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Restoration of one of London's oldest buildings has begun

Monday, 12th January 2009

Restoration of one of London's oldest buildings has begun

An ambitious project to repair and conserve Westminster Abbeys Chapter House, the birthplace of Parliament, has begun.

The English Heritage led project to restore the Chapter House, which has its origins in the 12th century and was home to the Kings Great Council in 1257 which eventually became the houses of Parliament, will see the most concentrated programme of works since the 19th century when Sir Gilbert Scott renovated and restored the facade.

The project will focus on repairs to the external walls which have, inevitably, been weathered by city pollution and the atmosphere. Repair and conservation of the mixed limestone and sandstone stonework will be a priority, particularly that at high level where it has suffered most from erosion. Gargoyles and stained glass windows will also be carefully restored and the lead roof and gutters will be repaired and made weather-tight. The works are due to be completed in 2010.

The octagonal Chapter House, in the east cloister, dates from the 1250s and is one of the largest in England. It acted as a venue for the Abbey monks to meet for daily prayers. The Kings Great Council first assembled here in 1257, effectively the beginning of the English Parliament. The House of Commons used the room in the 14th century, before it was transferred to the Palace of Westminster. After having been a repository for government records from the 1540s, Sir Gilbert Scott, as Architect and Surveyor of the Fabric at the Abbey from 1849-78, restored the Chapter House and designed a triple portico for the north front. Scott also supervised various restoration works to preserve the fabric of the Abbey itself.

Tim Reeve, Properties Director for English Heritage said:

The Chapter House is a building of international importance and sits at the heart not just of Westminster Abbey but of the Westminster World Heritage Site, one of the most visited places on earth. This programme of repairs is an investment in London's unique heritage so that present and future generations can enjoy this jewel of English history, the cradle of its Parliamentary system.

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

The Dean and Chapter greatly appreciates the collaboration with English Heritage which cares for and allows visitors free access to the magnificent Chapter House.

Barry Stow of Stow and Beale Conservation Architects who are leading the conservation project, said:

The early Chapter House was reportedly 'finer than Salisbury'. In medieval times it was used as a place of government, as a meeting place for the House of Commons and subsequently as a document archive. In 1859 George Gilbert Scott reconstructed the roof and upper parts which had been in his words 'dreadfully mutilated'. He described the Chapter House as 'a structure perfect in itself, of a purely English type as to its plan and outline, and as carrying out the principle of window tracery in a fuller and grander degree than any part of the church.' We are delighted to have been selected to conserve Scott's work which, in contrast to so much Victorian restoration, has benefited the public face of the Abbey complex as well as preserving the fine 13th century interior. We look forward to working with the contractor and project team to carry out an exemplary conservation project over the next 18 months.

Mark Utting of Thinc Projects, Project Manager, said:

The Chapter House Conservation Project presents many unique and exciting challenges to the project delivery team. We are relishing the opportunity to be involved in conserving one of the United Kingdoms most significant buildings.

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It’s very hard not to be enthusiastic working at the Abbey. If this place doesn’t make you smile I don’t know what will.

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Valerie - Foundation Director

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