Exterior of the chapel

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Left: Exterior of the Savoy Chapel, seen from the north east. Right: Its exterior, shown in 1888. Source: Thornbury 119.

The Queen's Chapel of the Savoy. This early sixteenth century chapel is one remaining out of three originally built as part of the old Hospital of St John-the-Baptist, which served as a shelter for London's down-and-out, its "rogues and masterless men" (Hall 431). The institution was dissolved in 1702, and demolished in the early nineteenth century, but this chapel survived. Indeed, it was "extensively repaired in 1723" and had its ceiling whitewashed in about 1787 (Weinreb 823). The bell turret and south wall were rebuilt by Robert Smirke (1781-1867) at some point in the 1820s (sources differ), and the chapel was restored by his brother Sydney after a fire in 1843, and rebuilt by him in 1864-65 after another fire. The "original drawing" of it in Walter Thornbury's Haunted London (1888), as seen above right, shows how attractive it was by this time. Constructed of stone rubble but with "fine ashlar dressings" (listing text), the chapel is more hemmed in now, tucked away on Savoy Hill between the Thames Embankment and the Strand, close to the Savoy Hotel and the Savoy Theatre.


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Left to right: (a) Interior, looking towards the east. (b) The sanctuary, with Victorian statues of St Peter and St Paul in niches on either side of the altar screen (or reredos). (c) Close-up of St Peter and the screen on the ritual north.

The interior is very simple, without aisles or a crossing, but immaculate. It must have been much improved when the younger Smirke removed a gallery, inserted the south-east door, and restored the lovely altar screen. The flanking statues of St Peter and St John the Baptist were added not much before 1878 (see Hall 432, Loftie 240). In fact, small as it is, in the 1880s it became "as fashionable as St George, Hanover Square, for upper class weddings"; perhaps this was connected with the fact that in 1890 it was the first house of worship to instal electricity (Weinreb et al. 823).

The beautiful ceiling with quatrefoils, some containing royal arms, was designed by Thomas Willement (1786-1871), the Victorian stained glass artist, but with an eye to the earlier Tudor design that had perished in the fire (Weinreb et al. 823; Thornbury 122). It should be borne in mind that there was later work too: the chapel was refitted in 1939 and adapted for the Royal Victorian Order in 1940, and had further alterations by A. B. Knapp-Fisher in 1956-57. As a "royal peculiar," like the chapels at St James's, Hampton Court, the Tower and a few other places, it is not subject to the diocese in which it is located. In this case, it is maintained by the Duchy of Lancaster, on whose London holdings it is situated; it restored the ceiling and garden fairly recently, in 2000 (Weinreb et al. 823).

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Right: The altar with a splendidly embroidered heraldic frontal, with the star of the Royal Victorian Order in the middle, and the English rose (the red rose of Lancaster including the golden centre of the white rose of York) in vertical bars. Left: The attractive Victorian tiled flooring of the chancel and sanctuary, also recently restored.

According to the Royal School of Needlework, which recently restored the altar frontal,

The Four Coats of Arms including the Sovereign Crest along with the Victoria Cross had been applied onto a brocade fabric. We dismantled the Altar Frontal and Super Frontal and secured the lifting metal threads within the lettering and Victoria Cross. We also conserved areas of silk which had started to perish. The Frontals are back in use in the Chapel at the relevant times in the liturgical year.

Loftie suggests a special reason for the appropriateness of the roses here — he believes that roses were first planted in the Savoy gardens after "Edmund of Lancaster brought them home with his bride from the sunny pleasances of Provence" in the thirteenth century (27-28).

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Left: Looking west towards the organ. Right: Looking upwards towards the ceiling.

Royal banners hang on both sides, one for the monarch herself, and the other, marked with a white label bearing two small crosses and a heart, for Princess Ann, who is the Grand Master of the Royal Victorian Order. Above the monarch's, shown on the right, can be seen the quatrefoil featuring the shield of Henry IV.

At the west end of the chapel, by the north wall, is the font designed by Edward Blore to match the reredos (Loftie 238; a detail of this, with the canopied statue of St Peter, is shown above). This font is rather special: click on the image below not only to see it more closely, but also to find out some more details about it.

Savoy Chapel

Image scan, photographs and text by Jacqueline Banerjee. [You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the source or photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. Click on all of them for larger pictures.]

Links to related material


"Gallery: Conservation of Altar & Super Frontal for The Queen's Chapel of the Savoy." The Royal School of Needlework. Web. 1 May 2017.

Hall, Samuel Carter and Anna Maria. The Book of the Thames from Its Rise to Its Fall. 1859. Republished 5th ed. Teddington, Middlesex: Charlotte James, 1980.

Loftie, William John. Memorials of the Savoy; the palace: the hospital: the chapel. With an appendix of original documents contributed by Charles Trice Martin and a pref. by Henry White. London: Macmillan, 1878. Internet Archive. Contributed by Robarts Library, University of Toronto. Web. 1 May 2017.

"The Queen's Chapel of the Savoy" (Chapel's own website). Web. 1 May 2017.

"The Queen's Chapel of the Savoy: History" (Chapel's own website). Web. 1 May 2017.

"Savoy Chapel (The Queen's Chapel of the Savoy), Savoy Hill WC2." Historic England. Web. 1 May 2017.

Thornbury, Walter. Haunted London. Illustrated by F. W. Fairholt. London: Chatto & Windus, 1880. Project Gutenberg. Web. 1 May 2017.

Weinreb, Ben, et al. The London Encyclopaedia. 3rd ed. London: Macmillan, 2008.

Last modified 23 April 2022