History of the Chapel

 

The first chapel of the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, built in 1813, formed part of the Old College building and, following the construction of the newer and larger chapels, it was used variously as a dining hall and museum. It is now known as the Indian Army Memorial Room.

 


Circa 1880 - The Chapel Chancel

Toward the end of the 19th century, it became apparent that the first Chapel was inadequate in many respects and, as there was no way of enlarging it, a new site and building had to be found. It was decided that the ground behind Old College was to be the site of the new chapel. The original chapel was designed in 1879 by the Royal Engineers in a style copied from a church in Florence. It is constructed mainly in red brick, with terracotta moulding, large interlocking pediment copies and massive corbels.


The Chapel in 1914

The second Chapel to be built is actually 'contained' within the third, present and most recent structure, though the latter was cleverly positioned, at right angles, around the existing chapel of Christ Church. This second edifice was named Christ Church and many of the features of that building, a narrow rectangular shaped structure, can be clearly seen around the present building.

After the Great War the Royal Military College Chapel of Christ Church became the Royal Military Memorial Chapel and in 1919 plans by architect Captain Arthur C. Martin were agreed for an enlarged building. Martin, who designed the new building in a Byzantine style, changing the orientation of the chapel from South East to North East. It was duly consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1921, although work continued on the new West End for a further 16 years. On 2nd May 1937, on completion of the final phase of the building programme that transformed the building into the Chapel we know today, the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Cosmo Gordon Lang, 1st Baron Lang of Lambeth GCVO PC dedicated the new Chapel, in the presence of King George VI, whose coronation was ten days later.

We recently discovered a copy of the visitors' programme for a Gala and Fête which were held to raise funds for the conversion of the Chapel. It is a fascinating read and we have reproduced it in full. It included various cricket matches, concerts, parades, bazaar and, most interestingly, a football match held in front of New College, between Tottenham Hotspur and Fulham! You can download the programme in pdf form from the "Downloads" menu above or here. Please note that this is a large file, and may take some time if you have a slow connection.

We have also discovered a copy of the Order of Service from the 2nd May 1937 Dedication. You can also download this from the "Downloads" menu or here. Also available for download is a pair of tickets for the Dedication in May 1937, complete with Compliments slip and map showing parking and directions to the Chapel. Download it above or here.

You can read a copy of Archbishop Lang's sermon given during the service of Dedication.

We have also discovered an interesting document, a memento of the Service of Dedication. Peter Franklin, our Assistant Verger, has produced a transcription of the original handwritten notes prepared for a commemorative book of the service to dedicate the Chapel. It is assumed that the original is the work of Reverend T.W. Heale who was Chaplain at the time. You can download it in pdf form from the "Downloads" menu above or here.

In 1965 the Chapel was accorded the title of Royal Memorial Chapel, Sandhurst. In contemporary times, whilst its main function remains as the Academy's Chapel, as a Royal Chapel, and seating over 1000 people, it is, with the exception of Westminster Abbey and St George's Chapel, Windsor, the largest of all the Royal Chapels.

Commonly sung in the Chapel until the 1950's was this hymn, a setting of Rudyard Kipling's poem "Recessional", chosen largely because of the lines "Lest we forget". It was sung to "Melita", more usually known as the tune for "Eternal Father, strong to save". Coincidentally, at the end of every Morning Prayer service in the chapel, the final verse of "Eternal Father" is sung immediately after the National Anthem:-

O Trinity of love and power!
Our brethren shield in danger's hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect them wheresoe'er they go;
Thus evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

The image below shows the construction history of the Chapel. There is another version of this image, showing the location of individual Regiments' memorials from the First World War, with listings in alphabetic and location order, available on the "Christ Church" menu tab above, all of which will open in a new tab or window.