06 December 2018, The Tablet

Christopher Howse on the fascinating friary in Westminster that has become a pre-prep for the cathedral choir school

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Christopher Howse’s notebook

Christopher Howse on the fascinating friary in Westminster that has become a pre-prep for the cathedral choir school
 

I’ll explain a bit later why I was thinking about the Friary in Francis Street, round the back of Westminster Cathedral, but I was pleased to be reminded this week that it had been built as an orphanage for guardsmen’s children. During the Crimean War, the Victorians got through guardsmen at quite a rate.

Survivors could make use of the Guardsmen’s Institute, a big brick building on the corner opposite, but in 1873 it was taken over by Archbishop Henry Edward Manning (Cardinal from 1875). Manning’s skeletal frame rattled around in this “ugly barrack-like building”, as the historian David Newsome called it, “in an atmosphere of bleak austerity”. He once invited W. G. Ward, the much put-upon convert, to drop in if he ever felt low. Ward laughed (inwardly) because Manning didn’t drink, and, although he liked a cheerful fire, was not the embodiment of jollity.

The architect of the guardsmen’s orphanage thought that the orphans might feel more at home if his design nodded at that of Hospital of Innocents in Florence, designed by Brunelleschi in the fifteenth century. That’s what historians say, though in Florence last year I didn’t find the resemblance all that marked.

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