BY A STAFF REPORTER
A BITTER ROW HAS broken out over plans by the Church of England to sell off Sion College, one of the oldest ecclesiastical building on Victoria embankment overlooking the Thames. There are now fears that the College, which is popular with theological students from London University, could now be transformed into a wine bar, possibly called "Sions".
The college, which holds many historic Catholic and Anglican texts among its shelves, is famous for housing on of the world's most extensive theological libraries, a Grade II listed Victorian building of the perpendicular Gothic style. Offers are expected in the region of £1.25 million.
"It could easily be transformed into an exclusine hospitality suite for a major corporation", one estate agent remarked.
"The building is located near the north end of Blackfriars Bridge and its open views over the Thames are a bonus", he added.
Designed by Sir Arthur Blomfield, it was opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1886. It retains an attractive Gothic frontage and spacious interior.The central feature of the building is the lofty library with a hammer beam roof, which currently hcontains 100,000 books. Since 1944 Sion College has also been the home of the City Livery Club, which uses the extensive ground floor dining rooms.
Its facade, the library, the red brick construction, and Doulton stone tracery give the impression of large scale grandeur to a building which is rather modest in size.
Plans are currently being finalised with Lambeth Palace and King's College for new locations for the library's precious contents, which includes over 40 medieval manuscripts.
Earlier in the year, the Court of governors of Sion College won permisison from the Fellows to sell the College's large Victorian Gothic building on the Embankment in London, in an attempt to stave off bankcruptcy.
At an extraordinary meeting recently , they asked the Fellows all clerics from the London area to agree to the dispersal of the library's 100,000 books between Lambeth Palace and King's College, London.
The meeting heard from the Revd David Burgess, the Court's President, that over the past five years there had been a "steady but inexorable" erosion of capital. On the present rate, it would be bankrupt in four years. The dispersal of the books the college's most precious asset was proposed as a rescue package that would preserve them from sale, and therefore enable Sion College to meet its objectives. It was overturned; the City Livery Club, which for many years has subsidised the college, has announced its intention to leave in June.
During the meeting, Mr Burgess traced the "beginning of the disaster" to the decision by the Court in the property boom of the Eighties to develop another London property which the college owned. Like many other organisations, the college suffered when the boom collapsed.
Many past users of the library are now calling on the Governors to resign, together with any employee "secretly implicated", according to one objector, in the "proposed effective destruction of an institution that has survived the Great Fire of London and two world wars."
It is claimed that ordinary members of the college have not been consulted, much money has gone in trying to sell Sion College, and that authorities have been indifferent to suggestions for obtaining fresh funds.
It is proposed that Bishop Richard Chartres should preside over a democratic forum.