Exploring​ London the Fun Way

36267457_10214211559874382_7551268224013172736_nSir Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral is one of the most iconic buildings in the City of London. Recognised throughout the world by its impressive dome, tourists flock to stand in front of or even go inside to explore the famous cathedral. Crowds gather in the churchyard to sit and rest or eat picnics on a nice day but how many people take notice of the history around them? St Paul’s may be a huge tourist attraction, however, there is so much more to see hidden within the surrounding streets.

To begin with, there are many things worthy of note in the vicinity of the cathedral. Opposite the steps to St Paul’s stands a plinth with a statue of Queen Anne (1665-1714), the first monarch of Great Britain. As many people are aware, St Paul’s Cathedral burnt down during the Great Fire of London in 1666 and was rebuilt using Wren’s designs soon after. The building was completed during Anne’s reign, therefore, it is for this reason that a statue of the Queen was erected here to commemorate the completion of Saint Paul’s Cathedral in 1712. What visitors to St Paul’s see today is not the original statue by Francis Bird (1667-1731) but a replica that was put in place in 1886 after the first version started deteriorating.

Surrounding the statue of Queen Anne are four female figures to represent Britannia, France, America and Ireland, four countries that the newly established Great Britain had some control over. The reason for the railings which surround the entire sculpture is supposed to prevent anyone from damaging the statues, something which an Indian sailor managed to do in 1769.

 

By entering the churchyard, a number of other statues can be discovered, most famously the St Paul’s Cross. This is a column mounted with a gilded statue of St Paul to mark the location of the original St Paul’s Cross. The original, however, was not a column but a place for religious gatherings and news reports. It was first used in approximately 1191 and continued to draw a crowd until 1643. During the Reformation, William Tyndale’s (1494-1536) New Testament was burnt by Catholics at the site because it was in English. At other times, many other protests involving public opinion occurred here and it became a place to publicly preach the Christian faith.

On the other side of St Paul’s Churchyard is a bronze statue of John Wesley (1703-91), the theologian, cleric and co-founder of Methodism. Depicted wearing a cassock and holding a Bible, the statue is 5’1″, the exact height Wesley was during his life. Although St Paul’s Cathedral is not a Methodist building, the statue has been placed here to commemorate the changes Wesley brought to the British Christian faith and acknowledges that he used the nearby Chancel of the Cathedral for worship.

 

Whilst it may be tempting to stay and relax in St Paul’s churchyard, there are a number of other small parks to visit nearby. On the opposite side of the road sit Carter Lane Gardens, which were improved and made pedestrian friendly in 2006. Although it may be noisy because it is situated on the carriageway between Godliman Street and New Change, it is full of flower gardens, lawns and seating. It is also the site of the City of London Information Centre where tourists can buy guides or ask for directions.

Close by, at the top of St Peter’s Hill, is the National Firefighters Memorial depicting three bronze fireman in action, wearing the typical uniform of the 1940s. It is a comparatively new statue that was commissioned by the Firefighters Memorial Charitable Trust which was unveiled by the Queen Mother in 1991. Initially, the memorial was for the men and women who lost their lives fighting the fires caused by the Blitz in WWII when the city was attacked by bombs for 57 consecutive nights. Later, it was decided that the memorial would honour all firefighters throughout the UK who had been killed whilst doing their duty. The names of the 1,192 heroes were inscribed on plaques surrounding the monument in September 2003.

 

On the same side of the road as and a mere stone’s throw away from the cathedral is the award-winning Festival Gardens. Created in 1951 by Sir Albert Richardson (1880-1964), the sunken lawns and water feature were established to tidy up the damage caused by the war. It was once the site of Cordwainers Hall, where shoemakers practised their trade as well as a number of other halls at various points in history.

