Royal chapel, once home to the House of Commons, recreated in 3D

13 October 2017

UNIVERSITY OF YORK

Digital picture: a virtual-reality image of the royal chapel

Digital picture: a virtual-reality image of the royal chapel

ART historians have created a 3D virtual-reality image of the long-lost medieval royal chapel that became the first dedicated House of Commons chamber.

St Stephen’s Chapel, which stood on the site of what is now St Stephen’s Hall, Westminster, was destroyed by fire in 1834. But experts from York University have delved into parliamentary and national archives to build a digital picture of what the interior might have looked like.

They studied documents that revealed details ranging from construction methods to the names of masons, painters, sculptors, and workmen, and even how much they were paid.

Dr John Cooper, from the university’s Department of History, said: “It has been a fascinating journey through time and has taken us in unexpected directions.”

First mentioned in 1184, St Stephen’s was initially the King’s private chapel at the Palace of Westminster. In 1348, Edward III established it as a college for secular canons, but that was dissolved during the Reformation, and, in 1547, Edward VI gave it to MPs as a meeting-place.

UNIVERSITY OF YORKDedicated: the chapel converted for use as the Commons chamber

The chapel’s layout is credited with establishing the design of the present-day Commons chamber. Its choir stalls faced each other across an aisle, and at the west end stood a great screen with double doors. When the MPs moved in, rival parties gathered on opposite sides of the aisle, and, when they voted, those in favour of a motion would walk through the screen’s right-hand door, while opponents used the left one.

The 1840s rebuilding of the House replicated the arrangement, and still today, MPs voting Aye exit to the lobby on the right, and the Noes go out on the left. “MPs had previously met in a number of different locations,” Dr Cooper said, “but, once they took occupation of St Stephen’s, they never left, even though there was never a grand plan for a new home for the House of Commons.

“The move into St Stephen’s was a by-product of the Reformation, but it had profound consequences for the future of British politics. Our politicians still meet there today, in a Victorian reimagination of a medieval and Tudor building. It’s a fascinating example of continuity in British political culture.”

Chris Bryant, the Labour MP for Rhondda and a former Shadow Leader of the House, said: “The shape and architecture of St Stephen’s Chapel frame so many aspects of how we do our business in the Commons today. We shouldn’t be bound by our history, but we should understand it better. This University of York project is enabling us to do just that.”

To see the 3D images, visit www.virtualststephens.org.uk.

Forthcoming Events

16-18 February 2018
Church Times Festival of Faith & Literature

Our literary festival with a theological slant in Bloxham, Oxfordshire. Choose from 37 events including poetry, literature, history, politics, music and drama. Find out more

The Church Times Podcast

The Church Times Podcast, hosted by Tim Wyatt and Ed Thornton, features a mixture of interviews and news analysis. Listen online

Subscribe now to get full access

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read seven articles each month for free.