Westminster Abbey is one of London’s classic sights: an essential tick on every London visitor’s ‘to do’ list. And for good reason: this unique church is not only the traditional coronation and burial place for English and British monarchs but also an architectural achievement in its own right, the setting for many national treasures and the last resting place of dozens of other notable Britons. On my tour you will see all the highlights of this unique religious building – and understand why it is called a “Royal Peculiar”!
We’ll see how the church grew from modest beginnings to its present size and style, largely under the guidance of King Henry III, who venerated Edward the Confessor – whose shrine the Abbey is – and who is buried here himself. We’ll see the amazing Cosmati Pavements which formed part of his remodelling of the Abbey and his stunning Gothic Chapter House – which includes Britain’s oldest door (dating from 1050) , as well as visiting the Shrine of the Confessor and Henry VII’s beautiful, fan-vaulted Lady Chapel. I’ll explain about the significance of the oddly-titled Order of the Bath, whose chapel this is. We will see King Edward’s Chair, on which every monarch since 1308 has sat at the moment of Coronation, and I shall explain the Coronation rituals to you and tell you about past Coronations – including one where the Queen was ordered to be locked out! I’ll also tell you about some of the 16 Royal Weddings that have taken place at the Abbey, including those of both the current Queen and Prince William. We’ll visit Poet’s Corner, where many of the greatest names in English literature are buried including Chaucer, Dickens, Tennyson, Dr Johnson, and Kipling, as well as the composer Handel and the actors Irving, Garrick and Oliver. Other notables whose memorials we may choose to see, depending on your interest, include 17 monarchs; 8 Prime Ministers (in the Statesmen’s Aisle); composers including Elgar, Britten, Purcell and Vaughan-Williams (in the Musicians’ Aisle) – or other luminaries such as Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and William Wilberforce. And, of course, no tour would be complete without seeing the famous Tomb of the Unknown Warrior.
If time permits, I can guide you round the Abbey Museum, where this is a replica set of the Coronation Regalia, as well as other treasures including a set of Royal effigies and England’s oldest altarpiece, made in the 13th Century, almost certainly for the Abbey itself. A walk in the peaceful Cloisters is a calming end to a visit to this fascinating and inspiring building, which lies at the heart of much of English history. I look forward to helping you learn about its treasures and its role in public and royal life throughout the many centuries.