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St Albans Cathedral Chapter House Print E-mail

The brief given to architect William Whitfield was very simple. As the original chapter house had been the hub of daily life in the monastery, the new building should be its modern equivalent, serving the communal needs of the community.

The new Chapter House at St Albans Cathedral, one of the oldest cathedrals in Britain, was opened in 1982 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Designed by the renowned architect Sir William Whitfield and his Assistant Andrew Lockwood, the new Chapter House was rebuilt, on the footprint of its Benedictine predecessor, once the ancient site had been thoroughly excavated. These archeological excavations revealed the remains of eleven abbots, four monks plus monastic officials.

The brief given to architect William Whitfield was very simple. As the original chapter house had been the hub of daily life in the monastery, the new building should be its modern equivalent, serving the communal needs of the community.

Whitfield produced a bold design, which used ancient structural techniques long since out of use in Britain, with the aim of creating a new building, which would be a timeless example of twentieth century architecture linking the past to future generations.

Bespoke Brickwork

Built by Harry Neal Ltd of London, the new Chapter House required 500,000 reproduction Roman bricks, all custom-made at Bovingdon Brickworks using traditional hand made methods. Their red/orange tones were as close in colour and quality to the originals used in the Norman tower and walls of the Abbey as could be produced.

Every brickwork junction was drawn to scale by the architect, because the Roman-style bricks gave four courses where machine bricks (used on the inner leaf of the building) gave three.

The bricks were then painstakingly laid by a bricklaying team, led by Jim Gunner, according to Whitfield's exact specifications, using a specially sourced mortar to complement the walls of the original cathedral.

Award winning project

The St Albans Chapter House was winner of the very first ‘Quality Brickwork Awards’ in 1986.

These new awards, which were sponsored by the Brick Development Association and ‘Building’ magazine, aimed to improve the general level of brickwork in place at a competitive price.

The judges were unanimous in choosing the Chapter House, which scored a ‘perfect’ rating in five of the qualities that the judges were particularly looking for: straightness of courses, cleanliness of wall faces, regularity of width of bed joints, joint finish, and execution of brick features. Scores on other categories were excellent.

Modern Use

As per the original brief given to Sir William Whitfield Chapter House remains a thriving hub of daily life. With every corner of the building in constant use, it currently houses the cathedral Study Centre and library as well as the Abbot’s Kitchen, meeting rooms vestry and cathedral offices.

Thanks to St Albans Cathedral for information contained in its booklet: “The Chapter House St Albans Cathedral” by Dr. Josie Kane (available from the Abbey bookshop)

 
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