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18 September 2014
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St Stephen's Chapel: From the Crown to the People

By Jacqueline Riding
Parliamentarians past

Image of the interior of St Stephen's crypt
The chapel of St Mary Undercroft, below St Stephen's hall ©
As if to hold on to the memories embodied within the ancient walls of the old palace, the winning design for the new building included the integration of Westminster Hall, the lower chapel of the medieval St Stephen’s, as well as the cloister.

Above the lower or 'crypt' chapel arose a new hall, named St Stephen’s, which in size and design loosely followed the medieval chapel. Within this Victorian pastiche, the Fine Art Commission introduced sculptures of eminent parliamentarians of the 17th and 18th centuries, whose deeds and words had resonated through the old chamber, amongst these were Sir Edmund Hampden, the Earl of Clarendon, Sir Robert Walpole and Pitt the Younger - all representing in stone the ghosts of parliamentarians past.

'... the entire interior was decorated in a polychrome scheme of painting, stencilling, gilding and marble ...'

The lower chapel, which had served as a wine cellar, a dining room and - as legend has it - a stable for Cromwell’s horses, was now restored to a functioning chapel. The interior, although charred by the fire, still contained such details as the carved medieval ceiling bosses representing martyrdoms - that of St Stephen was located above the altar.

Sir Charles Barry’s son, Edward, undertook the restoration and as a symbol of its reversal of fortune, the entire interior was decorated in a polychrome scheme of painting, stencilling, gilding and marble which emulated, in a very High Victorian manner, the earlier medieval scheme.

Published: 2005-04-02



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