Hidden in the shade of the trees is a recent statue depicting the bust of the poet John Donne (1572-1631) who once lived across the road on Bread Street. It was commissioned by the City of London in memory of Donne’s devotional poems, particularly Good Friday, 1613, Riding Westward from which words have been extracted and inscribed below the bust: “Hence is’t, that I am carried towards the West/This day, when my Soul’s form bends to the East”

Famed for his poems and coined phrases, such as “No man is an island” and “For whom the bell tolls”, Donne was also a priest and preacher who worked at St Paul’s during the early 17th century. It is for this reason that the first public memorial to Donne was placed in this location.

Whilst visiting the Festival Gardens, it is worth crossing New Change and entering Watling Street. So narrow that it is almost inaccessible to cars, Watling Street was once an ancient Briton trackway between Canterbury and St. Albans. Later, after the invasion of the Romans, the road was extended as far South as Dover, through London, and all the way to Wroxeter in Shropshire. Today, many parts of Watling Street are still used, however, have been diverted or converted into more car-friendly roads, for instance, the A2 and the A5.

 

Those who visit St Paul’s Cathedral because of their passion for history, art or architecture will be interested in visiting the Guildhall Yard on Gresham Street. The Guildhall has been used as a town hall for hundreds of years and is currently the ceremonial and administrative centre of the City of London. Occasionally, the yard will be out of access due to royal events, however, the majority of the time it is open to the public. The courtyard itself is paved over but has a circular line running across the flagstones, indicating the position of the Roman amphitheatre, which lies beneath the ground.

A section of the Roman amphitheatre can be seen for free via the basement of the Guildhall Art Gallery on the righthand side of the courtyard. The art gallery was built in 1885 as a place to contain the art collections from the City of London Corporation. Today, the gallery rotates the 4000-piece strong collection, showing 250 paintings at a time. The majority of these paintings represent London, however, there are some from the Victorian era, including the Pre-Raphaelites.

On the façade of the Guildhall Art Gallery are four busts of well-known Englishmen: Oliver Cromwell, Christopher Wren, William Shakespeare and Samuel Pepys. Each of these men contributed significantly to the history of the city and have rightfully been commemorated. Without them, the City of London would not be what it is today.

On the opposite side of the yard is grade 1 listed Baroque church, St Lawrence Jewry, the official church of the Lord Mayor of London. Like St Paul’s Cathedral, this church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723). It is believed that before it became a Church of England, St Thomas Moore, the Lord High Chancellor during the reign of Henry VIII, preached on the site.

 

Those who prefer a quieter place to sit and escape the hustle and bustle of the city should head to the Brewers’ Hall Gardens in Aldelmanbury Square. Situated behind Brewers’ Hall, there are a number of benches and flowerbeds, popular with office workers who want a peaceful lunch before heading back inside.

The original Brewers’ Hall was built in 1420, making the Brewers one of the first Guilds to have a Hall of their own. As with many buildings in this area, the Hall also succumbed to the flames in 1666 and was rebuilt in 1673. Unfortunately, the Blitz saw off the second Hall in 1940. The present Hall has been safely in place since 1960, along with the small garden.

In 1971, the gardens became home to a gardener, a life-size bronze statue by Karin Jonzen (1914-98). The male figure is on his knees, touching the ground in front of him as though tending to a plant. Jonzen was commissioned to produce the sculpture as a tribute to all the unseen gardeners around the city who tend to the many parks and green areas.

 

London is full of different memorials, some already mentioned, and there is yet another in a park not too far away from St Paul’s Cathedral. Postman’s Park, the site of the former headquarters of the General Post Office, was opened in 1880 on the original churchyard of St Botolph’s Aldersgate. Since 1900, however, the park has become famous for the Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice established by the artist George Frederick Watts (1817-1904) to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria.

The memorial commemorates ordinary people who died saving the lives of others who otherwise would have been forgotten. A wall of 54 ceramic tablets with names and dates from 1863 to 2007 state the heroic acts and circumstances of death. Examples include Mary Rogers who gave up her lifebelt on a sinking ship, Alice Ayres who save three children from a burning house at the cost of her own life, and Leigh Pitt who saved a drowning boy from the canal at Thamesmead but drowned himself.

