The Garrison Chapel and the Prince’s Foundation: The King and us
Henrietta Easton reports on the transformation of the Garrison Chapel into a public space showcasing the Prince’s Foundation’s commitment to sustainability and heritage crafts
Once serving its purpose as a religious space for the Chelsea Guards in their barracks, the Grade II-listed Garrison Chapel within Chelsea Barracks now serves as a public exhibition space for the work of the Prince’s Foundation, an educational charity established by King Charles III, when he was still Prince of Wales, in 1986.
The beautiful Romanesque- Byzantine style chapel, built in 1859, with its high ceilings and iconic ‘rose window’ – the emblem of the Chelsea Barracks – was deconsecrated in 2012 after more than 150 years as an active church.
But, in 2021, the building was given a new lease of life by the Prince’s Foundation as a public amenity, art gallery, and community space.
Rosie Alderton, exhibitions manager at the Garrison Chapel, says that the chapel had its roots in the past and, when it was no longer needed for its original purpose, it needed a new mission; the Foundation brought “this wonderful heritage building a new role to serve the local community and beyond.”
Rosie explains that those values are “central to the Foundation’s purpose: valuing the past and creating opportunity for the future.”
The original architectural features of the building provide the perfect backdrop for the Foundation’s diverse education and training programmes, which, Rosie says, “champion the teaching and conservation of traditional arts and heritage craft skills.”
As well as sites across Britain, including at King Charles’s Dumfries House in Ayrshire and Highgrove in Gloucestershire, the Foundation’s activity spans the globe.
Reflecting King Charles’s longstanding passion for the environment and sustainability, the Foundation was built on the idea that by respecting the past, we can build a better future – and it is this idea that we see in the regeneration and the work of the Garrison Chapel.
The charity aims to revive and care for places where communities thrive, and visitors enjoy, and, according to Rosie, “the Garrison Chapel is the Prince’s Foundation’s way of publicly communicating and celebrating these messages.”
As a public exhibition space for the charity, the chapel regularly hosts exhibitions related to the King and his commitment to sustainability and supporting heritage crafts, and showcasing the work of the Foundation, its students, and graduates, “We’ve hosted a wide diversity of events for the public to enjoy, ranging from more than a dozen exhibitions (including work from students of The School of Traditional Arts, and The Society of Portrait Sculptors), to art workshops and music recitals,” Rosie says.
In King Charles’s coronation year, there is understandably a great deal of interest in what has inspired and motivated the King over his lifetime in public service.
Rosie says: “The Prince’s Foundation brings together a wide range of the King’s passions, offering training and education opportunities to keep skills alive and promote a greater understanding of the importance of living in harmony with nature.”
David Cheng, a graduate from the Prince’s Foundation’s Snowdon School of Furniture, who learnt his trade at Highgrove, has had a whirlwind journey since completing his course, having been asked to create a dressing table and chair to be used at the launch of a special Highgrove-inspired fragrance for the Royal-Warranted perfumier Penhaligon’s.
His work was then placed on display at the Garrison Chapel as part of an exhibition of the Highgrove graduates, and David has since received an offer of employment from a renowned Devon furnituremaker.
“Coming from further education, it was great to have that stepping stone to a job in industry,’’ David explains.
He says that his time with the Foundation changed his approach to furniture making: ‘‘Now, I have a greater appreciation of British timber, and building things to last. Using solid British wood that lasts for hundreds of years is so much better for the environment.”
In 2023, to celebrate the coronation, the Prince’s Foundation hosted a special exhibition at the chapel, offering visitors unique insight into the inspiration behind the King’s gardens at Highgrove, which he bought, while still Prince Charles, in 1980.
Highgrove uses modern ecological philosophies for its medley of organic gardens, which all focus on the preservation of the planet. Although the house itself is not open to the public, (as it is home to His Majesty and the Queen Consort), the gardens play host to over 40,000 visitors every year.
Highgrove in Harmony: Exploring a Royal Vision (until 29 May 2023) tells the story of how the gardens “came to life in fulfilment of the King’s vision,” according to Rosie, and includes original archival photographs and early design plans, most of which have never been publicly exhibited before. It’s a flavour of the calibre of future exhibitions visitors can expect.
Rosie says over the coming year the chapel will see the return of the Prince’s Foundation School of Traditional Arts, and the Society of Portrait Sculptors. Visitors can expect events such as opera recitals, lectures on diverse and interesting subjects, and art workshops ranging from live sculpting to the art of sacred geometry.
She says: “I’m so proud of this work and really excited as it continues into the future.”
This is an extract, read the full feature in our June/July 2023 issue of Discover Britain, available to buy here.
The Garrison Chapel is open every day 11am-4pm and is free to enter. For more information regarding upcoming events and exhibitions, click here.
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