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4. THE SITE OF THE CHURCH HOUSE

Despite the objections, the Church House remained the Church of England’s official jubilee memorial and the first task of the organising committees was the acquisition of a site. The Finance Committee set a target figure of £250,000 as the amount required to pay for a site and there erect buildings fit for their worthy purpose.

By the end of 1886 only £13,000 had been raised by public subscription and it took a further eighteen months to raise another £36,000 necessary to purchase the freehold of the site. This was in Dean’s Yard, behind Westminster Abbey, ‘an acre of land at the heart of the Empire’. It was ‘large enough,’ so Dr Temple said, ‘to meet all wants for the next two or three hundred years’.

Site of the Church House
Site of the Church House

The north side of the site faces Dean’s Yard where, in the fourteenth century, the monks from the Abbey had built their granary, part of a wall of which still exists in the basement of the present building. The Abbey mill stream once flowed across the Terrace where, in the eighteenth century, a row of elegantly fronted Georgian houses had been built. One of these had been a boarding house for Westminster School, run by Mrs Porten, the aunt of the historian Edward Gibbon. The boys used to write their names and dates with nails driven into the floorboards.

Westminster Free Library, Great Smith Street
Westminster Free Library, Great Smith Street.
(Westminster City Archives)

On the western side of the irregular quadrangle stood Westminster Free Library, in 1857 the first public library in London. After the site was purchased by the Corporation of the Church House, the Library moved into new premises on the other side of Great Smith Street where it stands to this day.

From the Book "The Church House 1888-1988 - A Moment in the Life of the Church"
Published by the Corporation of the Church House in their Centenary Year