It is difficult to believe that less than a hundred years ago the area around St Paul’s Cathedral was a bomb site, completely pulverized by the enemy during the Blitz. So many buildings were destroyed, it is a wonder that the cathedral remained standing. To the north of St Paul’s is the current location of the London Stock Exchange and an urban development plaza, owned by the Mitsubishi Estate Co. Named Paternoster Square from the Latin pater noster, meaning “our Father”, thus connecting it with the nearby place of worship, it replaces the demolished Paternoster Row, home to the centre of the London publishing trade pre-World War II.

The redevelopment took place during the 1960s and two decades later became popular with many investment banks. The paved square is surrounded by restaurants and cafes, making it the go-to place for many office staff at lunchtime. Yet, like most places in the area, it also houses a couple of monuments.

The most important, unmissable monument in Paternoster Square is the 75 ft (23m) tall Paternoster Square Column. Often confused with the Monument to the Great Fire of London near London Bridge, this column was erected in memory of both the fire of 1666 and the devastation of 1940 in this particular area. Made of Portland stone, it is a Corinthian-style column topped with a gold leaf covered flaming copper urn. Although it looks similar to the age-old monuments around the city, it has a fairly modern usage. The plinth contains ventilation shafts for the car park hidden underneath the square.

On the opposite side of the square is a bronze Paternoster sculpted by Dame Elisabeth Frink (1930-93) in 1975. Also known as the Shepherd and Sheep, it was commissioned by Trafalgar House in memory of Newgate Market, which once stood in Paternoster Row where farmers sold their livestock. Incidentally, Paternoster Square is situated very near to the old site of Newgate Prison, which existed from 1188 until 1902.

Upon the side of one of the office buildings and easily missed by those hurrying by is a sculptural piece of steelwork that functions as a sundial. Rather than telling the exact time, the dial indicates the month of the year as well as the Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter equinoxes. Within each months’ section are 28-31 notches to indicate the day, which the tip of the shadow moves across as the sun rises and sets. There are also small notches that the shadow passes at midday. Erected in 2003, it remains in perfect condition and is an amazing invention.

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Temple Bar

In order to return to St Paul’s from Paternoster Square, people must walk under an ornamental gateway named Temple Bar. It was once the principal ceremonial entrance to the City of London on the western side and is attributed to Sir Christopher Wren. In 2004, the structure was moved and repositioned at the entrance to Paternoster Square. Like the memorial in the middle of the square, Temple Bar is also made from Portland Stone

The number of places, statues and so forth that can be found in the vicinity of St Paul’s, both ancient and modern, is astonishing. Tourists make a beeline for the Cathedral and dismiss everything else as modern offices and unimportant buildings. However, by taking the time to look carefully, a whole wealth of history can be uncovered. Away from the busy roads are small alleyways with interesting establishments and quiet retreats away from the bustling city workers and sightseers.

Personally, I had the chance to discover these historical and urban sites with the aid of a treasure map produced by Treasure Trails. The trail challenges explorers between the ages of 6 and 106 to follow a set of clues to locate where some (fictional) long-lost treasure may be buried. The directions lead to all sorts of places that are often overlooked, such as statues, plaques on buildings, road signs, pubs and so forth. It is a fantastic way of learning more about the city without the need for a local guide or expensive book. At £6.99 per trail, it is a wonderful and enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.

Whether you explore the city by yourself or opt for the fun-filled treasure trail, there is so much to discover around St Paul’s Cathedral. From historical monuments to more recent developments, there are a number of interesting things to locate and appreciate. Regardless of how you go about exploring, here is a piece of advice: always remember to look up!

