Beautiful new entrance for Westminster Abbey

Thursday, 16th March 2023

Three men in hi-vis jackets working on the new ramp outside the Abbey

The first significant change to the west front of Westminster Abbey in twenty-five years has been completed after a four-month project that now allows step-free access.

The west front is used by many thousands of visitors and worshippers each year and is familiar to television viewers around the world from live broadcasts of Abbey services.

Worshippers approaching the Great West Door for daily services or arriving on great occasions of state will now benefit from a new design by Ptolemy Dean, the Abbey’s Surveyor of the Fabric. His work incorporates materials used elsewhere in the church, including Purbeck and Portland stone. The works have been carried out by specialist heritage builders Daedalus Conservation.

The Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle, dedicated the new entrance at a short service of blessing following Evensong on Thursday 16th March.

Dignified access for all

The scheme allows dignified access at the Great West Door for all, with bench seating, and a new path giving level access to the Innocent Victims’ Memorial, which commemorates all victims of oppression, violence and war.

The Dean of said:

‘The Abbey’s partnership with Ptolemy Dean and those who work with him has once again given us reason to celebrate. The Abbey is a place for the nations and the Commonwealth to gather. It is a church in which all of us can find a place in the story we tell about faith and life. The Abbey is for all, always, and it is a delight to see our invitation and welcome set in stone.’

The first changes for a quarter of a century

The changes are the first to be made at the west end of the church since 1998, when the statues of ten 20th-century martyrs were dedicated above the Great West Door at a service attended by HM Queen Elizabeth II and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. The West Towers, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor and completed in 1745, had been cleaned and restored five years earlier, when statues of the four Virtues (Truth, Justice, Mercy and Peace) were also added, flanking the entrance.

Planning permission for the project was secured in 2019, but the works were delayed until this year by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The work has been funded by generous donations from The Stoneygate Trust, The Anton E B Schefer Foundation, The 29th May 1961 Charitable Trust and an anonymous foundation.

Long term plans

It is hoped that a longer-term project will further enhance the welcome offered to the many thousands of visitors who come to the Abbey from around the world each year. Planning permission has been granted for the construction of a new building, also designed by Ptolemy Dean, on the site of the former medieval Great Sacristy on the north side of the Abbey. This will greatly enhance the experience of all who will visit the Abbey by providing state-of-the-art welcome, ticketing and security facilities and freeing up more than 10% of the Abbey floor. A fundraising campaign to support the project will be launched shortly.