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The History of Lambeth Palace

For nearly 800 years Lambeth Palace has been the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury - prior to this Archbishops traditionally lived in Canterbury 

Morton's Tower, Lambeth Palace, late 18th century. The tower was built in 1490. 

Lambeth Palace – or as it was originally called, the Manor of Lambeth, or Lambeth House – has been the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury for nearly 800 years.

The south bank of the Thames was an attractive choice for the location of an Archbishop's palace, with its proximity to Westminster and the Royal Court.

Stephen Langton is thought to have been the first Archbishop to live at Lambeth in the thirteenth century. Prior to this it was traditional for the Archbishop to live in Canterbury.

The oldest remaining parts of Lambeth Palace today are Langton's Chapel, and the Crypt beneath it, both of which date back to the 13th Century.

All the other buildings in the Palace grounds have been added, expanded and altered over the centuries to suit changes in fashion and purpose.

While the Archbishop's residence at Lambeth had a great entrance from the 1320's, the imposing gateway - Morton's Tower - that can be seen today was not built until 1490.

Morton's Tower is still used as the main entrance into Lambeth Palace - although the tower, the Guard Room, the Chapel and Crypt are the only sections of Lambeth Palace that have survived from this time.

The Great Hall at Lambeth Palace currently houses much of the Lambeth Palace Library. It has been built and rebuilt many times over the centuries – not least as a result of damage during the English Civil War and the Blitz of World War II.

19th Century renovations

Following the appointment of Archbishop Howley in 1828, famous architect of the day Edward Blore was invited to survey the collection of buildings that made up the Palace at that time.

Blore saw a Palace still bearing the scars of the Civil War, the subsequent patch-up repairs and renovations still quite visible 200 years later. In a withering account of the Palace’s condition, he deemed it to be "miserably deficient as the residence of so distinguished a person as the Archbishop of Canterbury".

The Blore Building, completed in 1833, contains both the Archbishop's residential quarters and the offices of his staff. 

Blore went on to build the residential wing, which was completed in 1833. This building now forms much of the Palace that functions today.

The Blore Building, as it came to be known, was built in Bath Stone to a gothic revival style. Blore also took great care to restore the Guard Room, while connecting it to the rest of his building.

The 14th Century roof of the Guard Room was suspended on stilts while Blore constructed a system for replacing and reconnecting the walls. Some of the surrounding buildings were preserved, and arrangements made for these rooms and the Great Hall to house the Palace Library.

The Guard Room at Lambeth Palace (Pugin/Rowlandson print)

World War II damage

Following the Second World War, Archbishop Fisher commissioned massive restoration work on the Palace. The Chapel and Lollards Tower were gutted by the direct hit of an incendiary bomb on the 10th May 1941.

As a result the roof and windows were replaced in the Chapel, while the ceilings in the Post Room and Lollards Tower were reinforced with brick and timber.

The new plain white ceiling of the Chapel was not repainted until the 1980s. Much of the restoration work took the remainder of the 20th Century to complete.

Lambeth Palace today

The Atrium was built in the year 2000. This glass-roofed room is the most recent addition to be made to Lambeth Palace. However its awarding winning contemporary style was specially designed to sit sympathetically within its 13th and 19th century surroundings.

Today Lambeth Palace continues to be the London home of the Archbishop of Canterbury and his family. A series of offices at the Palace form the working centre of the Archbishop's national and international ministry.

The Lambeth Palace Library remains a place of academic study, while many of the beautiful rooms have retained their original function as spaces for hospitality.

The Chapel and the Crypt Chapel are used daily for worship and prayer by the Archbishop and his staff, the Chemin Neuf community at the Palace, as well as the many guests received by the Archbishop and his team.

 Find out more about Lambeth Palace