Certificate - St Pauls

Votes for (Some) Women

“Reasons for supporting Women’s Suffrage … Because – to sum all reasons up in one – it is for the common good of all.” – NUWSS

A hundred years ago, 6th February 1918, a campaign decades-long came to an end with the Representation of the People Act. Until then, women were allowed no say in parliamentary business and were deemed lesser creatures than their male counterparts. The determination of thousands of women turned the tables on this inequality, and this year, 2018, marks the centenary of their greatest triumph.

The campaign for the right to vote began in the United Kingdom in 1867 with a “Ladies Petition” that was presented to the government by Liberal MP John Stuart Mill (1806-73). Despite over 1500 signatories, the bill was immediately dismissed. However, that was only the beginning; by 1918, parliament had received over 15,000 petitions for women’s suffrage, but it was not those appeals alone that achieved one of the most celebrated successes in history.

Even before all the centenary advertising started filling magazines and bookshop windows, most people were already familiar with the term “suffragette”. Coined by the Daily Mail, these were the women who fought for their rights, however, the campaign did not begin with them. Less known is the term “suffragists”, which describes a less violent group of women who named themselves the NUWSS.

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Millicent Fawcett

The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies was formed on 14th October 1897 and united many smaller, middle-class suffrage organisations that had already begun to emerge, such as the Kensington Society, which was involved with the original Ladies Petition. Also included in the group were the London Society for Women’s Suffrage, the Manchester Society for Women’s Suffrage and the Central Committee for Women’s Suffrage.

Under the leadership of Millicent Fawcett (1847-1929), the NUWSS aimed to campaign in a non-confrontational and constitutional way. This mostly involved petitions, lobbying, and writing leaflets and newspapers.

Millicent Fawcett had grown up in a wealthy family in Suffolk along with her sister, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917) who would become the first female doctor in the United Kingdom. Millicent was inspired by the drastic opinions of John Stuart Mill, whose speech on equal rights for women she witnessed at the young age of 19. Impressed by his public and practical support of women, Millicent became an advocate of his campaign.

“I cannot say I became a suffragist,” Millicent later wrote. “I always was one, from the time I was old enough to think at all about the principles of Representative Government.”

It was through her connection to Mill’s politics that Millicent Fawcett, neé Garrett, met her husband, Henry Fawcett (1833-84). Henry also shared the opinion of both Millicent and Mill, however, he died of pleurisy before the campaign for women’s rights really got underway. Left a widow at the age of 38, Millicent threw herself into political campaigning and was quickly elected the president of the NUWSS.

The NUWSS held public meetings for anyone to attend and distributed leaflets to spread their opinion and encourage other women to take up the cause. The main target of the society was the Liberal Party who hoped to win the next election. Their demand was that they receive the right to vote on the same terms “as it is, or may be” granted to men.

Although women’s rights were the organisation’s main concern, the NUWSS also supported the abolition of the slave trade and set up a relief fund for South African women and children during the Boer war. Essentially, their central aim was equality for all, regardless of sex and background.

 

 

 

The NUWSS’ progress was slow and some members began feeling restless, impatient and disillusioned with the lawful methods of campaigning. These women began to break away from the group to join a more radical organisation, the WSPU. Founded in Manchester in 1903 by Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928), the Women’s Social and Political Union preferred to raise public awareness of their campaign by using militant tactics.

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Emmeline Pankhurst

Emmeline Pankhurst came from a family with a history of radical politics; furthermore, she married the lawyer Richard Pankhurst (1836-98) who had strong views about the rights of women. Richard was the author of the Married Women’s Property Acts of 1870 and 1882, which allowed women the right to keep their earnings and property in their own name after marriage. Their daughters Christabel (1880-1958) and Sylvia (1882-1960) also became a vital part of the WSPU’s campaign.

The members of the WSPU are the women the Daily Mail christened “suffragettes” and they became the talk of the media for the following decade.

With the motto “Deeds not Words”, the WSPU gained notoriety with their aggressive demonstrations, many of which resulted in police intervention. Christabel and her friend Annie Kenney (1879-1953) snuck into a Liberal Party meeting and shouted their demands until forcibly removed, whereas, other suffragettes became involved in window smashing and arson. Some were even arrested for making bombs with the intent to blow up buildings. Nevertheless, the WSPU did not wish to harm other people, targetting empty properties instead.

