Sepia photo of BMA House in 1929.

BMA House History

BMA House has a long history. On the site of Tavistock House, which was home to Charles Dickens from 1851 to 1860, the building was originally designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944) as headquarters for the Theosophical Society, but they parted company in 1914, before the building was completed. Hasty completion of part of the building enabled the Ministry of Munitions of War to use the site, before The BMA bought the unfinished building in 1923.

BMA House is home to the British Medical Association, the UK’s professional association for doctors. Founded by hospital physician Charles Hastings in Worcester in 1832, the Association created its first London headquarters in the 1870s and bought and redeveloped a range of buildings in and around the Strand in London’s West End.

While the BMA was busy outgrowing its various HQs, the famous architect of Delhi’s redevelopment, Sir Edwin Lutyens was designing a headquarters for the Theosophical Society – an organisation founded in New York in 1875 to promote the wisdom of God through all religions.

The relationship between the Theosophists’s leading light (Mrs Annie Besant) and Lutyens was tempestuous and when the religious group ran out of money, the two parted company in 1914. Hasty completion of part of the building enabled the Ministry of Munitions of War to use the site. It was later considered as a possible new home for the Imperial War Museum before the lease was put up sale. It was then, in 1923, that the BMA bought the unfinished building for £50,000 with a 200-year lease at £1,600 ground rent (the BMA bought the freehold 1962 for £120,000).

The BMA needed to bring the building up to standard and also planned to extend the building towards Tavistock Square and across the small rear garden, which Lutyens had planned. The garden area had been occupied by Tavistock House, whose 18 rooms had been the home of novelist Charles Dickens in the late 1850s.

Escalating costs for the building, which had led Lutyens to fall out with the Theosophists, now had the same effect with the BMA. Consequently, over the next 40 years different architects and builders worked on extending and modernising the building – including Cyril Wontner Smith and Douglas Wood.

Lutyens was re-engaged and, in July 1925, BMA House was opened by King George V and Queen Mary (grandparents of our current Queen). Wrought iron gates in the courtyard – designed by Lutyens as a memorial to BMA members killed in the 1914-18 War were dedicated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Davidson.

In 1954 James Woodford designed the central courtyard fountain and its surrounding statues as a memorial to doctors killed in World War II.

Increasingly, the BMA realised its needs were changing and were not being adequately met by the restrictions of the previous 80 years of growth and change.

In 2006 HOK were appointed architects to oversee a radical plan to combine the best of Lutyens and his successors with the modern needs of the BMA’s members, staff, tenants and many outside users.

The building had become more than just the national headquarters of a professional organisation with over 140,000 members. It is home to 200 other businesses and organisations and is hired for meetings, conferences, product launches and weddings throughout the year.

HOK’s vision, was to preserve and restore the best of the old traditional designs in what is after all a Grade II listed building, but bring in modern techniques and modern facilities to make the building once again the showpiece it had originally been.