Architects and Surveyors
Sir Christopher Wren
Sir Christopher Wren was the greatest architect of his day and by the 1690s was responsible for maintaining the king's palaces. At Westminster, that meant that he looked after both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, which met nearby in the Queen's Hall. Surveying the Commons in 1692, Wren decided that the top row of windows was unsafe and so had the height of the building lowered. He also thought that the medieval stone looked unfashionable, so gave the interior new neo-classical panelling and made the outside look elegantly classical too.
Fifteen years later, in 1707, Scotland officially joined England in the new United Kingdom and started sending MPs to Westminster. The Commons went back to Wren and asked him to put in yet more new seating for forty new MPs. He did so by widening the galleries he had added in 1692.
The entry of another country, Ireland, into the United Kingdom in 1801 meant that still more work was needed at St Stephen's to try to squeeze in enough seats for one hundred new MPs. The job was given to James Wyatt as Surveyor of the King's Works. Wyatt's alterations to the chapel were extensive and also controversial. His workmen hacked back the stone walls to make room for more seats and thus removed the last remaining traces of medieval painting and stonework. However, while Wyatt's works were underway, he allowed an artist, J.T. Smith, to draw the medieval chapel emerging from behind the panelling. Smith's drawings and fragments of stonework rescued from Wyatt's alterations are important sources for the digital reconstruction of St Stephen's Chapel.
Last updated April 2017