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6. THE NEW BUILDINGS

Churchmen everywhere were encouraged to become members of the Corporation, their membership fee of one guinea per year ensuring a steady income for the Corporation. Part of this could be transferred to the Building Fund which, then amounting to £5,000, would have to grow by at least another £30,000 before any new, purpose-built accommodation for the Church could be erected.

Sir Arthur Blomfield 1829-1899
Sir Arthur Blomfield 1829-1899.

Sir Arthur Blomfield, whose father had been Bishop of London, was an architect noted for his ecclesiastical work. In November 1889 he was selected from a shortlist of seven suggested candidates and his plans for a building somewhat like Hampton Court were in general approved by the Council (the part elected, part ex-officio executive committee of the Corporation). At the meeting, Sir Arthur showed what provision he had made for a refreshment room and the reaction of the Council was reported in many newspapers, including, for example, St James Gazette 13 December 1889:

It was explained by the Lord Chancellor that if wines were to be sold in the "light refreshment" room the licence would have to be taken out in his Grace's name. To this arrangement the Archbishop offered emphatic disapproval, and was not even reconciled to it by an assurance from the Lord Chancellor that he himself was a licensed victualler, the refreshment licence for the Law Courts being in his name.

A cartoon from Funny Folks, 28 December 1889
A cartoon from Funny Folks,
28 December 1889.

The capabilities of the refreshment room were to be very modest, and would not, in Dr Goodwin's opinion, 'go far beyond tea and bread and butter, or beyond sandwiches and lemonade'. It was not until 1947 that buildings on the site were licensed for the sale of alcoholic refreshments.

His Grace: "By the way, Parker, be in readiness for a quick change from the white apron to the black, as when I leave the bar at 7.50, I am due at the Diocesan Conference."

The Council decided to commence the development of the new buildings with the much- needed Great Hall of Meeting, which was to be situated on the south side of the site, in Little Smith Street, where the Corporation was able to buy up the remaining leases on the property.

Unfortunately the lessor of the houses on the north-east corner of the site had inserted a clause in the sub-leases depriving the sub-lessees of selling their houses to the Corporation. It was therefore not until 1932 when these leases expired that the Council could consider the complete development of the entire site.

Although many donations to the Building Fund were small, there were a few people who were prepared to give quite sizeable sums. At the annual general meeting held in June 1890, Dr Benson read out an anonymous letter promising one thousand pounds to the Building Fund if, by the end of the year, twenty others would do the same. This would then bring the Fund up to £30,000 towards the £35,000 required to build the Great Hall.

Two Council members, Fred A. White and Henry Hucks Gibbs, responded to the challenge at the meeting, and another four promises came in during the summer, one of four thousand pounds being from Margaret Weller-Poley of Brandon, Suffolk. Canon George Venables, a keen supporter of the Church House scheme, interested 'good Mrs Weller-Poley' so much in the scheme that her total donations to the Corporation during her lifetime and in bequests came to more than £8,000.

The proposed new buildings for the Church House overlooking Dean's Yard
The proposed new buildings for the Church House overlooking Dean's Yard

By November £11,000 had been collected, Dr Goodwin increasing his donation to the Building Fund from £600 per annum to £1,000. At this point in 1890 the Council gave instructions for the site to be cleared, but further delays were then caused by three tenants on the corner of Great Smith Street, who were reluctant to leave.

The proposed new buildings for the Church House. Great Smith Street entrance
The proposed new buildings for the Church House. Great Smith Street entrance

The Abbey Choir School could not vacate 2 Little Smith Street until its new Choir School in Dean's Yard was completed, while the corner property was occupied on the ground floor by a firm of builders and above by Miss Allen who ran a lodging house for single gentlemen.

Westminster Public Library moved out of its premises at the end of 1893 and the end wall was knocked down to make way for the new Hall. The wall of the Great Hall would then form the end of the old library building, which could be converted into offices for renting to Church Societies.

Miss Smith at 3 Little Smith Street had also been more accommodating when it came to moving out of her house but, having closed down the school that she had run there for eighteen years, she now found herself out of work and applied, in vain, to the Secretary of the Corporation for some post as housekeeper or caretaker.

Continued efforts at fund-raising - advertisements in the national and ecclesiastical press, public meetings in Paris, Biarritz, Pau and Bordighera - met with little success. General William Booth's book, In Darkest England, was directing attention towards London's East End; clergy incomes were in some instances being further reduced - their recipients calling again for relief (the Queen Victoria Clergy Fund was not founded until 1897).

Plan of The Church House

Despite their great efforts, the Corporation was, by the end of the year, still lacking eight of the twenty individual donations of £1,000 each, which were a condition of the original anonymous donor. Fortunately the twelve existing donors were prepared to bend their original rules and their cheques arrived on the Secretary's desk as soon as building work commenced.

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