Charles Harrison Townsend
- Original design
- Charles Harrison Townsend, 1894
- Sheppard Architects, 2011
The 2017 programme is now past. We will be launching the 2018 programme in July.
Opened in 1894 by the then Prime Minister, Lord Rosebery, Bishopsgate Institute was built using funds from charitable endowments made to the parish of St Botolph without Bishopsgate. These had been collected by the parish for over 500 years, but a scheme agreed by the Charity Commissioners in 1891 enabled these funds to be drawn together into one endowment.
Reverend William Rogers (1819-1896), Rector of St Botolph’s and a notable educational reformer and supporter of free libraries, was instrumental in setting up the Institute and ensuring that the original charitable aims were met. The Institute was built ‘for the benefit of the public to promote lectures, exhibitions and otherwise the advancement of literature, science and the fine arts’. Today the original aims and ethos of the Institute live on through our courses, cultural events, library, and schools and community learning programme. We continue to provide a home for ideas and debate, learning and enquiry and independent thought.
The architect for Bishopsgate Institute was decided by a design competition and Charles Harrison Townsend (1851-1928), whose previous work had mainly consisted of church restoration, was chosen as the winner. Townsend was an inspiring and original architect whose work was individual rather than adhering to any particular style or movement.
The Grade II* listed building combines elements of the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau styles, but the influences of Townsend’s interest in Romanesque and Byzantine architecture can be seen in the broad semi-circular arched entrance, twin roof turrets and mosaic interior floors. Townsend’s reputation today is based not only on Bishopsgate Institute but also his other major London public buildings, Whitechapel Art Gallery (1901) and the Horniman Museum (1901).
Today all three landmark listed buildings are not only connected stylistically, with broad arched entrances and buff terracotta exteriors with intricate carving reflecting Townsend’s fondness for the ‘Tree of Life’ motif, but all have been beautifully restored and are being used as originally intended.
In past years Bishopsgate Institute has undergone several refurbishment schemes. In 1994 an 18th century house on neighbouring Brushfield Street was incorporated to accommodate an expanding courses programme and in 1997 the colour scheme and light fittings of Townsend’s original designs were replicated in the Library. It is however the recent £7.2 million renewal programme (2009-2011), funded in part by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and directed by Charles Sheppard Architects, that has transformed the building and facilities to the highest standards, whilst also being sympathetic to Townsend’s original designs and restoring the historic features of the building.
Explore the Institute at your leisure or join one of our guided tours to hear all about the history and architecture of the building. Tours will take place every half hour (first tour at 10am, last tour at 4.00pm) and will take in our Victorian reference Library, panelled boardroom and clerestoried Great Hall. Plus don't miss Townsend's original plan for the Institute and the dioramas of Spitalfields on display in the library.