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Exploring Sandham Memorial Chapel and almshouses

Visitors inside Sandham Memorial Chapel, Hampshire
Visitors inside Sandham Memorial Chapel | © National Trust Images/Virginia Langer

Sandham Memorial Chapel is home to arguably the most important series of paintings by the modern British artist, Stanley Spencer who wanted to express his military experience during 'The Great War' in paint. Find out about the paintings that line the chapel walls, and the almshouses which host exhibitions. Services continue to run throughout the year.

The 19 oil paintings that cover three walls of the chapel took six years to complete and are considered by many to be artist Stanley Spencer's finest achievement. With the chapel built to honour the 'forgotten dead' of the First World War, who weren’t remembered on official memorials, the series of artwork was inspired by Spencer’s own wartime experiences as a medical orderly at the Beaufort Hospital in Bristol and both orderly and soldier on the Salonika front.

The paintings are striking in that they largely depict everyday routine rather than the horror of combat. Spencer’s initial posting as a medical orderly instilled in him a sense that the everyday and the menial could bring him closer to God. His wartime service took him to Macedonia where he continued service as a medical orderly and later as an infantryman.

Sorting the Laundry by Sir Stanley Spencer
Sorting the Laundry | © National Trust / John Hammond

At Beaufort Hospital

The following paintings depict scenes inspired by Spencer's time at Beaufort Hospital in Bristol. In Convoy Arriving with the Wounded, Spencer found his early experiences at Beaufort harrowing, as depicted in this scene featuring the huge gates that greeted him at Beaufort Hospital in Bristol. In Scrubbing the Floor a shell-shocked soldier lies prostrate in a dark hospital passageway. In Moving Kit Bags the orderlies take the injured soldiers’ bags to their wards while Ablutions depicts hair washing, drying and dressing wounds. In Sorting the Laundry a matronly figure oversees the sorting of sheets and handkerchiefs while everyday activities continue in Filling Tea Urns.

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Influences and patrons

The chapel, which was inspired by Giotto’s Arena Chapel in Padua, was paid for by the patrons and collectors John Louis and Mary Behrend. The Behrends later dedicated the chapel to Mary’s brother, Harry Sandham, who had died in 1920, shortly after returning from active service. You can find a memorial to Harry Sandham above the main chapel doors.

The almshouses

Adjoining the chapel are two almshouses previously occupied from the 1930s. Following a restoration project, one of the almshouses was recreated to represent that era using original colour schemes and products appropriate to the period. It houses an exhibition space over three rooms with descriptive panels, interactive tablets, facsimile archive material and a short film.

Visitors in the garden at Sandham Memorial Chapel, Hampshire

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