Women refused to let being arrested hinder their campaign. Whilst detained behind bars, the suffragettes refused to eat to the point that they were seriously malnourished. In fear of being accused of murder, attendants began force-feeding the prisoners, a torturous and painful method involving tubes thrust up noses or down throats. This abusive treatment created an uproar among campaigners and other members of the public, therefore, the Cat and Mouse Act was developed.

The Prisoner’s (Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health) Act 1913, most commonly referred to as “Cat and Mouse Act” allowed for the release of hunger-striking prisoners into the community to be nursed back to health, at which time they would be rearrested. Many suffragettes found themselves repeatedly in and out of prison during this time.

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Emily Wilding Davison

By 1913, the WSPU was at the height of its campaign. They were conducting as many violent acts as they could get away with in order to show how serious they were about receiving the same voting rights as men. One suffragette went a step further resulting in the loss of her life in honour of the women’s movement. Emily Wilding Davison (1872-1913) attended the Epsom Derby in June 1913, kitted with a banner stating “Votes for Women” which she intended to attach to the King’s horse as it raced by.  A teacher who had given up her career to be a suffragette, Emily stepped out onto the race course and was fatally trampled by the horse’s hooves. At the time, women proclaimed Emily to be a martyr for the cause, throwing herself to her death, however, today it is believed that her death was an unintended, unfortunate accident.

The WSPU’s militancy came to an end, not with the success of the campaign, but with the outbreak of World War One in 1914. Emmeline Pankhurst called an end to the protests and encouraged women to support the war effort. Millicent Fawcett, although a pacifist, also asked the NUWSS to help in any way they could. Many women took on the roles the fighting men had left behind, whereas others worked in munition factories.

With the war entering its final year, women were finally granted the right to vote when the Representation of the People Act was passed on 6th February 1918. This allowed men over the age of 21 and certain women over the age of 30 the right to vote. Whilst any man could vote, women had to be householders or occupiers of property with an annual rent of £5 or a graduate from university. Whilst this was not equal, many women felt successful, however, certain women from the NUWSS continued campaigning until 1928 when women were granted equal voting rights with men.

Although many women were left out of the original Representation of the People Act, the country is busy celebrating the centenary of the suffragette and suffragist success. Many museums, publications, television channels and so forth are celebrating in various ways throughout the year. The following are a handful of things that are currently going on or something to look forward to:

Votes for Women at the Museum of London

 

 

Free to enter, the Museum of London has a temporary display until January 2019 commemorating the Act of 1918. It is dedicated to the hundreds of women who campaigned for the right to vote over 50 years, particularly focusing on the final decade. As well as this display, the museum has a permanent exhibition of suffragette memorabilia, including Emmeline Pankhurst’s Hunger Strike Medal, handwritten letters, banners and sashes in the suffragettes’ iconic colours (green, white and purple), weapons used for window smashing, and belts and padlocks used to chain themselves to railings.

The main aspect of the display is a powerful film reflecting on the militant campaign and how these women have inspired and shocked the world. The items on show highlight the extremes the suffragettes went to and bring the realities of the lives of these women to the fore. To emphasise that these women were real and not just stories, the museum has revealed handmade items a few campaigners put together both at home and in prison, for example, an embroidered handkerchief and Ada Flatman’s (1876-1951) scrapbook.

The museum’s gift shop contains a wide variety of suffragette items from books and postcards to hats and badges. Look out for the board game Pank-a-Squith, a replica of the original produced by the suffragettes to entertain themselves whilst in prison.

Votes for Women at the National Portrait Gallery

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Henry Fawcett; Dame Millicent Fawcett by Ford Madox Brown

Until 13th May 2018, the National Portrait Gallery is displaying a complimentary showcase highlighting Victorian pioneers of the movement as well as paintings, works on paper and photographs representing key figures in the campaign for women’s suffrage, both for and against.

