Chapel Furniture for Haileybury School Chapel

Haileybury School, Hertford

When Luke Hughes was approached to create a set of bespoke chapel furniture for Haileybury School, the first challenge was to understand a little more about the intriguing history of Haileybury, its buildings and how their usage had developed.

A little history

The current site was laid out in 1806, initially as a training college for future civil servants and administrators of the East India Company. After the catastrophe of the Indian Mutiny in 1857 and the scathing public enquiry into its causes that followed, the East India Company was nationalised and its college was closed. The buildings were re-modelled for a new boys’ public school in 1862. It has flourished ever since and is now just known as Haileybury.

The original college buildings were designed in the Greek Revival style by William Wilkins, architect of the National Gallery, University College London and several colleges in Cambridge (notably Downing, Corpus Christi and King’s). This new style was considered appropriate as a reflection of the Enlightenment and an expression of civic virtue, liberated from regal, aristocratic and ecclesiastical associations. It was also a style freed from the exuberant decoration and frivolity associated with the contemporary architecture of France and Italy. Indeed, it became much more popular in Britain, the USA, Scandinavia and, particularly, the German states.

Below: Presider's chair and prayer desk

Haileybury Chapel
Presider's chair and prayer desk

After the college buildings were remodelled as a school, additional buildings were added, including the chapel, designed in 1877 by Sir Arthur Blomfield. Blomfield’s practice was prolific and was also responsible for work at Trinity and Selwyn Colleges  in Cambridge, the Royal College of Music and many other schools, including Charterhouse, Wellington and Bancroft (all clients of Luke Hughes and Company). On the liturgical front, Blomfield is also remembered for countless parish churches, his acclaimed restoration work at the cathedrals of Chester and Salisbury and for the conversion of St Saviour’s Church into Southwark Cathedral in the 1890s where he built a whole new nave.




Despite their confidence in their trading abilities, the East India Company College’s trustees still believed in hiring the brightest candidates and training them rigorously. They engaged an impressive array of leading liberal thinkers to teach economics, political theory and philosophy. These included Thomas Malthus, John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham – all highly radical intellectuals whose views must have been at considerable odds with the imperial ambitions of both the age and their employer. The fact that the East India Company even contemplated engaging such progressive theorists to train their future administrators speaks better of its good intentions, even if the actions of those same administrators, once posted abroad, contributed to fanning the flames of the Indian Mutiny.

Jeremy Bentham, a utilitarian humanist, was one of the most progressive secular philosophers of any age. Amongst his formidable contributions, he espoused full political rights for everyone, not just European landowning men (and, in his view, this should include the people of India). When he died in 1832, Bentham left detailed directions for the preservation of his corpse: it was to be publicly dissected in front of an invited audience; then, the preserved head and skeleton were to be reassembled, clothed, and displayed ‘in the attitude in which I am sitting when engaged in thought and writing’. His desire to be preserved forever was a political statement. As the foremost secular thinker of his time, he wanted to use his body, as he had his mind, to defy religious superstitions and advance real, scientific knowledge. Today, almost 200 years later, there his mummified body and wax head still sits, in full public view, in Wilkins’ designs for the cloisters of the main building of University College and a visible link to Haileybury’s traditions as well.

Chapel furniture
church kneelers

The project

Haileybury Chapel was fashioned to host up to 700 staff and students for everyday school services, including blessings, baptisms and confirmations. These days, it is used for both worship and secular activities. Whole year groups can assemble there for morning service and bible study, choir practice, music rehearsals, speeches and performances can also be accommodated. A key factor identified from the brief was ‘multi-functionality’.

Our brief was to supply chancel furniture that is minimal in scale and proportion, appropriate to its architectural setting but still suitable for supporting the other configurations. The final list of furniture included a presider’s chair, supporting clergy chairs, clergy frontal, church kneelers, a movable church font, a movable lectern (or ‘ligilium’) and a Paschal candle stand and a collection of altar candlestands.


The client representative was the newly appointed School chaplain, the Reverend. Christopher Stoltz, who was determined to use the chapel for other academic and extra-curricular purposes as well as for worship. The chapel is integral to the life of staff and students at the school and Rev. Stoltz was concerned that those who use the space should do so with dignity and grace. He particularly admired the furniture Luke Hughes produced for the White Tower in the Chapel of St John at the Tower of London. It is from this project and the inherent architectural qualities of the chapel that we derived the designs for the new chapel furniture for Haileybury.

Below: Presider's chair, prayer desk, choir benches, folding ligilium with paschal and altar candles, behind.

Haileybury chapel furniture

What it replaced

As it happened, the chapel’s apse was remodelled and extended in the 1930s by Sir Herbert Baker, in his own stripped-down interpretation of a classical style. With each intervention over the past 150 years, the chapel had inevitably accumulated considerable clutter in terms of its furniture - a hodge-podge of styles, sizes, timber types and colours. Rev. Stoltz was clear in his aspiration to allow the original architectural forms to ‘speak’ again, to recover some visual calm and harmony, with the furniture quietly supporting both contemporary liturgy and secular purpose.

clergy chairs


The project was funded by the Hobson Charity, which donated the funds to support the commissioning of the new designs on the condition that Luke Hughes was instructed. Initially, the Hobson family had stipulated the donation should be anonymous but later decided it was proud to be publicly associated with the project. Accordingly, the Hobson Charity crest was carved on the front of the clergy chairs. Visitors can now look out for the delicately carved swans’ wings, tokens of the vitality of the chapel’s current users and the renewed purpose of one of the finest school ecclesiastical buildings in the country.

Below: The Presider's chair with upholstered church kneeler, with swan's wings from the Hobson's Charity crest, carved in oak.

Presider's chair with upholstered church kneeler


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