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Spiritualists’ temple in demolition threat

Bid to save building that was opened in 1926 after donation from Sherlock Holmes author

06 February, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

FRESH plans to demolish a historic temple used for spiritualist worship in Camden Town have been lodged at the Town Hall – and face objections from its congregation, neighbours and civic groups.

The Rochester Square Spiritualist temple, which opened in 1926, was built with funds donated by Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is at the centre of a controversy over plans to knock down the church and turn it into nine flats and a community hall.

Campaigners say the church has a busy community who have been made to leave their place of worship by the Spiritualists’ National Union (SNU), who are behind the application.

They add that a rose garden, which was used to scatter the ashes of many former members of the church, will not be treated with respect by the project. A foundation stone laid by the Holmes author in 1926 marks his interest in the building – he donated £500 towards its construction – and it has provided a place for people to practise their beliefs for nearly 90 years.

Spiritualism made an impact on religious worship in the interwar years, partly sparked by the sense of grief many felt at losing loved ones in the First World War. Often having to face the death of someone close, and with nobody to bury and mourn, many people turned to spiritualism as a means of coping with their grief. While congregations have shrunk, there are still many believers and the temple was known for being well supported.

The building is not listed but it is celebrated in the neighbourhood and has a variety of classic design hallmarks of the early 20th century, drawing on the arts and crafts movement. In the planning application, the SNU’s agents claim the building offers little architecturally.

They said: “The quality of the design is below the standard required for listing. It is not a notable example of its style or building type and is not the work of a noted architect. The temple has limited historical value: it appeared during a period of decline in the neighbourhood and its limited architectural expression reflects this.” They add that the benefits of passing the application includes new housing, a community space and a piece of attractive architecture. It is the second application the SNU have lodged to demolish the church. The first saw more than 400 people object – and the latest is facing similar opposition. Astrologer Coral Temple told the New Journal the SNU had acted in bad faith, promising users they would repair and make good the building before closing its doors and leaving them with nowhere to practise their beliefs.

She added: “We are all appalled. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did not give this money for the temple to be turned into luxury flats.” Ms Temple alleges that the SNU have turned other churches in Liverpool and Plymouth into housing, making large sums of money in the process.

She said: “Members have long paid membership fees and made donations towards the upkeep of this building and we are not clear why the SNU feel there is neither the need anymore to have the church open to its congregation, or that it cannot be suitably repaired and preserved in its present state for continued use.”

The New Journal contacted the SNU, who declined to comment.

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