London has a wonderful concentration of venues with excellent acoustics for classical music concerts of all kinds. My favourites are the smaller and more intimate ones, like St John’s Smith Square (SJSS) close to Westminster Abbey. This venue was originally an English Baroque church that was heavily damaged during WWII and was rebuilt afterwards as a concert venue. Designed by Thomas Archer and completed in 1728 it features four characteristic corner towers that gave rise to the anecdotal name Queen Anne’s footstool. The story goes that when asked about the design for a new church the queen answered kicking over her footstool and said “Like that!”. The anecdote resonates with the name of the bar/restaurant housed in the basement of the church, The Footstool Restaurant.
A new lease of life as a concert venue
In 1962 a charity was set up by Lady Parker of Weddington to raise the money needed to restore the building to function use as a concert venue. In 1969 the redundant church was re-inaugurated as place for radio recordings and live concerts. Given its distance from road traffic and the underground system the venue is indeed ideal also for radio broadcasts and was used by the BBC as a studio for lunchtime concerts.
The tradition of lunchtime concerts continues to these days and is very popular with residents and office workers of the neighbourhood, as it offers a world class programme of performers and also new music. SJSS is also organising a Young Artist’s Scheme that support budding performers in their educational path, through funding and performing opportunities to artists and ensembles at the beginning of their professional careers.
Link to the venue website