Conference – St Stephen’s Chapel, Westminster: Visual and Political Culture 1292-1941 (2016)

Portcullis House, Westminster, 19-20 September 2016

St Stephen's Chapel conference e-poster

Conference e-poster

St Stephen’s Chapel, Westminster: Visual and Political Culture 1292-1941’ was a two-day conference convened to present the results of the three-year St Stephen’s Chapel, Westminster research project, a collaboration between the University of York and the Houses of Parliament to explore the history of the chapel, a seminally important building which stood at the heart of political life for over 700 years.  The project was headed by Professor Tim Ayers (Department of History of Art) and Dr John Cooper and Professor Miles Taylor (Department of History), all of whom gave papers at the conference.

The conference was divided into two themes: ‘St Stephen's Chapel and the Medieval Palace of Westminster’ on the first day and ‘St Stephen’s and Parliament’ on the second. The research findings presented explored the medieval origins and architectural evolution of St Stephen’s Chapel; its subsequent transformation to the first permanent meeting place for the House of Commons; its later alterations and adaptations to accommodate MPs; through to the building’s destruction by fire in 1834 and its legacy within the Victorian Palace of Westminster.  The programme also included papers from academics whose research on the chapel directly complemented the project’s findings.  The conference was hosted by Chris Bryant MP, who gave the Welcome, and the keynote speakers were Professor David Carpenter (King’s College, London) and Dr Paul Seaward (History of Parliament).

Annotated 3D digital model created by Dr Anthony Masinton for the St Stephen's W

'The Chapel in Context': annotated 3D digital model created by Dr Anthony Masinton for the St Stephen's Westminster project

Two important outcomes of the research project were launched at the conference: A digital model of St Stephen's and the Commons chamber, incorporating research from the project, was on show for the first time, and can now be accessed on the Virtual St Stephen's pages of the project website. There was also a demonstration of an acoustic reconstruction of the historic House of Commons chamber, developed by Dr Catriona Cooper (Centre for Digital Heritage, University of York) in collaboration with the Audio Lab at the University of York.

A reception was held at the Society of Antiquaries of London, Burlington House, with a display of art and artefacts relating to the Chapel; and the conference ended with a tour of St Stephen’s Hall and St Mary Undercroft (formerly the lower chapel of St Stephen’s), as well as St Stephen's cloister, led by Dr Mark Collins (Estates Archivist & Historian, Houses of Parliament), by kind permission of Black Rod.

As well as 22 speakers, 146 delegates attended the conference, including parliamentary staff and members of the public. The conference was filmed by BBC Parliament and the Twitter hashtag #VSSConf was buzzing throughout.


Day 1 - Monday 19 September

Session 1

  • Keynote - Professor David Carpenter (King’s College, London): ‘Henry III, St Stephen's Chapel and the Westminster Environment’
  • Dr Steven Brindle (English Heritage): ‘The Chapel of St Mary, St Edward and St George at Windsor Castle; Its Design, Construction and Adaptation, c. 1240-1360’

Session 2

  • Professor Emily Guerry (University of Kent): ‘Prototypes and Archetypes: Redefining the Relationship Between St Stephen's Chapel in Westminster and the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris’
  • Dr James Hillson (University of Cambridge; previously AHRC-funded PhD with St Stephen's Chapel project at University of York): ‘Bankers, Building and Belligerence: Architecture and Economics at St Stephen’s Chapel, 1292-1348’
  • Dr Jane Spooner (Historic Royal Palaces/The Courtauld Institute of Art): ‘The Iconography of the Wall Painting Fragments from St Stephen’s Chapel, Westminster’

Session 3

  • Professor Tim Ayers (University of York): ‘St Stephens, Art History and the Digital Model’
  • Elizabeth Biggs (University of York): ‘Patronage, Conflict and Building: The Many Faces of Richard II at St Stephen's, Westminster’
  • Professor John Harper (Bangor University): ‘A Medieval Sacred Space Animated: The Ritual and Music of St Stephen’s Chapel’

Session 4

  • John Cherry (formerly British Museum): ‘The Seal of the Dean and College of the Chapel of St Stephen’
  • Dr Helen Howard (National Gallery, London), Catherine Higgitt (National Gallery, London), David Saunders (formerly British Museum) & Lloyd de Beer (British Museum): ‘Recent Imaging and Scientific Analysis of the Wall Painting Fragments’
  • Dr Julia Beaumont (University of Bradford): ‘Painting a Picture of Lives at St Stephen's Using Bones’

Day 2 - Tuesday 20 September

Session 1
Chair: Dr Elizabeth Hallam Smith (formerly Houses of Parliament)

  • Keynote - Dr Paul Seaward (History of Parliament): ‘Do Our Buildings Shape Us? Oblongs, Hemicycles and the Style of British Politics’
  • Dr Anthony Masinton (Christianity & Culture, University of York): ‘Rationalizing the Irrational: Modelling the Transformation from Chapel to Chamber’
  • Dr John Cooper (University of York): ‘The Elizabethan House of Commons: The View from St Stephen’s’

Session 2
Chair: Dr Robin Eagles (History of Parliament)

  • Dr James Jago (University of York): ‘The House of Commons in the Seventeenth Century: Image and Institution’
  • Dr Elizabeth Hallam Smith (formerly Houses of Parliament): ‘From Reformation to Fire: Ten Uses for a Redundant Cloister and Undercroft’
  • Professor Miles Taylor (University of York): ‘St Stephen’s in the Age of Austerity: The Reconstruction of the Palace of Westminster 1941-50’

Session 3
Chair: Dr Caroline Shenton (Archives Accommodation Programme, Parliament)

  • Dr Mark Collins (Houses of Parliament): ‘Our Buildings Shape Us’
  • Rebekah Moore (Institute of Historical Research, London): ‘Old Corruption to Reformed Commons: St Stephen’s Chapel, Temporary Accommodation and the New House of Commons’
  • Dr James Ford (University of Nottingham): ‘Depicting the Anglo-Scottish Union in St Stephen's Hall: A Compliment or National Humiliation?’
  • Dr Damian Murphy, Dr Catriona Cooper & Dr John Cooper (all University of York): ‘Hearing the Commons: Acoustically Modelling the Pre-1834 House of Commons’

Session 4

  • Dr Rosemary Hill: ‘The Antiquary in the Age of Romanticism: The Death, Resurrection and Afterlife of St Stephen’s Chapel’

For further information, see the St Stephen's Chapel, Westminster project overview and visit the website

Main image: St Stephen's project logo, based on a roof boss representing the martyrdom of St Stephen (see )

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