Events


More than 30 members enjoyed a delightful visit to the new Queen’s Jubilee Galleries (or Triforium) in Westminster Abbey.  We have already reviewed the opening in June but this took nothing away from a remarkable experience. We were welcomed in the Chapter House by Tony Trowles, Head of the Abbey Collection.  He described the work of Ptolemy Dean Architect and exhibition designers MUMA that made the new external access tower and exhibition space possible.  He thanked the Society for their valuable contributions at design and planning stages in 2014.
 
The new spiral glass staircase did not disappoint with stunning close up views of the Chapter House windows, rows of gargoyles and beyond to the Houses of Parliament.  The materials and craftsmanship in the construction and finish was of the highest quality befitting the Abbey and shards of medieval stained glass, found by cleaners under the floor, had been incorporated into the new glass panes. Once in the Triforium the space is calm and gently lit behind huge carved leaded arch windows.  We walked on the wooden floor put in by Sir Christopher Wren who, we have recently learned, appointed a woman, Elizabeth Gregory to be head carpenter there to finish his work, circa 1700.
 
The views down onto the Abbey floor are magnificent and it is easy to imagine it as a popular viewing gallery at many coronations and funerals. 16 metres below, a perfect view of the normally inaccessible Henry V Chantry Chapel and Poets Corner.
 
The Galleries show over 300 objects belonging to the Abbey and collected over centuries.  Including, several carved wooden royal funeral effigies including of Henry VII and also Nelson, an early Roman sarcophagus (which had been re-used down the centuries), ancient illuminated books and documents including what was known as the Westminster Domesday Book of the 1300s which was compiled by the monks as a record of major grants and the travelling filing chest of Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, who inherited the vast House of Lancaster and was a very shrewd businesswoman who kept a very close eye on the management of the estates.
 
Our thanks to the Dean and Chapter for putting this special visit into place.  For those who missed it, you will have to pay £22 entrance fee to get into the Abbey and another £5 to visit the Galleries but armed with a (free) Westminster residents card and a secondary proof of identity such as a driving licence, you can get into the Abbey for free, then just pay £5 and also you do not have to queue !
 
Photographs with the kind permission of Westminster Abbey.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

We were privileged to be taken on the first ever official tour of The Church House, Westminster, the headquarters of the Anglican church - temporal and spiritual, which sits proudly between Dean’s Yard and Great Smith Street.

We soon learned of a special link between us as when Church House acquired buildings on the Abbey side of Great Smith Street to build their new HQ, they demolished the public library and moved it to the other side of the road. This is the 1893 public library that was saved by a campaign group in 1985 which then became The Thorney Island Society.

Our host, Chris Palmer, chief executive of The Church House, gave us a fascinating tour of the building, starting on the outside, where Tufton Street meets Great College Street, he pointed out the equisite flintwork of the building.  Amongst the flints were notched stones from a pile of 14th century stones found in the Abbey ditch when the nearby gatehouse was excavated. Some stones also contained traces of fossils and builders’s personal trade marks.  I was lucky enough to also view in the basement almost immediately beneath the wall, remains of a pillar in situ believed to be part of the ancient gatehouse leading onto Thorney Island and dating back to the 14th century.  At first glance you would miss the intriguing images within the flint, a dove to represent the name of the builders and a partridge for a dignitary of that name, a cottage loaf, an eye, a wheel, an 'N' and there must be more !

 

Our visit took in the beautiful oak and marble (sourced from all over the UK) chapel to the large circular hall which has held over 600 people and survived a bomb during the Second World War so well that Churchill took it over as an alternative site for the House of Commons.  It was here that the first meeting of the United Nations took place after the war, the preliminary meetings prior to the Nuremburg War Trials and where numerous inquiries have been held including the Brixton Riots, the Kings Cross Fire and leaks of information from the Bank of England.  It now uses some of the most modern hi-tec audio-visual equipment for global and local conferences amit beautiful plaster icons on the walls representing Anglican communities around the world.

We are very grateful to Chris Palmer for this memorable visit.

 

 Visit to The Church House - August 2018

London historian Victor Keegan told the extraordinary story of how Old Pye Street, Westminster and its surrounds (seen here in Gustave Doré’s etching) - were so depraved that Dickens dubbed them The Devil’s Acre.  Following his own recent research, Victor compared old etchings and drawings to some of the buildings and streets we know so well. A fascinating snapshot of extreme poverty and the change that George Peabody and others contributed to the area.

 

 

Our visit to Westminster School proved so popular we had to split it into two. There was so much to see, such as the huge hall, known simply as 'School' which was once the monk’s dormitory and Headmaster Dr Busby's Library.  The highlight though was Ashburnham House, a building teeming with history. Once the London home of the Earls of Ashburnham, it was acquired by the school in 1882. 

You get a hint of its past as you go through the front door and see a picture of Elizabeth I, a patron of the school, on the wall. This is a copy but the original is in the Headmasters study – so pupils would have to commit serious misdemeanours to see it. These days Ashburnham houses activities like IT and mathematics but it once contained the unique Cotton Library built up by the redoubtable Sir Robert Cotton from books he rescued from monasteries after the Dissolution. Some were lost during a fire here in 1731 but three quarters were rescued and became the basis of today’s British Library. 

But the gem of the place is the small garden where you can still see the original wall of the monk’s refectory which has a strong claim to be the origin of Parliament because it was the site of some of the earliest meetings of what became the House of Commons. The lawn would have been the floor of the refectory. The building on the left, somewhat bizarrely houses several Fives courts of recent origin. We are most grateful to Elizabeth Wells, Archivist of the school for giving us a fascinating tour. 
 
 
 
The wall of the monastic refectory - the origin of Parliament
 

With thanks to the Purcell Club singers, prodominantly members of the Westminster Abbey Old Chorister's Association, for a wonderful evening of music and history.  We have already put our name down on the waiting list to go again in 4 years time !