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News > School News > Carmel Hall - A History in Four Parts by School Archivist, Clive Bartram

Carmel Hall - A History in Four Parts by School Archivist, Clive Bartram

Part 1: Carmel Baptist Chapel - 1824 to 1919. Carmel Hall has enjoyed four different vocations since it was founded back in 1824, a full 57 years before our own school came into existence in 1881.

Carmel Hall has enjoyed four different vocations since it was founded back in 1824, when George IV was King, and a full 57 years before our own dear school came into existence in 1881. These articles will cover the history of Carmel Hall in four separate parts: 

1.    Carmel Baptist Chapel - 1824 to 1919
2.    Carmel Church Hall for St Mary’s, Bourne Street - 1930s to 1960
3.    Carmel Hall as the Grosvenor Club -1961 to 2010
4.    Carmel Hall as part of FHS - 2010 to present day

Part 1 Carmel Baptist Chapel 1824 to 1919 

1824 was a long time ago. And the area in which Francis Holland now sits looked really rather different. And, to be frank, it was quite an unsavoury place in which to live.The notorious Five Fields Row, which used to cut its way through the swampy lowlands of Chelsea, and best avoided at night [1], lay where Ebury Street now does.The area was also very swampy and frequently flooded. Hence the name Chelsea. 

Development of Chelsea (map dated 1830)

The map above shows the development of the area, and as you can see Carmel Chapel was one of the first buildings to be constructed (just below Graham Street, marked Chapel). Also note the layout for the streets surrounding fields that would become this corner of SW1. This map predates the railway, and the Grosvenor Canal (bottom left), is where the rail tracks now run into Victoria. But that story will have to wait for another time.  

Carmel Baptist Chapel

Carmel was a church for strict Baptists, which grew out of the Calvinist tradition. Strict refers to the fact that communion can only be given to those who are “saved” rather than everyone looking stern and sullen! [2]. Carmel was built in 1824, founded in 1825, and served as both church and school for the local population, including the poor and disadvantaged in the area. The Sunday school as an institution acted as a vital place of elementary education in Victorian times, especially so before the Education Reform Act of 1870 came along [3]. The importance of Sunday schools cannot be understated at this time, and the significance of a moral compass for the Victorians started and ended with a closeness to God, regardless of one’s class or social standing. So, the Chapel enjoyed a large and growing congregation, as can be seen in this extract from 1853. Note the date.

“On the Lord’s Day, December 25th, 1853, brother Stenson baptised eight professed believers. Of the eight only one has an earthly father, who is a member with us, whilst the others are now members of the church above”. (Extract from the Earthen Vessel).

The original façade of Carmel Baptist Chapel. Note how the front advertises the Chapel so it can be seen from all directions.

Charitable works

As well as saving souls, Carmel Baptist Chapel also helped to support the poor and destitute in more mundane yet equally vital ways. Here are few extracts from the “Earthen Vessel” from 1914 and 1904, and carefully transcribed by David Woodruff, librarian of the Strict Baptist Society. The scholars being, of course, Carmel Sunday school children. 

The Post-War Years

Unfortunately, the writing was on the wall for Carmel Baptist Chapel, as it was for many institutions at this time, as the railways took the huddled masses out of London to live in the suburbs. As the congregation dwindled and the lease grew shorter, it was decided to close Carmel Chapel for good in 1919, and on Thursday May 15th the Chapel shut after 95 sacred years. The presiding pastor made mention that the “brook had dried up” and so it seemed that both Church and lease had dried up together. And so ended the first chapter of Carmel Hall. But it wouldn’t lay empty for long…

Many thanks to David Woodruff, librarian and archivist for the Strict Baptist Society, without whom this article would not have been possible.  Thank you, David.

By Clive Bartram. More to follow!


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