The London Lighthouse – Memorial Garden
In 1981 Christopher Spence, a bereavement counselor, and his then partner, the Reverend Andrew Henderson moved into a house in Lancaster Road, opposite the vacated site of the ‘Solomon Wolfson Jewish School’ (1930-1981), which had relocated. Andrew alongside his pastoral duties, was employed as the Director of Social Services for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. They converted the basement into a counselling centre called Lifestory, set up to look at issues related to death, dying, bereavement and disability. On the 4th July 1982, Terrence Higgins, one of the first people in Britain to contract what was shortly to be called AIDS died. By 1983 Spence had decided to start a support group for gay men whose lives were affected by the virus. In March 1985 a close friend of Spence’s – Frank rang and said, he wanted to see him urgently, that evening he walked in and said, ‘I’ve got AIDS and I’m going to die’. By May he was dead. Spence was appalled by what happened to his friend in hospital, whose experience of enforced isolation and experience of ‘barrier’ nursing – he died on a trolley on a ventilator surrounded by people in masks and gloves. It was horrible and did not make human sense. Within days Jonathan Grimshaw, who had just started a self-help network for people with HIV called Body Positive, rang him up also to tell him that he also had the HTLV 3 virus . . . and then it just all mushroomed. Spence had begun to develop a working relationship with John Shine, who at the time was employed as a nurse in the AIDS wing at St. Stephens Hospital and who had gone on one of Spence’s bereavement counselling courses. Shine’s work had made him acutely aware of the gross lack of terminal care available on the NHS and of the fact that hospices were not ready or willing to take in those who were dying of AIDS. As an integrated model of care began to take shape, a small group convened in Spence and Henderson’s house, in addition to Shine they were joined by Debbie Evans (Riverside Health Authority), John Fitzpatrick (deputy director of the Terrence Higgins Trust) and Peter Randall (co-founder of Body Positive). With little money in the bank and difficulty trying to find funding from the statutory sector, Spence realised they first needed to find a building, his eyes fell upon the derelict school across the road from his home, and knew he need look no further. It turned out to be owned by the Spanish Embassy, who had run out of cash for a conversion project of their own, and were only using the premises to store surplus Madonna’s. They were willing to sell for £400k. In June 1986 the John Paul Getty Junior Charitable Trust agreed to buy the building for the group with a two-year interest free loan, the derelict school building was duly purchased on 5th August 1986, and building work began to extend, adapt and equip 111-117 Lancaster Road. However, by the following December, the building was only half completed, despite promises of substantial money from the Government and other charitable trusts, funding delays meant construction of the building work risked grinding to a costly halt. On hearing that the project was in jeopardy, Sir Ian McKellen stepped in, supported by The Monument Trust, embarking on an eleven week West End run of “Acting Shakespeare” (Dec 1987-Feb 1988), raising over £450,000 to keep the development on track. The communal hall on the ground floor was later named “The Ian McKellen Hall”. The London Lighthouse was officially opened on 23rd November 1988 (by Princess Margaret HRH) and was the first major centre for people with HIV/AIDS offering respite and terminal care in its residential unit, day care and drop-in services. The Lighthouse was at the epicentre of the epidemic and was most notably supported and visited several times both officially and unofficially, by Princess Diana , and also by famous celebrities such as Dame Elizabeth Taylor and Sir Elton John. The memorial garden contains the ashes of many people who died at the Lighthouse scattered and commemorated there. The original planting in 1990 was a donation by Crabtree and Evelyn of their Tudor garden which was exhibited at that years Chelsea Flower Show. The residential unit closed in 1998, and London Lighthouse and Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) merged in October 2000, this was followed a month later with an official visit by Prince Charles HRH.
Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) completed the sale of the London Lighthouse building on Wednesday 3rd March 2015 to the Museum of Brands, who relocated there in August 2015. The museum is home to a treasure trove of thousands of brands and packages, posters and advertising, toys and games. A kaleidoscope of images and iconic brands from across the decades.
Building works are now complete at the Museum of Brands and the Lighthouse Memorial Garden will once again be accessible again from November 2015. If you wish to visit the Garden you are welcome to join the Membership scheme. You can do this by sending, your name, address, phone number and email, along with a passport style digital photo (ideally in jpeg format) to: firstname.lastname@example.org so that THT can create and send you a photo ID card, this will allow access to the Garden when presented at the main reception of Museum of Brands.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to send the details via email, you can visit THT’s offices; THT is located at 314-320 Gray’s Inn Road, London WC1X 8DP, in person, with the same details to create an ID card, just email to arrange a preferred date and time.
The Garden will be accessible during the museum’s opening hours below (last entry is 45 minutes before closing): Tuesday – Saturday: 10am – 6pm, Sunday: 11am – 5pm, Monday: Closed, except bank holidays. Closed during the Notting Hill Carnival, 24/25/26 December and New Year’s Day.