Essential Architecture-  London

Lambeth Palace




by Lambeth Bridge








  Lambeth Palace, photographed looking east across the River Thames.

Lambeth Palace is the official London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, located in Lambeth, on the south bank of the River Thames a short distance upstream of the Palace of Westminster. It was acquired by the archbishop around 1200. It is perhaps best known today as the site of the decennial Lambeth Conferences of top Anglican bishops.

The south bank of the Thames, not part of historic London, developed slowly because the land was low and sodden: Lambeth Marsh it was called, as far downriver as Blackfriars. The name "Lambeth" embodies "hithe", a landing on the Thames: archbishops came and went by water, as did John Wycliff, who was tried here for heresy.

The oldest part of the palace remaining is the Early English chapel. The so-called Lollard’s Tower, which retains evidence of its use as a prison in the 17th century, dates from 1440. There is a fine Tudor brick gatehouse built by John, cardinal Morton in 1495.

The Great Hall was ransacked by Cromwellian troops during the English Civil War, and after the Restoration it was rebuilt by archbishop William Juxon in 1663 (dated) with a late Gothic hammerbeam roof, the likes of which had not been constructed for a hundred years. In this context, the choice of a hammerbeam roof was evocative; it spoke of High-Church Anglican continuity with the Old Faith (the King's brother was an avowed Catholic), a visual statement that the Interregnum was over. As with some Gothic details on University buildings of the same date, it is debated among architectural historians whether this is Gothic survival or an extraordinary early work of the Gothic Revival. The diarist Samuel Pepys recognized it for what it was: "a new old-fashioned hall" he called it.

The portion of Lambeth Palace now inhabited by the archbishop was built in 1834 by Edward Blore (1787–1879), who rebuilt much of Buckingham Palace later. Here his work is neo-Gothic enough to have satisfied Sir Walter Scott, and it fronts a spacious quadrangle. Among the portraits of the archbishops here are examples by Hans Holbein, Anthony van Dyck, William Hogarth and Sir Joshua Reynolds.

The palace is home to Lambeth Palace Library, the official library of the archbishops of Canterbury and principal holder of records for the history of the Church of England, founded as a public library by archbishop Richard Bancroft in 1610. This contains a vast collection of material relating to ecclesiastical history, including archbishops' and bishops' archives and papers relating to various Anglican missionary and charitable societies. The valuable collection of original manuscripts contains important material, some dating as far back as the 16th century. The various other collections contain material on an immense variety of topics from the history of art and architecture to colonial and Commonwealth history, and innumerable aspects of English social, political and economic history. The library is also a significant resource for local history and genealogy.

The adjacent parish church of St Mary-at-Lambeth was rebuilt around 1850, though the ancient monuments preserved give it an appearance of antiquity. Among them are tombs of some of the archbishops, including Richard Bancroft, and of the gardeners and plantsmen the two John Tradescants, father and son. St Mary's was deconsecrated in 1972, and a few years later the Museum of Garden History opened there, because of its Tradescant associations.

Lambeth Palace Road is to the west, Lambeth Road is to the south and Lambeth Bridge is to the south-west.