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.



The Thorney Island Society came into being as a result of saving London's first public library in Great Smith Street in 1985. So it was with a double reverence that we made our much anticipated visit to a far older library only a few hundred yards away in Westminster Abbey. Our objective was the Muniments Room where ancient documents, particularly about Abbey transactions, are stored. But to get to it you have to go through a library that Time has told to stand still. Matthew Payne, Keeper of the Muniments, had us enthralled as he explained the history all around us dominated by the overpowering hammerbeam oak roof dating back to 1450. Only three books survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1540s - probably because they were about coronations and not associated with the old religion - but the library has since acquired a book of 1477 and has a fragment of the History of Troy printed by William Caxton (c 1422 - 1491) at his press mere yards away from where we were standing.

 A wooden spiral staircase took us up to the Muniments room itself where we enjoyed a spectacular view of the inside of the Abbey - at least when we could take our eyes off the ancient memories around us including a long oak chest dating back to 1159, million believed to be the oldest in the country. Among other treasures shown to us were the beautiful prayer book of Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry V11, who died in 1509 and what seemed to be a document of Offa - yes, he of Offa's Dyke - dating back to 693 though it turned out to be a 12th century reproduction.  However, the Abbey does have an authentic document that can be traced back to 959, which is long enough ago for most of us.

 With that we bid our farewells to a remarkable part of the Abbey beyond the reach of most visitors. Our thanks to Matthew Payne for showing us around and to Pippa Parsons for organising the trip.

Discovering Parliament through virtual reality   

Construction of the new Education Centre for Parliament has proved controversial for some Thorney Island members. This was partly because it encroached on rare green space in Victoria Tower Gardens and partly because it was difficult to believe that a new building costing £7 million was going to be "temporary" for just 10 years as claimed.

At the end of October we visited it and were very impressed with the facilities provided to enlighten school children of primary and secondary age about the history of our parliamentary democracy. A series of rooms mimicing the look of the House of Commons and Lords utilise augmented reality techniques to explain over a thousand years of history at rapid speed to 100,000 of today's techno savvy kids every year.