In the late twelfth century, the Archbishop of Canterbury chose a site on the south bank of London, removed from Canterbury, where he intended to found a college for secular priests. The land Archbishop Baldwin chose is located across from Westminster Abbey and the Royal Court, an advantageous position. Archbishop Baldwin died in the Holy Land during the crusades, but his successor, Hubert Walter, went ahead with the construction of a chapel, At the pope’s behest, he tore the building to the ground two years later but, in 1200, he was given permission to build a house for the Canons Regular of Prémontré. This house included a residence for Archbishop Walter. In 1262 Archbishop Boniface received papal permission to build the current Lambeth Palace. During the past 800 years, successive Archbishops of Canterbury have used Lambeth Palace as their primary London residence. When the Church of England was established in the sixteenth century, the Archbishop began to travel to London more often, and the Palace stood as a symbol for the Anglican Church. It was also used for royal occasions and proclamations. Royal weddings occasionally took place at the palace and treaties were signed there as well.
The building has since expanded, though the chapel and the crypt, dating from Hubert Walter’s ministry, remain. Interestingly, the windows of the chapel were made in a French style. Lollard’s tower was completed by Archbishop Chichele in 1435, though it is uncertain if Lollards were ever imprisoned there. In 1490, the imposing Morton’s Tower made in a Tudor style of red brick was added to the building, and is now used as the entrance. In the Middle Ages, Lambeth Palace occupied about 7.5 hectares of land.
Today, the Lambeth Palace is still used as a London home for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, but it is also important for its library. Founded in 1610, the library holds the main records of the history of the Anglican Church. The Palace is now principally frequented for its research library, though the Archbishop still visits the London home, receives guests and performs royal duties there. His national and global ministry is centered on his London residence, with an active staff regularly present.
The Great Hall, also made of red brick, entertained the Archbishop’s guests until the early 1800s, when architect Edward Blore found the place in a state of disrepair and repurposed the hall into a library. The tower, the chapel, the Guard Room, and the crypt are the only medieval sections of Lambeth Palace that remain. Blore built the residential building, completed in 1833, in a Gothic Revival style. The material he used was Bath Stone, mined from Somerset, but distinctively used throughout the architecture of the city of Bath.
In the 1980s Archbishop Runcie and his wife developed the grounds and turned them into 2.5 hectares of gardens. Lambeth Palace has had to undergo reconstruction numerous times due to its destruction as a result of war. Both the English Civil War and World War II caused much damage. In 1941, a bomb hit the chapel and Lollard’s tower, the reconstruction of which took until late into the twentieth century to complete.
- Tessa Bloechl