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Westminster Abbey ceiling

The story of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries

Last year the new Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries opened in the eastern 13th-century triforium of Westminster Abbey. The galleries are hidden high up, in the vaults, 16 metres above the Abbey floor, with an amazing view.  A seven-storey lead and stone clad structure, the Weston Tower, provides access to the galleries.

Blue Badge Guide Catherine Cartwright met Visitor Services Manager Scott Craddock from Westminster Abbey for a private tour of the Galleries. He tells her about skeletons they uncovered, old tickets for past coronations and a huge cast of carved animals.

You can listen to a full podcast of her visit here.

 

Catherine Cartright  …”Now I have the great privilege as a Blue Badge Guide of being allowed to take people around the Abbey and over the past few years, I’ve been seeing builders coming and going as they’ve been constructing a brand new tower which is the entrance way to this new museum. Finally, I’m going to get to see what they’ve been doing and I get to see the treasures of The Royal Church. We’re in Westminster Abbey in a part of the abbey which is brand new to me and to everyone.”

Scott Craddock “The area that we are actually stood in right now used to be the toilets so we demolished a toilet block and we made space to create this tower. So we’re actually in the lobby of the access tower that will take us up into the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries”

Catherine Cartright “I remember when they were getting rid of the loos that used to be here that they discovered some skeletons underneath.”

Scott Craddock  “We did, we discovered the remains of several people that were buried underneath. So they were taken away and reconsecrated elsewhere. And we also have just over there by the doorway you can see the original foundations of the Abbey. So we’ve exposed that for people to see.”

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

Catherine Cartright “Can we go up into the Gallery and can you show me a few of the key items that are there that may be interesting for people to know about. Do we get to take the stairs?”

Scott Craddock “Stairs or lift?”

Catherine Cartright “The lift – it’s here in front of us and it’s a hot day”.

Scott Craddock “It’s 108 stairs. The lift is actually 2 1/2 minutes. If we take it gradually there are lots of stopping points.”

(They arrive in the Galleries from the lift)

Catherine Cartright “This is brand new. How long did it take to build it and what was the decision behind creating this new space in Westminster Abbey?”

Scott Craddock “So that’s been ongoing for I think up to 10 years. Talking about how we could actually make use of the triforium space because up until now it’s been used pretty much as storage but the project itself has taken four years from start to finish.”

Catherine Cartright “Can you tell me what the triforium is?”

Scott Craddock “The triforium is essentially a space above the Abbey floor. The triforium runs all the way around the Abbey and we believe that a lot of this would have been designated for private prayer for chapel space when it was originally built but that never really happened. The major usages that it has seen are coronations. There are a lot of people up here for coronations and you can see around some of the walls there are numbers where people would have sat. And when we excavated the vaults we actually found tickets for coronations that people had dropped. And a lot of other debris which I’ll show you because there’s a lot of it.”

Catherine Cartright “So forgive my ignorance but when you say the vault I’m imagining in my head a place underground but we’re high up here. What do you mean?”

Scott Craddock “So if you’re down below and you look up you’ve got a vaulted ceiling so it’s that space that is the ceiling space down below but we’re now walking above. And they’re really deep. You can walk in them but there was just so much clutter within that space. So we had to take out everything that was in there, there was a lot of dust and debris and detritus but there was also just a lot of other stuff that had been secreted there over the years. We found up to 30,000 pieces and fragments of stained glass and the best bits were taken away to somewhere in Canterbury where they’ve actually set them into this formal setting. This has all been put back. Obviously not together but it’s been put back in the most amazing way almost like a mosaic of some kind.

So you’re now in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee galleries proper. It’s split into four different areas; The Building of the Abbey, Worship and Daily Life, the Monarchy and the Nations Memory. It’s a kind of big horseshoe shape at the Eastern end of the Church. There’s no set route. People can just come up here and wander at their leisure really. What welcomes you as you come in, which I love, is the macquettes of the 20th Century martyrs. So we have eight of the ten on display, these obviously you can see in the West Towers. But these are the kind of macquettes that were created before the actual West Towers were added.”

Catherine Cartright “And these were original?”

Scott Craddock “These are the original macquettes. Some of them are slightly different from the actual ones.”

Catherine Cartright “Martin Luther King doesn’t have a child at his feet!”

Scott Craddock “Well spotted. Yes! There are a few differences. But they are here to welcome people as they come in.”

Westminster Abbey Rose Window

Westminster Abbey Rose Window

Catherine Cartright “I love that and I love that the fact they’re facing this Rose window so they’re bathed in sunlight looking out. It’s really well done.”

Scott Craddock “And everywhere you look you’ve either got an amazing view inside or a stunning view outside. Because if you look here you can see the kind of space of the Abbey outside that you would never really see before all the stonework that you would only see from a distance you can see quite close up.”

Catherine Cartright “You’re quite right from here you get to see the details of all the carvings. That’s the Chapter House roof, isn’t it? And the top of the buttresses.”

Scott Craddock “And there’s lot’s more over here. So here there are loads of different animals, carved animals as kind of macquettes. You’ve got the originals here. You’ve never seen this. You get a stunning view all the way across to Parliament, of all these amazing animals. So you’ve got dragons, lions, greyhounds. It’s like a cast, a massive cast of them there all looking towards Parliament. And you’d never see that if you were outside.”

Catherine Cartright “This is my favourite thing so far”.

Scott Craddock “Me too.”

 

Listen to the rest of their tour on our podcast here:

 

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