In what some have seen as a landmark decision, the Westminster City Council has granted permission to Westminster Abbey to begin planning for a new stair and lift tower to be constructed at the east end of the church.
This project will enable, for the first time, public access to the eastern Triforium of the Abbey. The Triforium is an elevated internal gallery that will be modified into a new exhibition space to house The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries.
Westminster Abbey has not seen a construction on this level since 1745 with the completion of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s west towers.
Speaking about the announcement, councillor Robert Davis, Deputy Leader of Westminster City Council and chairman of the planning committee, said: ‘In a city full of spectacular buildings, Westminster Abbey stands out not only for its architectural merit but for the fundamental role it plays in our cultural and civic life. I am certain that this new tower, which will give people access to some of the Abbey’s previously hidden treasures, will be an attractive and successful addition to the city’s heritage.’
Great pains will be taken to ensure that the construction of the tower will be seamless and will reflect the current Gothic design. The tower will be constructed in a courtyard outside of the Poet’s Corner between the 13th century Chapter House and the 16th century Lady Chapel. The new tower will feature a pattern that is commonly found around Westminster Abbey – a star shape that is created from two rotating squares.
In addition to providing access to the new Gallery, another benefit of this tower is that it will provide the public with an amazing and unique view of the Palace of Westminster, as well as into the heart of the Abbey – a view once described by John Betjeman as ‘the best view in Europe’. This view will run the length of the church, and, before now, has only been seen by the public on television.
The Very Reverend Dr John Hall, the Dean of Westminster, commented on the announcement by saying: ‘We are delighted that our proposals for the new tower and for opening the eastern Triforium to the public have the support of Westminster City Council reflecting that of our local community and of other bodies concerned for the preservation of the local and national heritage. This planning approval will enable us to approach with confidence the final stages of the necessary fund-raising and drive us towards the timely completion and opening of The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries, the most exciting development of the Abbey building for over 250 years.’
The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Gallery is set to open in early 2018, allowing the public to see many historical treasures for the first time. The renowned McInnes Usher McKnight Architects (MUMA) are designing the exhibition, which will pay homage to the Abbey’s thousand-year history.
Some of the treasures that are to be displayed include manuscripts, vestments, and royal funeral effigies. Highlights include the Liber Regalis, a 14th century illuminated manuscript setting out the blueprint for Coronations, and the crimson velvet cope worn by the Dean of Westminster at Charles II’s coronation in 1661.
This project is a phase in the 2020 Vision of Westminster Abbey with is a phased operation to improve the experience of the more than two million worshipers and visitors of the Abbey.
As part of this operation, HM The Queen opened the Abbey’s Education centre in May 2010, and the Cellarium café and terrace was opened in October 2012 by The Duke of Edinburgh. A new Song School for the world-famous choir will open by the end of 2015.
The cost of the new galleries and tower is approximately £18.9 million, and currently £11 million has been raised through generous support from The Garfield Weston Foundation, The Linbury Trust, Lord Harris of Peckham, The Wolfson Foundation, The American Fund for Westminster Abbey, The John Armitage Charitable Trust, Goldman Sachs Gives/Michael Sherwood, The Hintze Family Charitable Trust and Bank of America Merrill Lynch, among others.