From Bunyan to Baroque

The second architect, from 1877, to work for Jonathan Carr on the development of the new garden suburb of Bedford Park was Richard Norman Shaw. Shaw began one of his most famous buildings, the New Scotland Yard police headquarters in Westminster, in 1887. His final flourish in 1905, the Piccadilly Hotel, was described by Nikolaus Pevsner as “Baroque Edwardian-Imperial-Palladianism”.

Shaw was reputed to be generous with his time and talent, happily allowing a succession of young pupils and assistants to put their own mark on various projects. One of these pupils was Arthur Keen, who was appointed architect for the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland.

The original chapel or meeting house for Particular Baptists was built on the south side of Eagle Street at the corner with Kingsgate Street in 1735, and later rebuilt twice. The congregation petitioned the Government for the abolition of slavery in the colonies in 1830. Following the abolition of colonial slavery, the congregation opened a schoolroom to commemorate this achievement, in Fisher St.

It was Arthur Keen who designed the new headquarters for the entire Baptist Union, Baptist Church House, including office, shop, and library, in the eclectic Edwardian Free Baroque style. Built in 1901-1903 in Southampton Row, it was attached to the Chapel building, whose area is extant, but accessible now only through the main building.

Kingsgate Street originally ran from High Holborn to Theobald’s Road. It was named after the King’s Gate barrier at its southern end, where King Charles’s coach famously overturned in 1669. The street was obliterated in 1902-1906 by the London County Council.

Historic England explains:

“The original 2 storey Kingsgate Chapel to the rear of the site was divided at gallery level in 1939. It is octagonal in plan…After it was divided in two the top half of the Chapel became the Union’s Council Chamber. In 1939 the former Council Chamber became the “Shakespeare Room”, named after the Union Secretary at the time the complex was built…The former Committee Room is also on the first floor…Finally, there is the former Library on the second floor…

The Baptists left Baptist Church House for Didcot in 1989. The buildings in the area were all potentially at risk from tunnelling for the Crossrail plan introduced in 2005. Although the building was sold to London Underground in order to make a new entrance to Holborn Tube Station, Crossrail in that incarnation did not come about.

Last June, the refurbished building opened as “l’oscar” boutique hotel. The Baptist Times noted that “A bust of John Bunyan continues to cast its eye over Southampton Row from the corner of the building; the committee room…contains a fireplace with an original terracotta carving of a scene from Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress.”

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