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Residents haunted by plan for flats on site of Conan Doyle’s spiritual temple

PUBLISHED: 12:00 09 September 2017 | UPDATED: 12:05 11 September 2017

Rochester Square spiritualists temple. Picture: Wendy Stokes

Rochester Square spiritualists temple. Picture: Wendy Stokes

Archant

A row has erupted over the future of a historic spiritualist temple whose foundation stone was laid by Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Inside Rochester Square spiritualist temple Picture: Wendy StokesInside Rochester Square spiritualist temple Picture: Wendy Stokes

Campaigners hoping to save Rochester Square Spiritualist Temple accuse its owners, the Spiritualists’ National Union (SNU), of asset stripping the building – built with donations from Conan Doyle – and leaving it to rot.

Ex-spiritualist Wendy Stokes said: “They have not cared about the residents of Rochester Square who are angry the church has been neglected for years.

“In Camden, the name of SNU is mud,” she added.

In July, Urban-lab submitted plans to demolish the temple – which had its foundation stone laid in 1926 – to make way for flats and a basement gallery.

Rochester Square spiritualist temple. Picture: Wendy StokesRochester Square spiritualist temple. Picture: Wendy Stokes

More than 100 responses have since been lodged as part of a Camden Council consultation, now closed, with concerns raised over the developer’s designs, loss of an historic site and destruction of hallowed ground.

An online petition started in Australia – where Conan Doyle lectured as a pioneer of spiritualism – has gained the support of 370 people hoping to save the venue.

But the temple is no stranger to controversy with squatters, identifying themselves as the Rainbow Family of Living Light, ousting the congregation in March 2014 and squatting for weeks inside the building.

Urban-lab argue the temple is dilapidated and requires significant investment to bring

Rochester Square spiritualist temple. Picture: Wendy StokesRochester Square spiritualist temple. Picture: Wendy Stokes

it back to a purposeful use and provides “limited scope” for alternative community uses.

Ms Stokes said: “The SNU has been very unprincipled to leave the building like that. Residents are up in arms.”

Camden Council must now decide whether or not the scheme should be referred to its planning committee.

A council spokesman said: “We are assessing the application in accordance with usual processes. No decision has been made.”

The foundation stone of Rochester Square spiritualists temple laid by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Picture: Wendy StokesThe foundation stone of Rochester Square spiritualists temple laid by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Picture: Wendy Stokes

Planning consultants Nicholas Taylor and Associates, acting for Urban-lab, declined to comment.

The SNU, which represents around 340 spiritualist churches in the UK, was unavailable.

Spiritualism began in the mid-19th century. Followers believe it is possible to contact the dead in the afterlife.

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