The Middlesex Hospital Chapel. “Memories echo in this sacred space: tiny babies christened, marriages solemnised, funerals conducted, the chapel resonates with prayers, thanksgivings, and sorrows.” — Dr Ruth Richardson.

Exemplar the property developer leading the construction of Fitzroy Place is coming under increasing pressure to abandon its plans to rename the Middlesex Hospital Chapel which it is meant to be restoring as part of a legal agreement with Westminster City Council. A medical historian, a former surgeon, and the chair of one of Westminster City Council’s planning committees have all criticised plans to rename the Grade II* listed building. And petitions against Exemplar’s plans have attracted over 2,000 signatures since Fitzrovia News started a campaign.

Exemplar who is leading a consortium with Aviva Investments and Kaupthing was given planning permission to build luxury flats, penthouses and offices on the former hospital site provided the chapel was restored and then turned over to a trust for the benefit of community use. However as the building development nears completion it became apparent that Exemplar wanted to drop the name Middlesex Hospital Chapel and call it Pearson Hall after its architect.

The move enraged many local people but especially the thousands of former staff and patients of the hospital. Many of them say they are very strongly against Exemplar’s plans to rename a place that was so important a place of solace to staff, patients and visitors.

In an article published in The Lancet journal the medical and social historian Dr Ruth Richardson wrote about the Middlesex Hospital Chapel, saying: “Rudyard Kipling, a benefactor of the hospital and its medical school, lay in state here before his funeral at Westminster Abbey. Four of the lancet windows, by the arts-and-crafts stained-glass makers Clayton and Bell, are the official War Memorial to 49 men from the Middlesex Hospital who died in the First World War, several of them medical student volunteers from the early months of the war, and 16 officers of the Royal Army Medical Corps. There is also a wall devoted to the commemoration of members of the hospital’s staff who died in the line of duty in the wards, such as nurses Dorothy Adams, Maudie Mason, and Grace Briscoe who died from influenza and scarlet fever in the first 3 months of 1919.” 

Dr Richardson who authored The Making of Mr Gray’s Anatomy and Dickens and the Workhouse describes the chapel as an evocative place. “Memories echo in this sacred space: tiny babies christened, marriages solemnised, funerals conducted, the chapel resonates with prayers, thanksgivings, and sorrows.”

The sacredness of the chapel held a resonance with many people. Rodney Croft wrote to Fitzrovia News to express his concern. “I am a Consultant Surgeon and did my clinical training at The Middlesex having come down from Cambridge in 1965. I heard about the petition from a fellow Middlesex man. The Chapel is very dear both to me and my wife as our three children were Christened there when I was a Surgical Senior Registrar at The Middlesex and during my years at The Middlesex I frequently attended services there. We totally agree with all the sentiments expressed in The Lancet article.”

Others have now joined the chorus of voices against plans to erase the Middlesex Hospital name from the building. The chair of one of Westminster Council’s planning committees, Councillor Alastair Moss, said he disapproved of plans to rename the chapel. He made the comment at a public meeting where Mark Younger a director at Exemplar was present.

After the comments made by Councillor Moss we asked Mark Younger to respond and whether his company would reconsider their plans in response to our campaign. As he has done previously he declined to comment any further to Fitzrovia News.

Local paper the West End Extra has also covered the campaign. In a response to their story a spokesperson for Exemplar said:

“The developers of Fitzroy Place are fully sympathetic to the views of those with long-standing connections to Middlesex Hospital who wish to see the hospital continue to be commemorated on the site. We are therefore working on solutions which respect the hospital and its staff’s long-standing memories and traditions, at the same time as recognising that the site has been redeveloped for the greater public good with a new use. We will be in a position to explain these plans by the end of summer this year.”

This response was laughed at by one nurse who told us: “The developers of Fitzroy Place are fools — nothing they build will come close in comparison let alone provide ‘a greater public good’.”

But most people we have been in touch with think Exemplar are anything but fools. Greedy and crass are more common complaints levelled at the developer who marketed the flats and penthouses to overseas investors, and sold many to companies listed in tax havens. People have commented that the whole site looks ugly and out of proportion to the surrounding streets.

The company’s marking brochure refers to the chapel not by name but as a venue for concerts. “As part of our new development, we will be providing a beautiful new venue for enjoying the arts which will host numerous events including classical concerts and recitals, not only for office occupiers and residents but also for the wider community at large.”

Nearly 2,500 people have signed petitions against Exemplar’s plans with many of the signatories leaving messages saying why they signed.

It would be a tragedy to change the name of Middlesex Hospital Chapel,” said Juliet Symons. “So many staff and so many patients loved and used the chapel.” Another said “It would be a desecration of a proud name to change it”.

Fitzrovia News also understands that English Heritage and a number of London clergy share these concerns and have now been in touch with Westminster City Council and Exemplar.

Please join us in petitioning Westminster City Council and Exemplar to keep the name Middlesex Hospital Chapel. If  you live, study or work in City of Westminster, please sign here; if you are outside of City of Westminster, please sign here.