A major piece of work to clean and repair the ceiling of the historic St Stephen’s Hall, right in the heart of Parliament, has now come to an end.
The intricate and specialist work involved is part of a wider programme of works that focuses on the repair and replacement of stonework, as well as mechanical and electrical systems in the Palace of Westminster.
Parliament has a unique role in protecting and maintaining the intricate architecture of the Palace, which has been designated part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987, and this programme will ensure the building remains a safe place for the many thousands of people who work in and visit Parliament every year.
Marble statues of twelve famous parliamentarians face one another on either side of the Hall, positioned between eight monumental oil paintings that depict events in British history. These were protected and covered while the work took place.
The 10 stained-glass windows, five on either side, depict the arms of various parliamentary cities and boroughs. The brass chandeliers were installed in 1960, but designed by Robert Smirke for the temporary House of Commons Chamber following the fire of 1834 which destroyed the old Palace.
Specialist and innovative craftwork
Scaffolding was already installed in St Stephen’s Hall as part of a project to repair and restore the cast iron roof above. As the scaffold could give access to the ceiling, there was an opportunity for crucial preservation work to be completed. Work began in the hall in summer 2021, and involved carefully inspecting the ceiling, cleaning the stonework and repairing loose elements.
A special latex coating was applied to the ceiling, which was then dried before being peeled away – removing decades of pollution damage. This innovative method was used to reach into the relief and porous surface of the stone, without leaving behind any chemicals or damaging or degrading the material.
The surveying and specification of works was undertaken by architects Donald Insall Associates and structural engineers Alan Baxter. The conservation work was carried out by DBR Limited, overseen by Parliament’s in-house teams, including conservation architects and the Heritage Collections team.
The teams were also assisted by a student, as part of a one-year placement in the House of Commons service for university students to contribute to construction and architectural projects.
Speaker of the House of Commons Lindsay Hoyle said: “It is fantastic to see the work that has gone in to improving St Stephen’s Hall, which until the mid-16th century was the home of the House of Commons.
“It was here that Charles I was shunned by Speaker Lenthall when in 1642 he stormed in to arrest five MPs. It was also the place where suffragettes protested over the lack of a right to vote for women.
“St Stephen’s Hall is such an important part of our parliamentary history – so I am delighted that it has been refurbished to its former glory for all those who work here or visit to enjoy once again.”
Heather Oakley, Senior Project Leader said: “It’s been a privilege to work on such an iconic area of the Palace, collaborating with teams across Parliament and our specialist contractors. With the scaffolding removed and statues unboxed, staff and visitors can once again appreciate the artwork, carvings and tiles that make up St Stephen’s Hall.”