The Queen's House – Archaeological work reveals 200 year old 'footprint'

The Queen's House, venue for the Story of Time exhibition, has recently undergone several improvements. During the survey archaeologists uncovered the original 18th-century 'footprint' of the Horseshoe stairs.

The venue for The Story of Time, Inigo Jones's 17th-century Queen's House, has undergone several improvements in order to accommodate the exhibition. As a result, the Queen's House is now fully accessible to all visitors, with galleries offering the climatic conditions necessary to house a prestigious international exhibition.

The Tulip Staircase The Tulip Staircase The Queen's House, England's first neo-classical building, is a rare surviving example of the work of Inigo Jones, the man who revolutionised English architecture of the period. The Italianate villa was designed in 1616 for Queen Anne of Denmark, wife to James I. It was completed in 1645 for Charles I's young French Queen Henrietta Maria, and was the setting for grand masquerade balls and banquets. Highlights include the magnificent Tulip Staircase and the Great Hall – a perfect 40-foot cube with an original black and white marble floor.

Work began in January 1999 with major improvements to the air handling and electrical wiring of the House, including an upgraded security system. The most dramatic changes have been the installation of a lift, as well as ramped access to both the north and south sides of the House. English Heritage insisted that the work should be 'of the very highest standard' and would only grant permission if a proper survey were done during the works. The Museum of London Archaeological Service began work around the lift pit, which showed that the House was resting on remarkably shallow 17th-century foundations. The most exciting discovery unearthed by the archaeologists was the original 18th-century 'footprint' of the Horseshoe stairs, revealing them to have extended into a tighter, less formal curve. Once recorded, these footings were lowered a metre to allow the York stone ramp and additional Portland stone steps to be built.

The Tudor brickwork in the basement had been exposed in the 1980s, but it was crude for a royal building and the project architect was convinced that the vaulting would have been rendered. This was confirmed when fine traces of the original render were found. After much debate it was decided to re-render, using the right historic mix and making no attempt to give it a smooth finish.

The new stair alongside the lift was inspired by the famous Tulip stair on the opposite side of the Great Hall. Using the same cantilevered approach, the modern version is composed of a concrete and stone mix. Careful mathematics allows it to be elegantly 'squeezed' into a tight space, while the trellis balustrade reflects the pattern of the marble floor.

Architects for the project are Allies and Morrison, led by Diane Haigh. The disabled access consultant is David Bonnett. The whole project has been monitored throughout by English Heritage and the Museum of London Archaeological Service.

The National Maritime Museum is extremely grateful to the following for generous and vital financial support enabling the new lift to be installed and staircase to be constructed: The George John Livanos Charitable Trust, Abbey National Charitable Trust Ltd and Lloyds TSB Foundation for England and Wales.