Westminster Abbey: dramatic development plans unveiled

The Dean and Chapter of Westminster are considering a  new addition to the roof of Westminster Abbey which could dramatically change London’s historic skyline. An exhibition setting out the Abbey’s development plans was opened yesterday.  The public are being invited to comment on a proposal to construct a corona, a crowning feature on the roof of the Abbey, in time to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of The Queen’s Coronation in June 2013.

The corona, an architectural feature in the shape of a crown, would replace the small plain pyramid roof on top of the Lantern, which was re-built in 1958 to repair war damage. Underneath, in the church itself, is the Crossing, the heart of the Abbey where monarchs have been crowned since 1066. Through the centuries the Abbey’s architects have put forward various schemes for this unfinished part of the Abbey but none have been realised.  No views have yet been taken about the form of a suitable design. That will be the subject of an architectural competition if, following public reaction, it is decided to go ahead.

The Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall,  announced that the Abbey plans to open up its upper gallery, known as the Triforium, to provide public access for the first time to this dramatic and important part of the Abbey and to house a new museum and exhibition space which will show many more of its historic treasures and artefacts which at present it is unable to put on public display.

A lift will have to be built in a discreet corner on the Abbey’s south face to take some of the people up to the Triforium.  There are equally important plans to improve the welcome and quality of the visit the Abbey is able to offer by the opening of an education centre for school children, and a café to provide better refreshments for the million visitors who come to the Abbey each year.

The proposals are all part of the Abbey’s development plan, 2020 Vision, which has set an exciting agenda over the next decade for the world-famous coronation church in the heart of London.

It is predicted that the cost of the education centre, the café and opening up the Triforium could be about £13 million. An estimate of the cost of the proposed corona, for which there is at present no design, is likely to be in the region of £10 million.  These costs, if all these plans go ahead, will need to be met by fund raising.

The Dean said: "Westminster Abbey is recognised by people in every part of the world. Royal weddings and funerals have all attracted huge television audiences, as did The Queen’s Coronation in 1953, the first to be televised live. It is an odd accident of history that, where so many great churches have a magnificent tower or spire or dome, the Abbey remains unfinished over the site of every coronation since that of William the Conqueror on Christmas Day 1066. Now is the time to consider afresh what should be built there.

"The rich and fascinating story the Abbey tells, of Church, Crown and State, goes back well over a thousand years. So many occasions of national and international significance throughout that time have left an indelible mark.

"We want all the people who visit the Abbey every year as worshippers or tourists to be able to experience that story. Opening up the Triforium, with its incomparable view, to display many of the Abbey’s treasures, developing the education centre for school groups and providing the Cellarium café for our visitors’ refreshment will all contribute to opening access to the welcome, wonder and worship which are the marks of the Abbey.”

The 2020 Vision exhibition takes place in the Abbey’s Chapter House and will run until the end of September. Opening hours: 10.30am-4pm, seven days per week. Entry free through the cloisters.

Final decisions will be influenced by the views of members of the public who will be invited to comment on the plans - which would then follow the normal route to obtain local planning consent.

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