Open House Weekend (I) 2019

The picture above shows Richmond Lodge on the right and the former nonconformist chapel (now in private ownership) for Richmond Cemetery on the left. Following repositioning of the gates to the cemetery, the former chapel now lies outside its boundary. Contiguous with Richmond Cemetery is East Sheen Cemetery, whose chapel is used for services by both cemeteries.

Instead of turning left into the Cemetery, I continue up Grove Road to Grove Road Gardens, then left across the public open space to Grove Gardens Chapel, open to the public this Sunday afternoon. Richmond Cemetery’s former Anglican chapel, also gothic in style, was declared redundant in 1996, when the Diocese of Southwark awarded a lease to the Environment Trust. Following their renovation of it, the chapel now houses a Steiner Waldorf kindergarten.

The chapel’s architect, in 1875, was Sir Arthur Blomfield. In 1864 he had built himself a property in Christchurch Road, East Sheen (now no’s 53-55). No 51, Christchurch Road was the coach house he built for the property. He lived at his East Sheen home until his death in 1899. Two minutes away from Blomfield’s former home lies Christ Church, also designed by him.

The church was built on farmland at the entrance to East Sheen Common. It was originally planned to be opened in April 1863; however, the tower collapsed shortly before completion and had to be rebuilt. The church was finally consecrated on 13th January, 1864.

In 1889, Sir Arthur designed the oak chancel screen for the church of St Matthias, Richmond. Early reviewers of George Gilbert Scott’s church had found the church too austere, specifying that there was no screen to relieve the chilly interior.

The architect G E Street died in December 1881, before he could finish building the Law Courts in the Strand (now the Royal Courts of Justice). Blomfield completed the work the following year, with Street’s son Arthur. He also designed the Law Courts branch of the Bank of England (1886), on the corner of Fleet St and Bell Yard.

Arthur Blomfield’s second wife was born Sara Louisa Ryan, in Co Tipperary, in 1859. She became an accomplished writer and humanitarian, assisted in founding the Save the Children Fund, and supported the adoption of the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child by the League of Nations.

Following her husband’s death, Lady Blomfield began to attend the church of St John the Evangelist, Westminster, to hear Archdeacon Basil Wilberforce, Chaplain of the House of Commons and grandson of the abolitionist William Wilberforce, preach. The Fortnightly Review reported that on the evening of Sunday 17th September, 1911 “the Archdeacon of Westminster walked hand in hand with Abdul Baha up the nave of St John’s Church.” Basil Wilberforce died in post five years later.

About 1907, Sara had met Miss Bertha Herbert during a visit to Paris, and this led to Lady Blomfield embracing the Baha’i message, the first person of Irish birth to do so. She died on the last day of 1939, and her gravestone in Hampstead Municipal Cemetery displays the title given her by ‘Abdu’l-Baha: “Sitárih-Khanum”: in Persian, sitarih means star, and khanum is Lady.

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