The Queen was left “impressed” and “astonished” by a new gallery created in the loft space of Westminster Abbey.
A major exhibition area has been built where dusty relics were once stored, housing precious artefacts which reflect the building’s thousand-year history.
The Prince of Wales joined the Queen for a tour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries, set more than 16 metres above the abbey’s floor in its 13th century triforium, an arcade above the building’s chapels.
The Very Rev Dr John Hall, the Dean of Westminster, took the head of state on a guided tour of the exhibits, which included the realistic bust of Henry VII, modelled from the monarch’s death mask.
Other items on display included the 13th century Westminster Retable, believed to be England’s oldest altarpiece, which has fragments of its lavish decoration still in place and is thought to have been designed for the abbey’s high altar.
The dean said of the Queen’s visit: “Like other people who have been up there, she was very impressed I think, and quite surprised by the amount of space and by the particular things she was able to see.”
The new gallery is home to 300 treasures from the abbey’s collection, many on display for the first time, and it uses four themes to tell the story of the place of worship: building Westminster Abbey; worship and daily life; Westminster Abbey and the monarchy; and the abbey and national memory.
Visitors will reach the galleries, which open to the public on Monday, through a new tower, housing a staircase and a lift, the first major addition to the abbey church since 1745.
The project cost £22.9 million to build over the past three years, with funds raised by an appeal, which had Charles as patron, from private donors and trusts.
Dr Hall added: “The space is beautiful, it’s extraordinary, the lift and the staircase is wonderful.”
Speaking about the Queen, he added: “She was generally very impressed and I think astonished by the amount of space, she enjoyed looking at the head of Henry VII.”
Commenting on a wax effigy of Elizabeth I which is placed close to a portrait of the Queen, the dean added: “She also enjoyed looking at Queen Elizabeth I looking at Queen Elizabeth II, at the end of the tour.
“She had seen earlier the Ralph Heimans portrait of her in the Diamond Jubilee year but she hadn’t seen it in that context.
“We have Queen Elizabeth I, her wax effigy is standing there in her own clothes looking at her successor, and I think that’s really rather charming.”
Before leaving the abbey, the Queen and prince met financial supporters of the new gallery space, chatting to the donors for around 20 minutes before the head of state unveiled a plaque to mark the attraction’s official opening.
The Queen also met celebrity gardener Alan Titchmarsh, who helped fundraise for a fountain in the abbey’s cloister commemorating the 300th anniversary of the birth of landscape gardener Capability Brown.
Titchmarsh pointed out the water feature for the Queen and prince and shared a joke with the royals before they left.