came when the then Bishop of Carlisle, Dr Harvey Goodwin, suggested in a letter to The Times, 13 July 1886, that the Church of England should adopt the building of a business house as its memorial of the Queen's Jubilee the following year.
In his letter, which had the full backing of the Archbishop of Canterbury and other bishops, Bishop Goodwin explained that the need for a building 'which, for want of a better name, but by no means intending permanently to appropriate the name, I will call a Church House', was greater than ever because the revived Convocations of Canterbury and York (the provincial 'parliaments' of the Church) had each decided in 1885 to set up a House of Laymen.
As for the name 'Church House', that was appropriate, said the Bishop of Springfield, USA, attending the 1888 Lambeth Conference: 'for the true conception of the Church was that of a house wherein to lodge the family of God. States and cities were human institutions, but the house or home was a Divine ordinance, and, with its arrangements, was an earthly type of heavenly and eternal realities.'
| Edward Benson 1829-1896
Archbishop of Canterbury 1883-1896
First President of the Corporation.
Frederick Temple 1821-1902
Bishop of London 1885-1896
Hugh, 1st Duke of Westminster 1825-1899
Lay Vice-President of the Corporation 1888-1899,
one of the three original petitioners for the Royal
Charter of Incorporation.
Both the Archbishop of Canterbury, Edward Benson, and the Bishop of London, Frederick Temple, were anxious that a scheme for a Church House should be carried through at last, because they believed that a meeting-place for the Church's legislators would bring one step nearer the formation of a national assembly for the Church.
A few days after Bishop Goodwin's letter was published, a meeting was held at Lambeth Palace Library to formally adopt the suggestion. The Queen expressed pleasure at the idea, but Her Majesty did not want it to become the only national commemoration of her jubilee and, during subsequent months, two other ideas were floated: the Women's Jubilee Offering and the Prince of Wales's Imperial Institute. Neither of these captured the public's imagination and they were even less well-supported than the Church of England's memorial.