Test of Time

Inside Westminster Abbey's $30M secret attic

Updated 31st May 2018
Inside Westminster Abbey's $30M secret attic
Written by CNN StaffLondon
Contributors Nick Glass, CNN
A "jewel-like tower" has become Westminster Abbey's first new structural addition in 250 years.
Designed by the abbey's official surveyor, British architect Ptolemy Dean, the tower is tucked away in an intersection of the 1,000-year-old building's Gothic facade. It leads up to a treasure-filled attic that has never been opened to public -- until now.
The attic space, renamed the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries, was once described by poet John Betjeman as having "the best view in Europe." After five years and $30.5 million (£22.9 million), it can now be fully appreciated by visitors for the first time.
For centuries, the arcade had been used as storage room. But when permission was granted to build a new elevator, it became possible to open the space. Like an archaeological dig, converting the attic into a gallery was meticulous process, according to Westminster Abbey's curator Susan Jenkins.
Weston tower
Weston tower Credit: Alan Williams
"All of these objects are very heavy," she says. "They need to be conditioned, they need to be documented, and the logistics of moving them out is enormously complicated."
When the original floor was removed, the conservation team found numerous shards of stained glass that are now proudly displayed on the bridge connecting the attic to the new tower. Workers also recovered stone items, including a 13th-century ornament of a smiling face with its teeth showing (a rare find, according to head conservator Vanessa Simeoni).
Other curious objects have gained new life after being discovered in the attic, including a collection of wax effigies. "Our earliest is (of) Charles II, and that predates Madame Tussauds by over 100 years," Simeoni says.