Guards’ Chapel, London

A day in London on Friday 3 February saw me having a good walk. I walked from Euston to the V&A then back through Chelsea and past Buckingham Palace to the Guards’ Chapel on Birdcage Walk.

In my youth I was an oboeist, and my teacher was Ron Hoare. He and his wife Pat lived in Barton and were friends of my mum and dad – to me they were Uncle Ron and Auntie Pat. His real name was Eric Denzil Hoare – apparently a conductor had said “where’s that oboeist who looks like Ronald Coleman?” and the name stuck. I think he had played in the BBC Symphony Orchestra

Ron died quite a few years ago, and I met Auntie Pat again at my dad’s Memorial Service three years ago. We then called in to see her and she had this (or a similar picture) on her wall.

“Is that Coventry?” I asked, because I remembered Ron had told me about being sent to Coventry after the blitz. “No” said Pat, “it’s the Guards’ Chapel in London.” She reminded me that Ron had been in the band of the Coldstream Guards playing for the Morning Service when a flying bomb hit on 18 June 1944. He survived, the clarinettist next to him did not. There is much more about the attack at this website.

I did a google on his name and found Ron listed on this website as Eric A. Hoare (24). He was one of the Coldstream Band who played at the New York World Fair in 1939 and returned on the Aquitania. His name has been copied from a faded passenger list (hence the fact his middle initial is wrong).

The Guards’ Chapel is on Birdcage Walk, just a short walk from Buckingham Palace, and still has a weekly service of Mattins accompanied by a military band. You can find more details at these two websites – this one and this one. I think its real name is The Royal Military Chapel, Wellington Barracks.

The chapel was being used for a recording session, so I had to be careful with wires and microphones. I was (very nicely) asked to leave before they started recording again, so this was just a quick visit.

The Barracks was completed in 1834, and the Chapel opened in 1838 after a long campaign by Dr William Dakins, the Precentor of Westminster Abbey. At the time it was described as “plain”, another description is “bare and ugly”. Thirty years later the interior was restored under the direction of the architect George Edmund Street. He prepared plans for the construction of an apse to form a chancel and redesign the interior in the Lombardo Byzantine style. Over the next 60 years more and more embellishments were added as memorials. To quote the guidebook “The Chapel was justly famed for the beauty and richness of its decoration, every piece of which was a memorial to a member of the Brigade.”

To quite the Guide: “On Sunday 18th June 1944 at 11.10 a.m. during the morning service the chapel was hit by a flying bomb which entered at the western end and exploded. It almost completely destroyed the chapel, only the apse being undamaged. 121 people, soldiers and civilians, were killed and many other injured. The six silver candlesticks and the cross still used for the normal services were in use at the time but were unmoved by the explosion, and the candles remained burning after the chapel had crashed in ruins.” And Ron survived.

A temporary chapel was built, and lasted until 1962. A cloister was added, which houses all the memorial books – seven regimental Rolls of Honour are needed to show the names of all those who died whilst serving in the Household Brigade during WW2.

The new chapel was designed by Bruce George, and embodies the original apse, links with the memorial corridor, includes stained glass recovered, and is built on the foundation of the original building. No attempt was made to replace the memorials or embellishments from the old chapel, instead the chapel stands on 2,000 original memorials. Sadly, more memorials have had to be added from conflicts since.

I was pleased that I had called in, and lit a candle in memory of Ron. I got a lot of pleasure from my oboe playing, even going to Heidelberg with the Cambridge Youth Orchestra on two occasions. Thank you.

I continued my walk through Whitehall, across to the South Bank, then up to meet my daughter at the BMA. An hour in the pub, and the train home. I had walked 11 miles.

 

 

 

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