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Listed Building
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Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Bath and North East Somerset (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
ST 74994 65011


MILSOM STREET (East side) Octagon Chapel (Royal Photographic Society) 14/07/55


Proprietary Chapel, now display gallery for photographs (Royal Photographic Society). 1766-1767. By Thomas Lightoler, shopfront by Silcock & Reay, architects 1900. MATERIALS: Limestone rubble, roofs not visible. PLAN: Centrally planned, with a 50 ft wide central octagon to the centre, with a sanctuary to the west side. EXTERIOR: Building has no street frontage and almost no external expression. Stands behind Nos 43-46 Milsom Street, originally entered through passage, but now entered through No.43 (qv). Octagonal drum sits on rectangular building of blind walling almost entirely surrounded by other buildings. Drum has multi-paned window in each face, cornice, and surmounted by octagonal timber lantern. Treatment not in accord with Lightoler drawing in Ison (see below), possibly an alteration. INTERIOR: Altered first to be antique showroom when organ and other fittings were removed, and plasterwork added to, in 1895. Continuous eight sided gallery supported on Ionic columns with carved decoration on gallery front. Above, octagonal drum with each face containing window of small panes with wreath decoration. Above this, shallow dome and lantern. Original form of interior described by Ison and there are also both contemporary plans and section. Altered again when refurbished to be museum of the Royal Photographic Society. This has largely meant that the interior has been obscured rather than changed. HISTORY: The Chapel was paid for by a subscription raised by the Rev. Dr Dechair and William Street the banker. It opened for service on October 4th 1767, and was advertised as 'the only safe place of worship in Bath as there are no steps to climb and no bodies buried below'. Thomas Lightoler's plans were published in 1786 showing an apse and three domes. Lightoler described himself as a carver, well known as author of builders pattern books in collaboration with William Halfpenny and Morris, besides publishing a curious collection of farm buildings of his own invention. William Herschel, the discoverer of Uranus in 1781 (see No.19 New King Street), was the organist. The basement was used for wine storage, giving rise to Christopher Anstey's quip about `spirits above and spirits below'. Hugely popular with Georgian visitors, the chapel began to decline with the onset of the liturgical movement in the 1840s. It remained in use as a chapel until 1895 and then became an antique showroom for Mallet and Son. Mallets was described in the Draper's Records 26 Dec 1908 as `the most sumptuous shop in Europe, the wares of which include practically priceless curios and treasures of historic association. Probably not under one roof may be found more millionaires in the course of a year than at Mallett's, in Bath, in the whole of the Kingdom.' It has been a gallery for the RPS since 1983. SOURCES: (Mowbray Green, `The Eighteenth Century Architecture of Bath (1904), 155,157; `A Description of the Octagon, Bath' (1951); Ison W: The Georgian Buildings of Bath: Bath: 1980-: 54-56; Colvin H: A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1660-1840: London: 1978-: 521). Finch G: Shopfront Record, Bath City Council: 1992.

Listing NGR: ST7499465011


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

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