Westminster Abbey gets a face lift

Tuesday 18 May 2010

Future of the Chapter House set in stone as extensive conservation work rejuvenates site

It is not only the British government that has undergone something of a transformation of late. So too has the medieval home of the House of Commons – Westminster Abbey Chapter House. Completed in c.1255, the Chapter House was painstakingly reconstructed by the Victorians in 1866, making it one of London’s oldest buildings. Not only is the great tiled floor ‘the best medieval tiled floor in existence’ but, as Dr. Steven Brindle, an English Heritage historian confirms, ‘the wall paintings which date from the 14th century and 15th century are among the finest we have surviving in England’.

Currently maintained by English Heritage on behalf of the Crown, the Chapter House was once used as one of the venues for King Henry III’s Great Council of the Commons. It soon became an integral part of the country’s early political landscape and a predecessor of today’s Parliament. One of the main tourist attractions of London’s city centre, centuries of battering from the elements and increasing levels of pollution have taken their toll on the exterior of Westminster Abbey.

A team of twenty master carvers and stonemasons have spent the last 18 months cleaning, repairing and conserving gargoyles, stone floral friezes, flying buttresses and stained glass windows, using 60 tonnes of new stone. Taking inspiration from both medieval tradition and the Victorian reconstruction work in 1866, these skilled crafts men and women have added 32 new heads and 4 new gargoyles to the structure’s pinnacles, replacing those which had eroded beyond repair. The total number of heads now stands at 64, with many of the new faces created as portraits of the people involved in the ambitious project – masons, architects, members of Westminster Abbey clergy and English Heritage. The architects on this project were Stow & Beale.

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