New Tower for Westminster Abbey

Thursday, 26th February 2015

New Tower for Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey has been granted planning permission by Westminster City Council to build a new stair and lift tower at the east end of the church. The tower will enable public access for the first time to the Abbey's eastern Triforium, an elevated internal gallery, which is to be transformed into a new museum and exhibition space: The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries. This will be the most significant addition to the building since Nicholas Hawksmoor's iconic west towers were completed in 1745.

The new tower has been designed in sympathy with the Gothic style of the Abbey by Ptolemy Dean, the Abbey's Surveyor of the Fabric (Consultant Architect). It will fit unobtrusively into a courtyard outside Poets' Corner between the Abbey's 13th-century Chapter House and 16th-century Lady Chapel. The tower's design reflects a pattern often found in the Abbey: a star shape derived from two rotating squares. It will be clad in lead with leaded light windows set in metal frames. As well as providing access to the Galleries, it will give visitors unrivaled views of the Palace of Westminster and into the Abbey church itself.

The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries will enable the public to see selections from the Abbey's treasures and collections, many of which will be displayed for the first time. The exhibition is being designed by MUMA (McInnes Usher McKnight Architects) to reflect the Abbey's rich and varied thousand-year history.

Royal funeral effigies, manuscripts, silverware, stonework and vestments are amongst the objects expected to be on show. Treasures will 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. The Galleries will also provide an entirely new perspective on the Abbey's interior from 70 feet up – the panorama which runs along the whole length of the church, hitherto only seen by the public on television, described by John Betjeman as 'the best view in Europe'.

The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries are due to open in early 2018. The project is the next phase of the Abbey's development plan, 2020 Vision, which set an agenda to improve facilities for the Abbey's two million worshippers and visitors. HM The Queen opened the opened the Abbey's Education Centre in May 2010 and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh opened the Cellarium café and terrace in October 2012. A new Song School for the Abbey's world-famous Choir will open later this year and further visitor facilities are planned.  

The cost of the new tower and galleries is £18.9 million to be met by fundraising. Close to £11 million has been raised so far with 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, amongst others.

The Very Reverend Dr John Hall, the Dean of Westminster, said:

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.

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.