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19. THE OPENING OF THE NEW CHURCH HOUSE

(See also the colour plates page.)

The imminence of war, and later the war itself, delayed the completion of the building from November 1939 until the following June. As early as March 1938, enquiries were made about possible grants towards providing air-raid shelters in the new House. These were constructed in the basement on the Dean's Yard side, with a public shelter in the lower garage in Little Smith Street.

The opening ceremony with Their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth
The opening ceremony with Their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth

Great efforts were made to have some of the building ready for occupation as soon as possible, and both Houses of the Convocation of Canterbury were able to meet there on 17 January 1940. The Church House Club, a new feature of the House, 'for the social side of the Church's activity which makes for the easy working of its several parts', was also made ready and opened on a wartime basis of temporary membership.

In February, tenants began to take possession of their offices, and in May members of the Corporation were advised that King George VI and Queen Elizabeth had graciously consented, subject to the exigencies of the war, to open the new Church House and to visit the National Assembly of the Church of England on Monday, 10 June, at 3 pm.

The King, in the uniform of a Field-Marshal and accompanied by Queen Elizabeth, was warmly applauded by the colourful Assembly: the Bishops in their Convocation robes and the clergy in hoods and bands. Replying to the Archbishop of Canterbury's welcome, the King congratulated the Council on 'the achievement of a great enterprise' - 'a house marked both without and within by dignity and beauty, and worthy of its site and of the high aims to which it is dedicated.' His Majesty added: 'In these anxious days I feel confident that the Church everywhere will endeavour to inspire the people with calmness and with courage, and bring help and comfort into the hearts and minds of us all.'

Thus, fifty years after the Corporation had been founded, a national parliament for the Church (which had not existed in 1888) was now being fully accommodated at Church House and a closer bond between the Corporation and the Assembly was formed when, with the granting of a Supplemental Charter in 1939, representation on the Council of the Convocations and the House of Laity was increased.

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