Thirty Thorney Island members were delighted to be shown around St Margaret's Church, Westminster, by Blue Badge guide Ian Godfrey. St Margaret's church is full of history and interesting people, the only downside being that it is almost touching Westminster Abbey and is largely ignored by tourists. On the day of our visit on July 11 there were huge queues for the Abbey yet no one but ourselves in the church.

More's the pity because, as Ian pointed out, as the church is a treasure trove of memories. 


William Caxton, the pioneer of printing in Britain, who worked a stone's throw from the church has a dedicated stained glass window,  or rather the remnant of one, and is buried there as is Sir Walter Raleigh who was executed around the corner in Old Palace Yard yet promptly given a prime burial place under the altar. 


Many interesting people are commemorated in the church including Olaudah Equiano, a freed black slave, who became a celebrity in London and a leading light in the anti-slavery campaign.  Members were pleasantly surprised at the number of Americans who had helped finance stained glass windows and other memorials including Cubby Broccoli of James Bond fame and Frank Sinatra. 


The church was built in the perpendicular style and dedicated in 1523 though virtually nothing of the original stone work remains. One of the reasons for its proximity to the Abbey is that the Benedictine monks did not want parishoners interrupting their prayers and other activities inside the monastery as they had traditionally done. 


The oldest part is probably the huge stained glass window commemorating the marriage of Henry VIII's elder brother Arthur to Catherine of Aragon which was added later.  St Margaret's - named after Margaret of Antioch - also has a large crypt which, we were told, is full of dust with a skull or two and, sadly, not open to the public. Our heartfelt thanks to Ian for a very entertaining visit. 




With huge thanks to Derek Rice, Library & Archives Co-Ordinator for a fascinating visit behind the scenes. 

We were shown around the archives and store room.  Temperature controlled with tight security arrangements and flood protection in place.  Large moveable storage shelves and cupboards house the many treasures.  We were shown prints and documents relating to the Millbank Penitentiary on the present gallery site. Next we entered the library to see documents, books and computer displays about the Thames and its history, part of a special project that changes monthly called Show and Tell.  Finally Derek took us to view the Nash exhibition.  A fascinating visit.  

One of the many in the collection, here is a photograph of the gallery at the time of the 1928 Thames Flood.




When Henry V died in France in 1422 aged 36, he had left instructions for a Chantry Chapel to be built in Westminster Abbey so prayers could be said in perpetuity for the repose of his soul. It has only rarely been opened to the public but as part of the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, the Abbey kindly invited members of the Thorney Island Society to visit the chapel.
It was a delight worth waiting for. We climbed up a very narrow spiral staircase to the bijoux chapel situated immediately above Henry's tomb. It is open on three sides to the rest of the Abbey - though you would never know that walking around downstairs  –  and affords spectacular views of the other tombs and down the nave of the Abbey itself. 
On the fourth side is the altar under which Henry's wife Catherine of Valois is buried - having been moved several times to different resting places in the Abbey on account of marrying beneath her station after Henry's death.  Above are six resplendent statues of patron saints of England and France including St George (with his spear penetrating the dragon), St Denis of France and on the right St Edmund carrying his head in his arms having reputedly been beheaded by Ivar the Boneless.  The blank plinth in the middle was probably of the Trinity but did not survive the iconoclasm of the Reformation.  At the very top of the Chapel there is a shaft of light from Henry VII's Chapel illuminating a charming stained glass window of kings of England. Sadly, photos are not allowed inside the Abbey. 
As if this was not enough our expert guide, the verger Ben Sheward, sprang a surprise  - a visit to the Jerusalem Chamber, the actual place - if Shakespeare is to be believed - where the future Henry V tried on the crown of England thinking his father Henry IV was dying, only for him to wake up in anger. Father and son were reconciled and Henry IV realised that dying in this room fulfilled his destiny:
"It hath been prophesied to me many years,
I should not die but in Jerusalem,
Which vainly I suppos’d the Holy Land.
But bear me to that chamber, there I’ll lie,
In that Jerusalem shall Harry die."
Our thanks to the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey for a most memorable visit.
One of the joys of Thorney Island membership is visiting places normally inaccessible.  Especially on Thorney Island !   We were all amazed when shown the main medieval remains within Parliament that somehow escaped the great fire of 1834.  Most of us thought we were familiar with the Great Hall which was spared destruction by a sudden change of wind, only to be told by Dr Mark Collins, the Estates Archivist & Historian, that the inner wall was an addition and that to see parts of the six-foot thick original wall we had to look opposite the gift shop where there is a long arched wall built of stone from Reigate in Surrey and Caen in Normandy complete with the signature marks of some of the masons. Richard II was responsible for the rebuilding of Westminster Hall complete with the dazzling hammer beam roof made from English oak brought by river. In one of the ironies of history, Richard was deposed before reconstruction of the building was completed after a trial - in his own Westminster Hall. 
Another magnificent survivor of the fire was the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft (completed by Edward III in 1298) which is normally closed to the public.  Called an undercroft because it is situated underneath the rebuilt St Stephen's Chapel through which visitors walk to the central lobby of the Commons but it is not really one because it is at ground level and has windows on both sides. It is a mesmerising example of Victorianised Gothic and will look even better when a proposed revamp is implemented.
We were then treated to something hardly any of us even knew existed: a cloister around which the monks used to walk and pray whose vaulted ceilings are now occupied by staff of the Labour Party and Government whips. In the quadrangle of the cloister, shut off from everything around you, it is difficult to believe you are right in the centre of London.  We thanked Dr Collins and his colleague, Tessa Blundy, deputy head of Architecture and Heritage, for this rare opportunity to visit three of only four major remains of the medieval palace. The fourth, the Jewel Tower, on the other side of the road near the Abbey, was outside the range of the fire. Which is just as well because the Domesday Book was one of the treasures housed there.

Many thanks to all who attended and supported us on Monday 26th September at The Cinnamon Club, The Old Westminster Library.  With special thanks to the Hon Jacob Rees-Mogg MP for his speech, describing growing up in Smith Square, using this building as a public library and the huge refurbishment project planned at the Palace of Westminster.  Also many thanks to Colin Sheaf, Chairman of Bonhams UK & Asia who auctioned some unique lots and raised an excellent amount for our Archives refurbishment.  Finally, thank you to all those who donated items for the auction, as follows :

Belgrave Communications - Tour of the Old War Office, Whitehall

Bonhams UK - Lunch and a glass of champagne for 2 at Bonhams Michelin starred restaurant in Mayfair

The Cinnamon Club - Champagne breakfast for 2

Claudia & Nobuko Bespoke Hair @ Headonizm, Page Street - 2 ladies or gents haircuts

M Wines, Victoria Street - £50 private wine tasting voucher

Joanna Moncrieff - Westminster guided walk

Catherine Slater - An illustrated history of your London house/flat and street

St James's Theatre, Palace Street - 2 tickets to 'The Pianist of Willesden Lane'

St John's Smith Square - £100 voucher for a SJSS Concert

Taj St James's Court Hotel, Buckingham Gate - The Shakespeariance Dinner for 2

The Royal Parks - Rare opportunity to feed the pelicans in St James's Park, a tour of Duck Island, Cottage & Duke of York's Column.

The Thorney Island Society was formed in 1985 to save this important building from demolition. We remain committed to conservation and preservation and this special Gala Dinner was thoroughly enjoyable and raised funds to help us continue the vital work of commenting on planning proposals and making 10 Old Pye Street a more usable space for visitors and society events.