With educational details, photographs and paintings are explained in order to inform visitors about the significant events from the campaign. Photos include those of Emmeline Pankhurst, documenting her speeches and arrests.

 

Voice and Vote in Westminster Hall

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From 27th June until 6th October 2018, Westminster Hall will be home to the Voice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament exhibition featuring unseen historic objects, photographs, and documents from Parliamentary collections. A large amount of the exhibition will involve interactive technologies to help tell the story of the women’s campaigns, protests and eventual success.

Curators have recreated historical places of the Palace of Westminster to emphasise what a woman’s experience of Parliament would have been like at the time of the suffragette movement. These include a Ladies’ Gallery with restricted views of the chamber and a loft space where women once sat to listen to the goings on in the room below.

The exhibition is free to enter, however, tickets must be booked in advance due to the limited capacity of the hall.

Processions

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On Sunday 10th June, women in the cities of London, Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh are invited to walk together in celebration of the suffrage movement. Wearing green, white and purple, marchers will be showing off artworks that have been produced specifically for the event. In workshops throughout the UK, women are producing colourful centenary banners and plan to turn the city streets into a river of colour during the procession.

Participants must register to take part in advance of the date of the procession.

Millicent Fawcett Statue, London

 

 

For the very first time, a female statue will stand in Parliament Square, London. In honour of her work and determination, Millicent Fawcett will be honoured forever as she takes her place amongst politicians such as Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela. Designed by Turner Prize winner Gillian Wearing, the statue will be surrounded by 52 photographic etchings on tiles depicting 59 key women who played a significant role in the campaign for women’s suffrage.

Emmeline Pankhurst Statue, Manchester

img_1265In Manchester, her home city, Emmeline Pankhurst is also being honoured with a statue. Scheduled to be completed in December 2018, sculptor Helen Reeves has designed the bronze tribute to “stand guard as an enduring reminder of the struggle for the vote, beckoning us to keep going forward as we continue the journey towards gender equality.”

 

 

Many more celebratory events will be happening around the country. Regardless of what they are, their focus is the centenary of the Representation of the People Act. Unfortunately, most of these tend to lean more towards the suffragette influence and forget about the passive campaigns of the NUWSS. Also, many of the working class women who joined the campaign were unable to vote, either due to their age or lack of property. Nonetheless, this was the first time women could vote and, whilst it was not equal to the rights of men, it was a significant success in the emancipation of women.

The centenary has sparked debates about the importance of the suffragists and suffragettes. Some argue that women got the vote due to their war work and others claim it was to make up for the loss of lives on the battlefields. Others dispute the celebration claiming that the suffragettes were guerilla terrorists and should not be honoured for their violence, whereas, some suggest they should be pardoned. It is doubtful that the suffragettes would wish to be pardoned for their crimes, they were openly and deliberately committing them to express their views – they knew exactly what they were doing.

Regardless of these debates, the passing of the Representation of the People Act 1918 is one of the biggest turning points in British history with similar Acts occurring at different times throughout the rest of the world. Women (and men) have every right to celebrate, reflect on how far society has come, and push forward with the determination to achieve equal rights for all.

“Once they are aroused, once they are determined, nothing on earth and nothing in heaven will make women give way; it is impossible.”

Faith at the Heart of the Nation

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© 2017 THE DEAN AND CHAPTER OF WESTMINSTER

It is virtually impossible to find a building more steeped in British history than the spectacular structure of Westminster Abbey. Although sections of the present building date from the 1200s, its history dates even further back. Registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Abbey has been in constant use and importance in the life of past and present royal families. Still used for church services today, Westminster Abbey welcomes visitors to tour the sacred building and marvel at the architecture and the many wonders hidden inside.

