FARNBOROUGH CHAPEL


  

The chapel is the only building that remains from the old Farnborough Hospital, which developed from the Workhouse.  The Workhouse dates from the 1840s and opened in 1846, but the chapel was not built until some twenty years later.

This article below is taken from the April 1993 edition of the magazine of the Bromley Borough Local History Society and is reproduced here with the permission of the Society. 

Further down the page is an article by a current resident of Farnborough who has good reason to be thankful that the Chapel was saved when the remainder of the old Hospital was demolished.

Farnborough Hospital Chapel

With plans afoot to build one Large central hospital for the London Borough of Bromley, all of Bromley’s existing hospitals are clearly under threat, including the former workhouse buildings at Locksbottom. These are not even on Bromleys local list for preservation although, as I am informed, the chapel would not be demolished.

The Chapel today, in use as the Primrose Centre, see below

Be that as it may, in December 1990 - with the blessing of the Chaplain, Rev. Neil Bunker - Peter Francis took a series of photographs.. We needed a date of construction, but Mr. Bunker’s records go back no further than a Baptism Register commencing In 1884, though the workhouse itself opened in 1846.   It had been suggested that stylistically the 1880s were indicated. So a search was begun in the records in Bromley Library at 1880 - and immediately found that the roof was then in need of repair. Obviously the building had then been up for some time. We are fortunate that Bromley Union records not only survive but have been returned after a sojourn in Kent Archives Office.

Working back through the Minutes of the Guardians, I found that a design for ‘a new chapel’ had been submitted as early as Noveber 1861, and a site ‘near the road, where it stands today, agreed at the beginning of 1862. Building must have soon begun, for in the following September Bromley received a gift of ‘a 'Church Service’ from the S.P.C.K., by which I assume is meant service books, and in October there was some correspondence about the services to be held.

At the end of the year is a note that Insurance on the brick and tile building would amount to £300 plus £50 for fittings, and that is all. No mention of an opening or blessing (a dedication would not be appropriate) or even of the first service, or of Christmas.

On turning to the Bromley Record, in March 1862, we learn of the proposal to ‘build a chapel for the use of the inmates of Bromley Workhouse, the present practice of employing the dining hall for services has been found objectionable in many respects - the sum required for building a decent but plain chapel is, we hear, £550’. A subscribers’ list was begun. However, by June only a few Bromley residents, and those ‘chiefly the wealthiest’, had subscribed. Fortunately the other parishes in the Union were more forthcoming, and the Record was able to report that this ‘excellent and necessary work has, we learn, been commenced, and will shortly be roofed in. It is a plain unpretending structure, but has all the appearance of a building set apart for devine worship.’

By August the roof was going on and it would soon be ready. Another £60 or £70 had to be found to add a Vestry and for ‘measures adopted to ensure ventilation and warming the building, which, under the special circumstances of the case, were of more than usual importance.’ Seats were put in at the beginning of October and the chapel would (again!) soon be ready. Here too, nothing about an opening service.

Hoping that the occasion might have figured in the Diocesan ‘uniment Book I wrote to the Diocesan Registry, without any luck. Presumably all that happened was, one Sunday that winter the inhabitants of that ‘grim grey house’ (as the Editor of the Record always referred to it) were told, no more services in the dining hall - everybody out to the new chapel. It is to be hoped they appreciated their new amenity, and the Chaplain of the day made as full a use of it as the present incumbent obviously does.

P. Knowiden 1992


The Primrose Centre

How many people travelling from Locksbottom to Farnborough notice the chapel protruding amongst the hospital flats on the left? Do they wonder why it is there, or how it got there? The mysteries of this chapel are almost as difficult as finding it. There is no entrance from the main road and even via the hospital grounds it is easy to miss the road, but it is a turning on your right, Prudence Lane. The chapel is at the far end of the lane.

It is about 170 years old as it was erected at the same time as the Union Workhouse at Locksbottom on the site of the present hospital. It was built in response to the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act.

This Act introduced the large scale construction of workhouses to serve regions as opposed to individual parishes. It was a case of big is economically beneficial rather than beautiful.

The workhouses provided a source of cheap employment to be hired, which would supplement the running costs of such establishments. The chapel would provide the spiritual support and guidance, as well as the other services of the church, though surprisingly most funerals were directed to the deceased’s’ original parish.

Over the first hundred years the workhouse metamorphosed into a hospital, and by 1948 became part of the National Health Service. It was mainly to provide operations and maternity services. The chapel still had an important role to play providing appropriate services to the needs of patients and staff.

As an example, in 1955 one little Edie had her son ‘churched’ there. This was a thanksgiving service for his safe arrival into the world. I always assumed it was because I was the first and only boy to arrive in the family. Edie and her two siblings had produced daughters until then. However, it was due to the fact that after the birth of her daughter, Edie had succumbed to tuberculosis, which involved her being sent to ‘the country’ for clean air and convalescence. I later discovered that 'the country' was actually a large house in Swanley. However, it meant that nearly six years passed before it was safe for Edie to have another child, so hence the offer of thanks in the chapel. Even in the eighties, the chapel provided an important role in the life of the hospital with the baptism of newly born babies.

Then, by 2003, Farnborough Hospital was no more, and had been replaced by the new Princess Royal University Hospital, now providing a broad spectrum of services including accident and emergencies.

The chapel, however became redundant, owing to an all faith provision being included within the new hospital building and reflecting the multi-ethnic community it now serves. Well not quite redundant……

Although its religious service may no longer be required, the chapel has continued to serve the community as the Primrose Centre. This is a registered charity that provides complementary therapy, counselling and advice to help relieve the stress caused by breast cancer. The external structure remains very much the original chapel of 1840, but internally it has been tastefully designed and decorated to be both welcoming and supportive to those affected by breast cancer, most of whom are initially shocked and distressed by their diagnosis.

It is nearly sixty years since little Edie attended the chapel to say thank you. She never imagined that her little boy would be there again whispering, “thank you,” every time he collected his wife after she had attended one of the therapy sessions, or even a coffee morning with the other ladies facing the challenge of breast cancer.

On Tuesday 14th October 2014 I was able to offer a more constructive thank you by raising funds for the Primrose Centre through a Charity Quiz night at the Woodman, Farnborough. The event was well supported by friends and locals including teams from the Primrose Centre. Many thanks to Peter Reeves for hosting the event and Mary Spinks for organising the sponsored prizes.

Bob Donovan

         www.primrosecentre.org.uk


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