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25. A NEW BEGINNING

There had been twelve frustrating, almost wasted, years in the life of the Corporation during the period from the requisitioning of the House until the building could be used, more or less, as envisaged by its pre-war creators. However, the requisitioning of the House brought with it, in the form of compensation, the financial security that was so lacking in the first Church House.

The history of the building itself largely comes to an end in 1951 with the re-opening of the Assembly Hall. The Church Assembly and the Convocation of Canterbury were able to hold their meetings in the Church House, which was, once again, the central business house of the Church of England, fulfilling the hopes of its founders in 1886. This culmination of eighty years' work was further consolidated in 1966 when the Government reduced its occupation of the House to about half of the available accommodation. The office space was taken up by the Central Board of Finance, and today eleven of the thirteen advisory committees and permanent boards and councils of the General Synod operate from Church House.

Dr Fisher presiding at a meeting of the 1956 spring session of the Church Assembly.
Dr Fisher presiding at a meeting of the 1956 spring session of the Church Assembly.

The Enquiry Centre and the General Synod Archives, although they did not come into being until comparatively late in the day, can be seen as among the hopes and wishes of the first Church Housemen: 'to collect and diffuse, by printed books, journals, or otherwise, information respecting all matters of interest to the Church of England.'

The mortgage (of 450,000, re-negotiated in 1946 with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners) was paid off in 1966, eleven years earlier than had been expected, due in no small part to the efficient organisation of the House by the Secretary, Mr Harry Symons (1940-1967), and his staff. In fact, in the past, long service has been a hallmark of the Corporation staff. Mr Symons' assistant and accountant to the Corporation, Mr William (Bill) Fellow, was employed continuously for fifty-one years, and his successor, Mr Markus Van den Berg, completes thirty-two years' service in 1988.

Since 1950, and especially after 1966, the Corporation has been able to make annual grants in respect of accommodation charges to the Church Assembly, the Convocations and the Central Board of Finance. The value of these grants totals many millions of pounds. The Corporation has also been pleased to assist Lambeth Palace Library from time to time in the purchase of many documents which have an important place in the history of the Church of England, such as papers dealing with the divorce case of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. It has also contributed regularly to the costs of the Lambeth Conferences and the provision of the official portraits of the two archbishops.

The latest in the line of official portraits of the two Archbishops. the cost of which is jointly met by the Corporation and the Central Board of Finance.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Runcie,
by David Poole PRP ARCA.

The Archbishop of York, Dr Habgood,
by George Bruce RP

Lambeth Palace Library was also one of the recipients of the books in the Church House Library, which closed down in 1972 (on 'July 14th - a day which already has historical associations') - the result, as ever, of 'minimal usage combined with the ever increasing economic and spatial pressures'

The Lambeth Conferences of 1948 and 1958 again made extensive use of the House, when the Hoare Memorial and Bishop Partridge Halls were furnished as lounges for the Bishops and their wives. 'There were many occasions when. . . there were more Bishops in the Wives' Club than there were wives, especially when the series of Test Matches between England and Australia were being screened on the television which had so thoughtfully been installed as one of the Club's amenities.

The Wives' Club arranged by the Mothers' Union at the 1958 Lambeth Conference:
Upper Left: The wife of the Bishop of the Arctic.
Above Left: The wife of the Bishop of Lagos, adjusting her gele'.
Above Right: The wife of the assistant Bishop of Lahore.

The plenary sessions and most of the committees continued to be held at Lambeth, but by 1968 the Conference had outgrown its accommodation at the Palace and it moved to Church House and Westminster School.

In 1969 the Council decided to have the Assembly Hall completely redecorated and, as they reported to the Corporation the following year, restored so as to conform to the original designs of the architects:

When the bomb damage was made good on the termination of hostilities the restoration was necessarily limited by'the austerity measures and shortages of that period. Inevitably many subtilties were lost sight of, and. . . in the redecoration, measures have been taken to display the various architectural features and enrichments, and in particular to high-light the sculptured reliefs and heraldic motifs, which were executed by Sir Charles Wheeler, in collaboration with the architects.

It was a happy coincidence that the rehabilitation was carried out immediately before the advent of Synodical Government. The General Synod, a smaller body than its predecessor, is, from the Corporation's point of view, less complicated to accommodate because the respective Houses of the Convocations meet on far fewer occasions than they did in the days of the Church Assembly.

The General Synod of the Church of England at the beginning of the session on 12 November 1987.
The General Synod of the Church of England at the beginning of the session on 12 November 1987.

Church House in the 1950s


Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother attends the
Building Societies' Association Conference, 4 May
1954 (BBC Hulton Picture Library)

Sir Anthony and Lady Eden after his election as
leader of the Conservative Party. 21 April 1955
(BBC Hutton Picture Library)

Harold and Dorothy Macmillan after his election as
leader of the Conservative Party, 22 January 1957
(Times)

Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt attends the 21st
Anniversary meeting of the Women's Voluntary
Services, 8 April 1959 (Times)

The late Princess Royal (Princess Mary, Countess of Harewood)
attends the International Rose Conference, 9 September 1958
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