London Unveiled

great places to visit off the beaten path.

Savoy Chapel ~ a very unique place with a great history.

Savoy chapel exterior

Located on the Strand, the Savoy Chapel is a truly unique building with a fascinating history.  Also known as the Queen’s Chapel of the Savoy, it is arguably one of the lesser known historically significant Royal buildings in London.

History of the Savoy Estate:  The Savoy is a small district in central London within which the widely known Savoy Hotel sits.  Originally this area was a large estate given to Peter of Savoy by Henry III in 1246.  When Peter died, his mother, Queen Eleanor, gave the estate to Edmund, the 1st Earl of Lancaster.  Of note is that to this day the Savoy Estate continues to be the principal land holding of the Duchy of Lancaster in London.

Savoy Chapel entranceEdmund’s great-granddaughter and her husband, John of Gaunt, built a large palace on the estate that was destroyed in 1381 during the Peasant’s Revolt.   A little over a century later, the property was under the control of Henry VII who envisioned building a hospital to serve the poor on the estate, and in 1512 its construction began.  Records show that the hospital included a main building, a dormitory, a dining hall and three chapels – of which the Savoy Chapel is one.  Dedicated to St. John the Baptist, this chapel (also known as the Queen’s Chapel of the Savoy) is all that remains of Henry VII’s hospital complex.

At the beginning of the 18th century, the hospital was closed and by the 19th Savoy Chapel signcentury most buildings had been demolished.  Only the Savoy Chapel (the hospital’s main chapel) survived.  Fires damaged the interior in the mid 1800s which led to much interior reconstruction yet the outer walls date are mostly original and date from the early 1500s.

The Chapel’s uniqueness:  Curiously, the Savoy Chapel was the first church lit by electricity in London (1890).  It was also one of the most desirable locations for weddings during Victorian times.  But what makes the Savoy Chapel particularly unique is that it is a private chapel of the “Sovereign in Right of the Duchy of Lancaster”.  Today, the Queen holds the title of Duke of Lancaster. It is thus outside of any Bishop’s jurisdiction, yet still part of the Church of England (as is Westminster Abbey).    It is also a “Chapel of the Royal Victorian Order”, which makes it the ‘home’ chapel for anyone receiving this award which is given for service to the monarch, the monarch’s family or Viceroys.  Recipients have the letters GVCO, KCVO or DCVO, CVO, LVO, MVO or RVM.  The Chaplain is thus the Chaplain of the Royal Victorian Order.  This is their only chapel.

Savoy Chapel roof interiorIn the 18th century the chapel was known as a place where marriages without banns could occur.  In ‘Brideshead Revisited’, Evelyn Waugh’s wrote it is “the place where divorced couples got married in those days – a poky little place”.

At all services the National Anthem is sung, but the lyrics are amended to say “Long Live Our Noble Duke” (yes, for some reason the Queen is the Duke not Duchess of Lancaster).  The Duchy of Lancaster still maintains and fully funds the costs of the chapel.  This includes the extensive renovations (1999-2000) that restored the ceiling to its earlier glory, & the garden redesign (2003).

Services / Visiting:  The chapel is open to all, Mon – Thu 9:30am – 4pm, and Sunday 9-1pm.  Sunday service: 11am – which is usually a choral eucharist. Occaisionally other services occur including periodic lunchtime and evening events.  See the Duchy’s website for details:  http://alturl.com/vhg5q

Located at:  Savoy Hill (off Savoy St, just south of the Strand), WC2R 0DA

Closest Tube:  Embankment or Temple

12 comments on “Savoy Chapel ~ a very unique place with a great history.

  1. Daisy@Nevertoosweet
    February 7, 2013

    Wow first time visiting your blog and I already LOVE IT 🙂 I have been mesmerised by London and would LOVE to move over there and experience it ~ such a pretty chapel I love the amount of history London has to offer ~

    • LondonUnveiled.com
      February 7, 2013

      hi Daisy – thanks for your comments and for reading the blog posts. I’m glad you like it. All the best, IAN

  2. CatherineTs
    February 11, 2013

    Used to walk by here all the time to get from the Embankment to the Strand – so nice to learn a bit of its history!

  3. atbankofdam
    August 17, 2013

    Reblogged this on atbankofdam.

  4. jamharl
    November 28, 2013

    It’s really great to connect in the past through remnants. Just like savoy chapel, reminds us of yesterday.

    • LondonUnveiled.com
      November 29, 2013

      Thanks for your comment. Glad you like the historical posts. All the best, Ian

  5. Ursula
    December 4, 2013

    Thanks for the intro to you blog! We have posted here http://sco.lt/7kSz2H

  6. Duncan Linklater
    September 14, 2015

    I wonder if you can help me with information about Gavin Douglas b. ca 1476 d. 1522 in London where he was on a diplomatic mission to the court of Henry viii. He was apparently buried in the Savoy Chapel; is there any sort of monument or memorial commemorating him? Thanks for any information.

    • LondonUnveiled.com
      September 14, 2015

      I would contact the church directly. I am unable to assist. Thanks, Ian.

      • Duncan Linklater
        November 12, 2015

        Here’s the answer to my own question. Gavin Douglas died of plague in London in September 1522 while staying in the house of an old friend, Thomas Lord Dacre, in St Clements’ parish, London. His death was noted by another friend of recent acquaintance, the historian Polydore Vergil. Douglas’ will, itself very interesting and nearly the oldest document of its kind, was dated 10th September and probate granted on the 19th September. In accordance with his own wishes he was buried on the left side of Thomas Halsey, Bishop of Leighlin who died about the same time and was buried in the Hospital Church of the Savoy. The following inscription was placed on their tomb.

        [I have an image but can’t see a way to include it here so will park it on my website here; http://quivis.co.uk/images/douglas.gif%5D

        The inscription reads:

        “Hic jacet Thomas Halsey Leglinensis Episcopus in basilica
        Sancti Petri Romae Nationis Anglicorum penitenciarius, summae
        probitatis vir, q’hoc soli post se reliquit, vixit dum vixit
        bene. Cui laevus conditur Gavanus Dowglas, natione
        Scotus, Dunkeldensis Praesul, patria sua exul, Anno Christi 1522.”

        In 1864 there was a fire in the Savoy Chapel after which the brass plaque marking the spot of the interment of the two bishops was removed for some reason. It was still in existence about ten years later when a rubbing of it was taken and published in John Small’s edition of Douglas’ poetry.

        I wonder where the inscription is now? Further investigation required!

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This entry was posted on February 6, 2013 by in Churches, Family Activities, Free Activities, Historic Buildings, Royal London, Westminster and tagged , , .
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