A site of national and historical significance the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula at HM Tower of London is perhaps best known as the resting place to many of the Tower’s most famous prisoners executed there including three Queens of England and two Roman Catholic Saints.
The Chapel Royal is one of two chapels within the walls of the Tower and has been rebuilt at least twice, most recently by Henry VIII, though it has been a site of worship since 1078. The chapel has typical Tudor features including cusped lights, the absence of tracery and a relatively short nave. The chapel plays host to more than one million visitors a year in addition to services for its regular congregation, comprised of staff and personnel based at the Tower.
The last major renovations to the chapel took place between 1970-1971 when the Victorian pews and stone pulpit were removed in an effort to relieve the space of some of its larger, fixed decorations. Church fixings and fittings were donated by local churches resulting in a confused, disordered interior. The process of refurbishing the chapel for a new generation began in 2012.
At the same time that the refurbishment of the chapel was being planned, the Tower was constructing its first working drawbridge since the 1970’s. Crafted from English oak the drawbridge was testament to the Tower’s legacy of craftsmanship and engineering.
This same approach was taken when designing the new liturgical furniture and seating for the chapel. Luke Hughes was commissioned to design stacking chairs, choir furniture, altar, lecterns and clergy seating for the chapel and prayer desks and benches for the neighbouring Crypt of St Thomas More.
Working with our team of expert craftsmen and women we used the same English oak to carry through a cohesive palette of materials that is authentic and historically sensitive.
The new stacking chairs for the Chapel are a modification of our signature Assembly chair. Featuring an under-seat shelf for prayer books and literature the chairs are also fitted with a linking mechanism to allow banks of chairs to be tethered together in a rigid formation.
Clergy seating enables the Sanctuary to host additional clergy, altar servers and lay readers during Sunday services, high days and holidays. Our clergy seating for the Chapel is based on the nave’s stacking chair but features a raised back rest with three gently sloping struts and hand-finished detailing.
The Chapel is named for the trials and imprisonment of the disciple Peter at the hands of Herod Agrippa. Four tableaux were hand carved by Georgy Mkrtchian, a master craftsman, from pieces of solid English oak and set into the choir stalls.
Oak is a notoriusly difficult timber to carve at small scale but working closely with the Chapel we managed to depict this very important story set in the context of the Tower’s use as a prison.
Adjoining the Chapel is the crypt of St Thomas More, located through a passageway off the North Aisle. This small space, ideal for peaceful prayer and quiet reflection, now features bespoke walnut benches and a pair of prayer desks with rich leather upholstered kneelers.
The Chapel, one of the most famous sites of burial in the city, welcomes an incredible number of visitors each year whilst retaining its quiet sense of duty and authenticity. This refurbishment, which also saw repair work to its organ, lighting and floor, ensures this cherished landmark is fit to welcome generations of visitors in the years to come.