London’s Unusual Church Renovations

A church isn’t always simply a church in London, across the capital you can find unusual church renovations where these beautiful spaces have been transformed. Here are some of my favourites and the history behind them!

Missionworks, Hammersmith

Cutting a fine figure on Iffley Road in Hammersmith is Missionworks. Now a shared workspace, it was originally built 1884 as a Mission Hall, essentially a church hall and Sunday school for the nearby St John the Evangelist Church.

It’s an eclectic bit of Venetian Gothic with a crenellated roof line and ogee-arched windows.

With high ceilings and bathed in light, it seems unsurprising that for a while it was also used as the studio space for scenic designer John Campbell. Until they closed recently he painted sets for West End theatre shows, ballets and operas.

Image from missionworks.uk

Host, St Mary Aldermary

One of the most jaw-dropping ceilings in the City, the interior of St Mary Aldermary dates from the late 17th century and the plaster work was by Henry Doogood.

As an extra treat for venturing inside you can also find host and enjoy a delicious coffee and cake.

Virgin Active, Repton Park

Much further out of Central London, but worth a mention, is the former chapel of a Claybury Hospital. Built in the late 1890s it was a psychiatric hospital run by the London County Council. It’s now been converted into a Virgin Active gym.

Image from Virgin Active Photo by Veronica Otero.

Asylum, Peckham

Based within the Caroline Gardens Chapel in Peckham you can find this crumbling, atmospheric space.

Although known as Asylum it has nothing to do with mental health, but rather the chapel was the centrepiece of the largest complex of almshouses in London. It was built between 1827-1833 and paid for by the Licensed Victuallers’ Benevolent Institution Asylum. So, essentially it was a retirement home for pub landlords.

Now it’s an event space (which hosts regular weddings!) managed by Maverick Projects

Mercato Mayfair

St Mark’s on North Audley Street was designed by John Peter Gandy in 1828 and is full of rich Neo-Gothic detailing.

However, it’s no longer a church and now houses Mercato Mayfair; a food market with four levels of bars, restaurants and street food including a small roof top space!

Modern Penthouses

Across the country the most prevalent reason for converting churches is housing. A favourite example is the former Christchurch Greyfriars, which we visit on my City: Power and Sacrifice walk, that was recently sold by Modern House.

Interior images from the Modern House website

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Crypt Cafés

As with Host in St Mary Aldermary, coffee in a church seems a winning combination in London as many have utilised their extra space to include cafes and restaurants. Two of the more famous crypt cafés include St Martin-in-the-Fields just off Trafalgar Square and St Mary Le Bow in the City.

St Martin-in-the-Fields was built in the 18th century and designed by James Gibbs.

Image by CGP Grey CC BY 2.0

St Mary Le Bow is one of the most famous and important churches in the Square Mile. Standing proud on Cheapside, an historic trading street, it still a working church.

However, if you head inside and down to Cafe BeLow, housed in the 12th century crypt. While down there you can admire the arches, or ‘bows’ which give the church its name!

Image from Londonist

Crypt Museums

Perhaps not church renovations per say, but another function that some London churches take on is ‘mini museum’. Two of the best include St Bride’s Fleet Street’s Crypt Museum and All Hallows by the Tower.

St Bride’s Crypt Museum is a fascinating place to visit!

Both contain stonework from Saxon times as well as a fascinating selection of objects relating to their history. They’re both free entry and open whenever the churches are.

Unusual City Churches

Any more to add? With so many London churches I’m sure there are plenty more! Let me know in the comments…

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