Upon walking into King’s College London from the Strand, one is greeted by a 1960s monstrosity. When I met Rev. Alexander Fostiropoulos, the college’s Orthodox chaplain, he rather bemoaned the fact that the chapel is no longer visible from the street – the newer building blocks the view. The university now has around 32,000 students, based around 5 campuses in London. In this respect, the university is vastly different in comparison to the 19th century, when it was founded as an Oxbridge style college. In a way, the grandeur of the chapel can only be understood once one has knowledge of the College’s history. When UCL was founded as ‘London University’ in 1826, it was intended to be an alternative to the strictly Anglican Oxford and Cambridge Colleges. As a response, King George IV founded his own London College, intended as a statement against the ‘Godless of Gower Street’.
I was surprised by just how elaborate the Chapel was. Firstly, it sits in the heart of Smirke’s classical building, so seems out of place stylistically. Secondly, lecture halls and a café surround it. It is clear that the chapel is intended as a statement. KCL was intended to have Anglicanism at its heart, and so hiring the prolific George Gilbert Scott to redesign the old chapel reasserted the religious nature of King’s College. However, the chapel is not Gothic, and its Byzantine-like style is perhaps closer to one of Gilbert Scott’s public buildings than his churches. Its interior has the look of a basilica – the hall below supports the columns and rounded arches in the chapel, and towards the east there is an apse. This surprising style both reflects Gilbert Scott’s vision and gives the chapel a rather universal feel. Nowadays this is particularly appropriate, for KCL has chaplains from several Christian traditions, as well as Muslim and Jewish chaplains. Not only that, but the impressive Chapel Choir sing not only for Anglican services, but Catholic and Orthodox services too.
The room beneath the chapel is the Great Hall, and it is the iron columns there that support the chapel above. This support was once required in particular for the chapel’s pitched roof. However, in the early 1930s the construction of the Hambledon Building of Anatomy meant that the chapel roof was substituted for a flat-boarded ceiling. This newer ceiling is not too out of keeping with the rest of the chapel, although it seems unlikely that the original decision would be made again today. Extensive decoration adorns the walls, including paintings of the doctors of the church and 16th/17th Century Anglican divines. Huelin notes that this was probably an afterthought or last minute decision, as Gilbert Scott had originally intended geometrical patterns to ornament the walls.
Much later changes to the chapel include frequent renovations to the organ, and post-war modifications by Stephen Dykes-Bower. He suggested all the stained glass be replaced with clear glass, as much of the original glass suffered extensive damage between 1939-45. The windows were recently re-designed by Joseph Nuttgens, and contain the same themes as conceived by Gilbert Scott, but made to suit KCL as an academic institution.