The Medieval Palace of Westminster Research Project

Overview of the Project. The Westminster Palace Research Project is an inter-disciplinary study, combining archaeology, history, architectural history, and new uses of information technology. Its aim is to produce a comprehensive architectural study of the medieval palace and its place in the broader context of historic palaces. Equally important is the fact that the innovative techniques to be used will be transferable to the study of other historic buildings, and thus the project has implications beyond Westminster.
Research Objectives of the Pilot Project. As an initial stage the project undertook a detailed examination of the antiquarian graphical material, historic measured surveys, archaeological records, and documentary sources, all of which are central to this research. Thus the project began by collating, indexing, and reviewing those source materials that relate to the 11th to 16th centuries, and testing the proposed methodology, by studying one period in the palace's history, namely the Romanesque. This also required a survey of surviving fabric of the 11th and 12th centuries using methods outlined below. The initial phase involves study of Westminster Hall (surviving, re-roofed 1394-9); the Lesser or White Hall (first mentioned in 1167, demolished 1851); the building that later housed the Painted Chamber (largely rebuilt under Henry III, demolished 1847); the Exchequer (demolished 1820s); St Stephen's Chapel (replaced in the 14th century); and several buildings known only from written sources - a chapel of St John `by the Receipt', the kitchen, the king's and queen's chambers, the king's wardrobe, and the cloister.

Principal investigator
Professor Richard Beacham
Principal project staff
Dr Roland Harris; Dr John Crook
Start date
Friday, January 1, 1999
Completion date
Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Source material
Antiquarian graphic material. Westminster's social and political importance and, especially, the growth of antiquarian interest in ancient buildings from the 18th century, happily ensured that it was frequently the subject of drawings, plans, watercolours, and oil paintings. These range from 16th-century panoramas to perspective views of the palace in the immediate aftermath of the 1834 fire. Historic measured survey. A substantial number of measured surveys, comprising plans, elevations, and sections, were carried out by antiquarian draughtsmen and, in the 20th century, by the Ministry of Works. Overall dimensional precision is missing from many of these surveys, so computer rectification procedures have been used to allow their integration with a new survey (see below). Archaeological records. Some archaeological discoveries made in the 19th century were recorded. Most relevant are the records of parts of the foundations of the Lesser Hall and the Receipt of the Exchequer, and Sidney Smirke's records of the discovery of the original fenestration of Westminster Hall (1836). The archaeological records have been collated, assessed and then assimilated into the CAD (computer aided drawing) model. Documentary sources. As a royal palace, Westminster is well documented in the medieval period, and this provided the basis for Howard Colvin's analysis of the buildings in The History of the King's Works. The principal documents relating to the period of the pilot project are the Pipe Rolls of Henry II, which are available in the Public Record Office. These documents have been partially published or at least calendared. Analysis of such documentary sources is vital to the interpretation of the function and identification of the components of the medieval Palace of Westminster. New measured survey. The only known part to survive of the Romanesque palace is Westminster Hall, and much of this has been refaced. New survey work, therefore, has been restricted to preparing the first accurate ground plan of the hall using a conventional total station theodolite (EDM) for the control, and a laser `reflectorless' EDM for measurement of detail. Geophysical survey. The famous hammerbeam roof of Westminster Hall (1394-9) replaced that of William Rufus. Debate on the form of Rufus's hall has given rise to suggestions that it had a single arcade along the centre of the building in the manner of certain Continental examples, a double arcade, or even that the huge span was always unsupported. In an attempt to resolve this contentious issue, we undertook a survey of the interior of the hall using ground-penetrating radar (GPR) using a Pulse EKKO 1000 GPR provided by the NERC geophysical equipment pool.

Crook, John, and Harris, Roland. "Reconstructing the Lesser Hall: An Interim Report from the Medieval Palace of Westminster Research Project." Parliamentary History 2002: 22-61.