A revamped storage gallery in Westminster Abbey, once hailed by poet Sir John Betjeman as offering the “best view in Europe”, has been unveiled for the first time.
Officials have given a sneak peek at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries, which sits more than 16 metres (52ft) above the abbey’s floor and will display 300 treasures from the abbey’s collection.
Visitors will reach the gallery, which opens on June 11, through a new tower housing a staircase and lift.
It is the first major addition to the abbey church since 1745 and is part of a £22.9 million, privately funded development project aimed at giving a more generous welcome to the two million visitors and worshippers who go to the abbey annually.
The Very Rev Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster, said: “We look forward to welcoming visitors to the galleries.
“The views are breathtaking. The space astonishing. The displays fascinating.
“The visitor will gain far greater insight into the life and history of the abbey than ever before.
“The fulfilment of this vision is a shared achievement, with so many people involved. We are profoundly grateful.”
Updates to the large medieval gallery, which had been used for storage and was not accessible to the public, have opened it up so visitors can look at some rarely seen treasures and collections and also get a unique view into the abbey and outside to surrounding London, according to the Westminster Abbey website.
The tower is outside Poets’ Corner, tucked between the abbey’s 13th century Chapter House and 16th century Lady Chapel.
The London-based architect firm Muma (McInnes Usher McKnight Architects) has led the transformation.
It is hoped the new set-up will help the public to deepen their understanding of the church, charting the foundations of the first Benedictine monastery in AD 960, through its life as Edward the Confessor’s church, and the extensive repair programme during Sir Christopher Wren’s role as Surveyor of the Fabric (1698–1723).
The Westminster Retable, (1259–69) the oldest surviving altarpiece in England from Henry III’s abbey, and the Litlyngton Missal, an illuminated 14th century service book made for the abbey’s high altar, are among the artefacts on display.
The marriage licence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (2011) and Mary II’s Coronation Chair (1689), created for William III and Mary II’s joint coronation, which is the only joint coronation in English history, are also to be part of the display.
The gallery has been arranged to tell the story of Westminster Abbey in four themes – Building Westminster Abbey, Worship and Daily Life, Westminster Abbey and the Monarchy and The Abbey and National Memory.
The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries is the final phase of the Dean and Chapter’s 2020 Vision development plan.
Private donors and trusts have helped pay for the project.