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British Medical Association House

Designed for the Theosophical Society and acquired by the BMA in 1923. Extended by Wontner Smith (1928-9) and Douglas Wood (1938-50 and 1959-60).


Lutyens, Sir Edwin



Tavistock Square WC1H 9JP

Sat 10am-5pm. Tours on the hour. Last tour at 4pm. Pre-book ONLY on 020 7383 6363. Max 20 at one time.

Russell Square


59, 68, 91, 168

  • Partial disabled
  • Toilets available

BRITISH MEDICAL ASSOCIATION HOUSE BMA House, a Grade II listed building, was originally designed for the Theosophical Society before the First World War. Sir Edwin Lutyens_ wife, a theosophist, introduced him to the Society_s President, Mrs Annie Besant, who subsequently commissioned Lutyens to design a headquarters for the Society. Building work started and the foundation stone was laid on 3rd September 1911. Lutyens_ original plan for the Theosophical Society was for a quadrangular building with a large cupola on the western side of the courtyard over its arched entrance. However, the war interrupted work and the Army pay office took over the uncompleted structure. After the war, the Theosophical Society could no longer afford to finish the building and so it was sold to the BMA for œ50,000 with a 200-year lease from the Bedford Estates at a ground rent of œ1,600. The Association later purchased the freehold of the site in 1962. Style The BMA commissioned Lutyens to complete the building to their specifications. As the Theosophical Society had also experienced, the relationship between architect and the client was often strained, largely due to the cost of decoration. The original Lutyens_ part of the building as it stands today comprises the library and the committee rooms above, the Hastings Room and the members_ dining-room, together with two wings on either side up to the Gates of Remembrance. The building is neo-classical Palladian in style, called by Lutyens _Wrenaissance_. Portland stone and red brick were used for the facades and dressings, with green Westmoreland slate roofs. One of the best aspects of BMA House is that in Burton Street at the back of the building. Extensions BMA House was officially opened by King George V and Queen Mary on 13th July 1925. Almost as soon as the opening ceremony was over, consideration was given towards extending the front of the building to overlook Tavistock Square. Cyril Wontner Smith FRIBA was invited to submit his plans for the main entrance. His final design fitted in remarkably well with that of Lutyens. The Association commissioned another architect, Douglas Wood FRIBA, to design two more extensions: one further along Tavistock Square on either side of Wontner Smith_s front entrance, and one at the back of the building, along Burton Street. These were built from 1938 to 1950, and 1959-60 respectively. The Great Hall The Great Hall had formed the centrepiece of Lutyens_ scheme. The room,130 feet long, had been intended as the Theosophists_ temple and Lutyens designed for it a coffered barrel-vaulted ceiling. Part of the ceiling had already been erected when the BMA purchased the property but it was considered too expensive to complete. Lutyens decided to leave the roof open, gilding the thin arched steel beams which would have supported the vaulting. In the mid-eighties, the Great Hall was converted into the present library, with committee rooms occupying the roof space. During the conversion the opportunity was taken to redecorate the main body of the hall in Lutyens’ original scheme of peacock-blue marble columns with gold capitals. The design of the false ceiling, above which are now committee rooms 1-6, was based on the mouldings used by Lutyens in the side aisles of the hall. The original vaulted sections of the ceiling can today be seen in committee rooms 1 and 6. Court of Honour The central courtyard is home to two war memorials. The Gates of Remembrance (also known as the Memorial Gates) commemorate the 574 members of the BMA who died in the First World War. Designed by Lutyens, the gates were dedicated by the Archbishop of Canterbury on the same day as the official opening of BMA House in 1925. They were manufactured by the Birmingham Guild. The fountain and surrounding statues form a memorial to the medical men and women who died in the Second World War. This memorial was designed by James Woodford and consists of a bronze fountain in the form of the staff of Aesculapius, the Greek God of healing, surrounded by four Portland stone figures representing Sacrifice, Cure, Prevention and Aspiration. The Council Chamber and Council Garden The Council Chamber is the venue for all meetings of the BMA Council and major committees. Around the walls of the rooms are inscribed the names of past Presidents, Secretaries and other senior officers of the BMA. Lutyens also designed the small garden behind the south wing of BMA House known as the Council Garden. Today the garden is home to a number of physic plants. On one of the walls is a plaque surrounded by stones from the foundation of the house in which Dickens lived from 1851 to 1860 and where he wrote amongst others, Bleak House, Hard Times, and Great Expectations. Also to be seen in the garden are a number of stones hit by incendiary bombs in April 1941. The Hastings Room When the BMA moved to the site in 1925, the Hastings Room was the library. The panelling is Spanish mahogany and was taken from the library in the BMA_s previous premises at 429 The Strand. The portrait directly above the fireplace is that of Sir Charles Hastings (1794-1866), founder of the British Medical Association. Also on display in the room are the BMA_s Grant of Arms awarded in 1955, the Book of Valour, the Roll of Honour, and the Roll of Fellows. The Prince_s Room The Prince_s Room is located directly above the main entrance archway and forms part of the Wontner Smith extension. Originally called the Centre Room, it was in this room that Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, was received during his presidential year of the BMA from 1959-60. The room was renamed the Prince_s in his honour. Today the room is used primarily for official luncheons and receptions. For further information see BMA House: A Guide and History” by Jane Smith