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Bloomsbury Institutions


Catholic Apostolic Church

Also known as University Church of Christ the King


It was built in Gordon Square in 1851–1854 for the Catholic Apostolic Church, a group of men who believed the millennium was imminent

Composed of a number of Anglican and Presbyterian clergymen and laymen, and led by the wealthy banker and landowner Henry Drummond, they resisted the idea that they were a separate sect, calling their faith the Catholic Apostolic Church and drawing for their liturgy and practices on those several different Christian sects

The new church arose out of annual conferences held since the late 1820s by Drummond at his country estate in Albury, Surrey

The most charismatic and famous among the participants was Edward Irving, the controversial minister of the National Scotch Church in Regent Square, who permitted outbursts of ‘speaking in tongues’ in his church

However, the Catholic Apostolic Church was formed after Irving’s early death in 1834, and its members resented being called ‘Irvingites’

The most important of the Catholic Apostolic Church’s seven London churches is this one in Gordon Square, occupying what had originally been intended as a prime residential site

The speculative builder Thomas Cubitt, who developed much of the Duke of Bedford’s land in Bloomsbury in the 1820s and 1830s, had trouble finding buyers for some of his sites and houses, particularly in Gordon Square, which was only half developed by the 1840s

In order to complete Gordon Square, the Bedford Estate, contrary to its usual practice, permitted the erection of public rather than residential buildings here

In 1849 University Hall was built on the west side of the Square as a residence for students of University College London; the Catholic Apostolic Church was built in 1851–1854, adjacent to University Hall

The Bedford Estate’s agent Christoper Haedy admired the “magnificence” of the church’s grand architectural design (Haedy’s 1852 report, Annual Reports, Bedford Estate Office, Woburn Abbey)

The building costs were estimated at £13,000, most of which was raised from the congregation, but the money ran out and the building was not completed

The tower was left unfinished and the west end was curtailed and built of brick instead of the Bath stone of the rest of the building

It was hoped that at some future date the building might be completed according to Brandon’s grand design (its proportions modelled on those of Westminster Abbey) but this never happened

Original design for the Catholic Apostolic Church, Gordon Square; from John Belcher, Catholic Apostolic Church, Gordon Square, London (1885)

In 1935 one of the deacons of the Church described it as beautiful, with “cathedral-like proportions”, but requiring the addition of a “graceful spire rising 150 feet above the central Tower” and an extra two bays at the western end in order to fulfil Brandon’s plan (J. Malcolm Lickfold, The Catholic Apostolic Church, Gordon Square, London: Notes on the Architectural Features and the Furniture, with a Glossary of Technical Terms, 1935)

Its congregation based their faith on the prophetic books of the Bible, particularly the Book of Revelation, and sought to revive the true apostolic beliefs with which they thought the established churches had lost touch

To this end, they appointed twelve Apostles to lead the flock, each to be in charge of a ‘tribe’ in a different part of the world

Believing that the millennium was imminent, they made no provision for the replacement of Apostles who died

When the last of the Apostles, Francis Woodhouse, died in 1901, the flock entered into the so-called “time of silence”

Though religious services were still held, no sacraments could be given and the church in England ceased to function fully, though in 1904 the Gordon Square church still had 581 members in its congregation, according to Richard Mudie-Smith’s Religious Life of London (1904)

The Catholic Apostolic Church went into abeyance following the death of the last of its Apostles in 1901, although services continued to be held in the Gordon Square church for some time afterwards

The Gordon Square Church itself was Grade I listed in 1954

It subsequently became the base of the University of London’s Anglican chaplaincy in 1963 and continued in this role until 1992

It remains a Church of England church, though without a parish

By 2005 it had become the headquarters of the Anglican Forward in Faith movement, founded in 1992 and firmly opposed to the ordination of women


What was reforming about it?

Its members proclaimed the imminent second coming of Christ

Where in Bloomsbury

It occupies what had originally been intended as a prime residential site in Gordon Square

Website of current institution

There is no current website of the Catholic Apostolic Church.  The New Apostolic Church, the result of a schism in the German branch in 1863, has a UK and a worldwide website: www.nacukie.org (UK) / www.nak.org (worldwide) (opens in new window)

The Forward in Faith movement which is now based at the church in Gordon Square can be found at www.fifparish.com/home/christtheking (opens in new window)

There is a website devoted to the time when the building in Gordon Square was the University Church of Christ the King, including some details of its history and the building, www.christtheking-ulac.org.uk (opens in new window)


Church of Christ the King, Gordon Square

Books about it

Edward Miller, The History and Doctrines of Irvingism or of the so-called Catholic Apostolic Church (2 vols) (1878)

H. M. Prior, My Experience of the Catholic Apostolic Church (1880)

J. Malcolm Lickfold, The Catholic Apostolic Church, Gordon Square, London: Notes on the Architectural Features and the Furniture, with a Glossary of Technical Terms (1935)

P. E. Shaw, The Catholic Apostolic Church, sometimes called Irvingite (1946)

George L. Standring, Albury and the Catholic Apostolic Church (1967) (privately printed)

Rowland A. Davenport, Albury Apostles: The Story of the Body known as the Catholic Apostolic Church (sometimes called ‘Irvingites’) (1970)

Seraphim Newman-Norton, A Biographical Index of Those Associated with the Lord’s Work (1972)

David Tierney, ed Negley Harte, ‘The Catholic Apostolic Church: a study in Tory Millenarianism’, Historical Research, vol. 63, no. 152 (1990)

Columba Graham Flegg, Gathered Under Apostles: A Study of the Catholic Apostolic Church (1992)

Manfred Henke, ‘Eine Große, Prächtige Kirche am Gordon Square: Konzeption und Nutzung eines Kirchenbaus der Katholisch-apostolischen Kirche,’ Unsere Familie, Die Zeitschrift der Neuapostolischen Kirche, vol. 66, no. 8 (April 2006)

See also Manfred Henke, ‘The Catholic Apostolic Church and its Gordon Square Cathedral: Bloomsbury, the ‘Irvingites’ and the Catholic Apostolic Church’ (opens in new window)


The library of the Catholic Apostolic Church in Gordon Square, a collection consisting of 205 bound volumes, mainly liturgies, pamphlets, and sermons, was purchased by the Bodleian Library, Oxford University, in 1972; details are available online via the Bodleian Library’s catalogue (opens in new window) (see under “Catholic Apostolic Church”)

Other volumes passed into the collection of Dr Stevenson, Bishop of Southampton, and from him to Lambeth Palace Library; details are available online via the Lambeth Palace Library online printed books catalogue (opens in new window)

Many of its records may still be kept on site; no details of these are available

The New Apostolic Church of North Germany has minutes of meetings of deacons of the Catholic Apostolic Church relating to the building of the Gordon Square church 1850–1854, and minutes of the deaconesses’ meetings at the Gordon Square church 1853–1873

This page last modified 28 June, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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