Church tower in the heart of Southwark transformed into £1.8m gothic seven-storey apartment

The derelict bell tower of a church dating back to the early 18th century has been transformed into a quirky, gothic, seven-storey, one-bedroomed apartment, worth £1.8m.

St Thomas’ Church – located next to London’s iconic The Shard – also houses the oldest surviving Victorian operating theatre in England, now a museum, and Duddell’s Cantonese restaurant.
We provided mechanical and electrical design engineering services for the Grade II* listed building, which was once described by Historic England as ‘one of the more important survivals of Queen Anne architecture in London’.

Senior mechanical engineer Ian Sullivan said: “We are delighted to have been involved in a project that is rich with history. As church attendance continues to decline over the years, it has become common for religious buildings to undergo a residential transformation, often converted into flats or single residences.

“The apartment – which is in a stunning location with views over The Shard, HMS Belfast and the River Thames – is a seven-storey building with a lift that only goes as far as the fourth floor.
“From there, all other floors can only be reached by the original spiral staircase, surrounded by the bell tower’s original exposed brickwork. Because of this, we included a video intercom at level four, where the kitchen is located, as it’s an area of the apartment the client considered would be most frequently used.

“Negotiating a spiral staircase with furniture, plants and services is not the easiest task. We instantly knew this was going to be a problem so we decided to crane everything that would be going above the fourth floor into the apartment prior to the windows being installed.”

St Thomas’ Church – originally part of St Thomas’ Hospital, which was built in 1212 – was rebuilt and reopened in 1702 after it became structurally unsafe. Its use as a church became redundant in 1899, when it converted into a chapter house for the nearby Southwark Cathedral.

The church was damaged during the construction of the Jubilee line extension in the mid-1990s and placed on English Heritage’s ‘at risk’ register. It was refurbished into office space in 2007.

We provided: electric underfloor heating, electrically heated hot water generator, above ground drainage, ventilation, a complete refurbishment of the lighting and power supplies, an intercom system from the ground floor to the kitchen and bedroom areas for security and access control, and a fire and sprinkler alarm system.

Senior electrical engineer Chris O’Boyle said: “Due to the listed status of the building, we had to provide a design that would not allow the services to run through the building so were instead exposed. This was part practicability but also provides an aesthetically pleasing and visually dramatic look, fitting in with the apartment’s gothic feel.

“All small power systems were designed to work the new layout of the apartment. To maintain cosmetic consistency with the other exposed services, the conduit – a tube that protects wiring – was surface-mounted with black galvanised steel. The supply and ventilation systems were also covered in a black wrap foil to give the exposed building services a uniform appearance throughout and, in addition, a raw urban look.”

Chris added: “There are two plant rooms, one at the side of the lift shaft and a plant deck on the roof with bathroom extract. This was co-ordinated this way due to the very nature of the tower’s tall narrow structure.

“The previous electrical refurbishment of the tower was designed to suit an office layout, therefore the entire supply had to be replaced for residential use. All specified light fittings were also retro style in design – as well as LEDs, which give off the same lighting effect but will provide significant, long-term energy savings – in order to stay in keeping with the look of the listed building.

“The original concept for the underfloor heating was to specify air source heat pumps in order to be able to class the building as energy efficient. Instead, we opted for electric underfloor heating, which was a more cost-effective solution for the client – this was based on the amount of time they’d spent in the apartment versus long-term energy usage. This also meant the client was able to control the heating off site by using smart home heating technology.”