Savoy Chapel, Strand, London
The Savoy Chapel is a unique place of worship, and a site with special significance to the Duchy of Lancaster.
The walls of the current Chapel incorporate part of an earlier chapel from the great hospital or almshouse founded nearby by Henry VII, the construction of which was completed in 1512 a few years after his death.
The Chapel is located in the Savoy, a small district in central London, covering half the Strand and bordered in the South by the River Thames. Peter of Savoy was given the estate by Henry III in 1246. On Peter’s death, the Savoy was given to Edmund, 1st Earl of Lancaster, by his mother, Queen Eleanor.
Edmund’s great-granddaughter, Blanche, inherited the site. Her husband, John of Gaunt, built a magnificent palace which was destroyed during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381.
At the start of the sixteenth century, Henry VII planned a great hospital for “pouer, nedie people”, leaving money and instructions for it in his will. The hospital was licensed in 1512. Drawings show that it was a magnificent building, with a dormitory, dining hall and three chapels.
Henry VII’s hospital lasted for two centuries but suffered from poor management. The sixteenth-century historian Stow noted that the hospital was being misused by “loiterers, vagabonds and strumpets”.
In 1702 the hospital was dissolved, and the hospital buildings were used for other purposes. In the nineteenth century the old hospital buildings were demolished and new buildings erected.
Only the hospital’s main chapel, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, remained. After fires in the middle of the nineteenth century gutted the chapel, it was rebuilt and reopened in 1865. Most of the present building dates from this time; only part of the outer wall dates from 1502.
The Savoy Chapel remained important. In 1890 it was the first church in London to be lit by electricity. During the Victorian period it was also a fashionable venue for weddings.
The Savoy Chapel has never been a Chapel Royal or a Royal Peculiar in the usual sense. It is a private chapel of the Sovereign in Right of the Duchy of Lancaster, exempt from any Bishop’s jurisdiction but firmly within the Church of England. It is also the Chapel of the Royal Victorian Order, an order of chivalry in the personal gift of the Monarch and the spiritual and symbolic heart of Duchy affairs.
The Duchy maintains the Savoy Chapel and bears its running costs. Extensive renovation work in 2000 restored the ceiling to its earlier glory. In 2003 the garden was redesigned and in 2011 improvements were made to the structure of the building in honour of Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee which included the installation of a new commemorative stained glass window.
Members of the public are welcome to attend church services held on Sundays and at lunchtime every Wednesday (except in August and September). The Chapel is open to the public Monday to Thursday 9am to 4pm and on Sunday from 9am to 1pm. For further information and times of Services please visit www.royalchapelsavoy.org/
Anyone wishing to know more about this historic area can purchase Robert Somerville’s book ‘The Savoy Manor: Hospital: Chapel’ available from the Duchy of Lancaster office in London.