There is a discrepancy about the origins of the first church built on this site, however, historical evidence has been confirmed for the years subsequent to the death of Edward the Confessor at the very beginning of 1066. Children are taught at an early age about the Battle of Hastings that followed the death of this holy king, but little to no emphasis is put on the use of Westminster Abbey at that time, nor in the lives of future monarchs.

Visiting the Abbey will provide all the information about its uses and significance to various Kings and Queens of England. Commentary through an audio guide explains the events of different years that involved the Abbey’s use and development and, although no written information is displayed in the building, a full account of the history is available for purchase in a souvenir guide.

Originally, the church founded by Edward the Confessor stood in roughly the same place as the current Abbey, however, its surroundings would have looked completely different to the built up area that exists today. Over a thousand years ago, the Westminster area was on the very outskirts of London, a city which had not yet expanded to its contemporary grand size. Not only was the church located in the suburbs, it stood on a boggy, inhospitable island known as Thorney. Surrounded by many tributaries of the River Thames, it was not the welcoming district it is today.

The current building was erected over hundreds of years, beginning during the reign of Henry III (crowned 1216-1272). As a devotee to the canonised St Edward (the Confessor), Henry wished to demolish the existing church and construct a spectacular structure in the European Gothic Style in the saint’s honour. St Edward, who had been buried in his own construction, was provided with his own shrine. St Edward the Confessor’s Chapel still remains in the centre of the Abbey, unfortunately, due to fragility and age, visitors are unable to enter.

Little is known about who was responsible for the design of what was to become Westminster Abbey, but the three main stone masons involved in the raising of the building have been recorded as Henry of Reyns (d1253), John of Gloucester and Robert of Beverley (d1285). Although influenced by French cathedrals, the continental style was simply appropriated rather than copied. In order to make the building unique to England, as well as contain the highest vault (102ft/31m), certain aspects were altered from the geometrical system. This includes a single aisle, a lengthy nave and wide transepts. The stone and marble sculptures add to the Englishness of the building.

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Great West Door (Hazel Stainer 2017)

The façade of the Abbey, for which it is most famous, is as impressive as its interior. In order to keep its magnificent appearance, Westminster Abbey has been refaced several times, and may no longer resemble the original building. Architects, such as Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) and James Wyatt (1746-1813), have done a great deal of work on the building over the centuries. The latest major restoration took place between 1973-1995.

It is not clear who is responsible for the carvings, statues and effigies, but these are in over abundance in and out of the Abbey. Many Kings and Queens of England have been laid to rest under elaborate shrines and memorials that are so intricate it is difficult to believe that they were produced by the hands of a human being. And it is not only the royals who have been subjected to this lavish treatment; many members of the aristocracy have been honoured with a burial place in Westminster Abbey.

The most remarkable monument in the Abbey can be found in St Michael’s Chapel, one of the many small chapels located around the perimeter. Interestingly, this does not belong to a monarch but rather Lady Elizabeth Nightingale (1704-31) who died in childbirth. The memorial was designed by the French sculptor Louis-François Roubiliac (1702-1762) and consists of life-size figurines of Lady Elizabeth’s husband trying to protect her body from a skeletal apparition of death. To create realistic statues of people is one thing, but to successfully carve a skeleton from stone is a serious feat. Roubiliac was responsible for other effigies in the Abbey, including one of the musician Handel located in Poet’s Corner.

 

Westminster Abbey is open to the public every day for services including Holy Communion, Morning Prayer and Evensong. For a fee, tourists are allowed in to follow a plotted tour around the holy building. Although this means it is difficult to take your time and study every hidden corner as a result of the crowd continually surging forth in one direction, the tour is laid out so that nothing is missed. The accompanying audio guide provides the history of the building’s involvement with the English royal family but also points out works of art, sculpture and architecture that will amaze many a visitor.

Unlike most churches throughout the country, not all the effigies remain the whitish-grey colour of stone. Evidence remains of coloured paint that was added to the statues to make them as lifelike as possible. Although some of these have faded over the years, many are still covered in the rich reds and blues.

