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Westminster Abbey: Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries and Access Tower

Continuing PCA’s long-standing relationship with Westminster Abbey, we were commissioned to undertake archaeological work in advance of the construction of a new access tower, located in Poets’ Corner Yard between the Scheduled Chapter House and ambulatory chapels at Westminster Abbey. The structure, completed in 2018, provides visitor access to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Triforium Galleries, which have been fully refurbished to provide museum space.

We followed an initial evaluation of the area by full mitigation work in advance of foundation construction. The fieldwork has demonstrated that the south transept and ambulatory foundations were constructed in three stages in the 1240s under Henry III. The abbey church was constructed on a huge raft edged with reused stone, mostly derived from Edward the Confessor’s church which was levelled to build the extended abbey, and infilled with medieval concrete (limecrete). Within the excavation, several intact burials were found, some dating from the later Saxon era. In addition, two later buildings adjoined the ambulatory and it appears one replaced the other and survived into the late 18th/early 19th century.

Extensive watching briefs conducted during associated development groundworks revealed numerous medieval and post-medieval graves, including an anthropoid lead coffin believed to be one of the earliest examples of its type found in British Isles.

PCA also undertook archaeological work in the Triforium Galleries in the roof space of the abbey. An initial survey saw the recording of graffiti left by various masons and carpenters; the most interesting of these were marks left by masons working for Christopher Wren, Surveyor of the Fabric at the Abbey from 1698-1723. PCA’s team also completed an unprecedented process of finds recovery through 3000 rubble sacks of dust which was recovered from the roof space at the Triforium level. The work has revealed a significant assemblage of finds and memorabilia relating to life at the abbey: some of the more mundane items were likely to have been left by craftsmen working for Christopher Wren. However the work also yielded incredible finds such as fragments of tickets to the coronation of Queen Anne in 1702, plus 17th century tobacco wrappers.

The award winning Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries, designed by Ptolemy Dean Architects, were opened by Her Majesty The Queen in June 2018.