Thorney Tales

 

One of the least visited parts of Thorney Island is the College Hall of Westminster School. This is because during the day it is a full time dining room for the pupils and outside of term time it reverts to the Dean of Westminster as part of his dwelling. And not without reason because this used to be the medieval dining hall of former abbots of the Abbey. It is claimed to be “ the most perfect, indeed only almost complete mediaeval house existing in London“. It is not be confused with the much bigger - and less attractive - School Hall visited by TTIS members recently where, among other things, the annual pancake “Greaze’ takes place.

The structure of College Hall is largely unchanged from medieval times and the oak roof immediately recalls an Oxford or Cambridge college. The windows have been replaced but shards of the original 1376 stained glass can be seen at the arched top of two of the windows. There used to be an open fire in the middle of the hall through which junior Scholars were made to jump through as a rite of passage. You can still see the aperture in the roof through which the smoke would escape. 
 
The hall, which is not open to the public, is accessed from a private courtyard near the entrance to the cloisters and has been in continuous use since it was constructed by the free spending Abbot Litlyngton who also built the Jerusalem Chamber (where Henty lV died) in the early 1370s. 
Queen Elizabeth l visited the hall on several occasions to hear the annual Latin play which her own statutes for the school had laid down.
It was in this hall that another Elizabeth - Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s Queen - twice claimed the ancient right of sanctuary when her life and that of her family were threatened. On the second occasion she was with her five daughters and second son, Richard, the Duke of York trying to escape the wrath of Richard lll when things turned nasty. See our earlier post https://tinyurl.com/y7spbo66
 
The right of sanctuary in the area immediately around the Abbey was so ingrained that even a ruthless king like Richard dare not abuse it. One of the celebrated people to take advantge of it was the poet John Skelton sometime tutor to the young Henry Vlll who composed sycophantic verses for royalty and noblemen. But he could also be acerbic and when he turned his satirical pen on the over-indulgent lifestye of his former patron Cardinal Wolsey it was a step too far. He sought refuge in the Sanctuary at Westminster to avoid being sent to prison by the Cardinal and spent the rest of his life there. 
 
The hall is believed to be the oldest regularly used dining room in London. Although it iis difficult to visit it, the outside wall is visible above the gift shop adjacent to the western entrance to the Abbey. The building peeping above the shop to the left is the Jerusalem Chamber and to the right is College Hall.