Westminster Abbey was built before the fashion of painted ceilings and walls came in to being. In contrast to other London churches, for instance, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Abbey relies on ornate carvings for decoration. Having said that, during a cleaning in the 1930s, two wall paintings were uncovered that historians believe date back to the end of the 13th century. These have been identified as images of Christ with the apostle Thomas and Saint Christopher. Of all the artistic components of the Abbey, these early paintings are one of the few that feature religious content.

The most complex piece of art situated in the Abbey is the Cosmati Pavement in front of the High Altar. This also dates back to the 13th century and was commissioned by the abbot of the monastery, Richard de Ware (d1283). Pavements made of mosaics were all the rage in Italy, therefore Roman stonemasons were invited to England to lay something similar in the newly built Abbey. The pavement spans 24ft and is made up of a variety of material: onyx, porphyry, limestone and glass. The geometric pattern consists of an assortment of shapes and colours and, despite its age, still looks colourful today.

Although the architecture is phenomenal, the greatest attractions are the tombs and memorials of famous people – and not purely the Royals. Upwards of 3000 people are eternally remembered in the Abbey and more are likely to be included in years to come. The flamboyance of previous centuries has abated resulting in more indistinct plaques and stones for the more recent tributes. The most popular area for tourists is located in the South Transept and is most commonly known as Poet’s Corner.

Over 100 well-known authors, poets and playwrights are celebrated in Poet’s corner. Some, such as William Shakespeare (1564-1616), have ostentatious friezes, however, the majority have modest stone slabs, many of which are embedded into the floor. Literature lovers will be excited to locate some of their favourite authors, including Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), Geoffrey Chaucer (the first to be buried in this corner), Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, C. S. Lewis, Lord Tennyson and William Wordsworth.

With floor and wall space running out, memorials have begun to feature on stained glass windows. These have been added fairly recently and take into consideration the writers who were shunned at the times of their deaths. Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wilde (1854-1900) is one example. Almost 100 years after his death, Oscar Wilde, who had been denied a place in Westminster Abbey on account of his sexuality, was awarded a humble lozenge in the giant window above the tomb of Geoffrey Chaucer. Space remains on the window for future authors to take their place amongst the other literary greats.

Westminster Abbey is a captivating example of British architecture and history and is certainly worth the visit. There is no other church or building as elaborately adorned as this structure on the edge of the Thames. As visitors follow the numbered audio points on their tour, they are encouraged to look up and marvel at the mesmerising ceilings that must have taken several years to produce.

 

As well as the main Abbey, your ticket will also allow you to explore the cloisters behind the dominant building. Here can be found the Pyx Chamber, Chapter House and the College Garden (check opening times). There is also a restaurant that is open seven days a week where you can get refreshments after walking around the entire Abbey.

It is without a doubt that Westminster Abbey is a worthy tourist attraction, nevertheless, the extortionate entry fee may cause something of a dispute. At £22 a head, it is questionable whether walking around what is effectively a giant tomb is worth it. One could joke that it is a once in a lifetime experience because, at that price, no one is likely to want to do it twice.

Having now visited Westminster and Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral – London’s two most famous religious buildings – the differences between the two are striking. Westminster Abbey is quite clearly intended for the aristocracy, evidenced by the class of people buried in its grounds. St Paul’s, on the other hand, is much more user-friendly. Of course, the architectural styles differ significantly on account of the periods in which they were built, but Westminster Abbey makes the general public feel as though they do not belong there (the strict rules and watchful security guards do not help matters), whereas St Paul’s is a much more welcoming and comfortable environment. In terms of their purposes as a house of God, St Paul’s definitely comes out on top.

It is irrefutable that Westminster Abbey is one of the most popular landmarks in London. Whether you attend a service or join the lengthy queue to tour the building, it will certainly be a place you will never forget. Despite the development of building materials and the constantly rising number of skyscrapers in the area, Westminster Abbey will remain a true advocate of the country’s history at the heart of the nation.