Tag Archives: what to see in london

A visit to Westminster Abbey

Essentially a Royal Tomb; a visit to Westminster Abbey for the first time, is quite an overwhelming experience. With pointed arches, ribbed vaulting, rose windows and flying buttresses, it is one of the most important Gothic buildings in the country; the final resting place of 17 monarchs.

visit westminster abbey london
detail above the North Apse entrance to Westminster Abbey

A living pageant of British history, the abbey stands serene; an emblem of continuity in an ever changing world, older even than the Tower of London.

visit westminster abbey london
St Edward’s Chapel – the East apse of Westminster Abbey

Steeped in over a 1,000 years of history, the first people to settle this site, then known as Thorney Island, were Benectine monks in mid-10th century, who established a tradition of daily worship that continues to this day.

Westminster Abbey has seen kings, queens, princes, poets, priests, heroes, villains, statesmen and soldiers, with some of the most notable and influential figures of history either buried, entombed or remembered within it’s ancient walls.

 

visit westminster abbey london
Henry III, Westminster Abbey

The present church, begun by Henry III in 1245, besides being a place of worship, is the coronation church and today you will be able to see the Coronation chair when you visit. The Abbey has seen the coronation of 38 Monarchs; the first documented being that of William the Conqueror on Christmas day in 1066, through to that of

Queen Elizabeth II on June 2, 1953.

queen elizabeth ii 60 years
A portrait of Queen Elizabeth II to commemorate her 60th anniversary

The Abbey has also been the venue for 16 royal weddings.

visit westminster abbey
Friday 29 April 2011.

The wedding of His Royal Highness Prince William of Wales and Miss Catherine Middleton took place at Westminster Abbey on Friday 29 April 2011.

visit westminster abbey london
The only Anglo-Saxon door surviving in the country, dated to 1050, at the Chapter House of Westminster Abbey

Within the abbey’s walls is the oldest door in Britain, relics of Kings, and a most extraordinary collection of artefacts, paintings, pavements, stained glass and textiles, many 100’s of years old and some still used today; a veritable treasure house.

The Abbey has enjoyed close links with royalty since 1066 with kings and queens significant benefactors beginning with King Edgar who reigned from 959-975. In the 1040’s, King Edward, later known as Edward the Confessor, established his palace Westminster, in close proximity with the monastic community.

Henry III rebuilt the Confessor’s church; greatly influenced by the new cathedrals at Reims, Amiens and Chartres giving us the Gothic building we have today and where he was buried in 1272 thus establishing the abbey as the principal burial place for royalty over the next 500 years! Richard II, Henry V, Henry VII and Elizabeth I were all influential in shaping the Abbey’s history.

What you can see inside Westminster Abbey:
There are hundreds of things to see and with over 600 monuments and tablets alone, in order to make the most of your visit, I would recommend you join one of the verger-led tours that are filled to the brim with interesting snippets.


Most notably you can see:
Hundreds of memorials inset into the floor (On my first visit I tried to avoid stepping on them – felt a bit rude really, and ended up looking like a scalded cat jumping here and there!) over 3,000 people are buried in Westminster Abbey.
A lavish interior, and tombs with beautiful stone-work, arches, carvings and in particular the magnificent Lady Chapel, one of the greatest additions to the abbey, built by Henry III between 1503 and 1519, replacing the 13th century chapel. Extravagant sums were spent on the chapel; the beautifully carved fan-vaulted roof with hanging pendants, rose and portcullis Tudor emblems, jewel-like stained glass (since disappeared), and almost 100 statues of saints in niches around the walls.
The highest Gothic vault in England (nearly 102 feet), made to seem higher by using narrow aisles.
Westminster Abbey houses the shrine of Edward the Confessor.
Tombs of the kings and queens of Britain; Henry III, Edward I & Eleanor of Castile, Edward III & Phillipa of Hainault, Richard II & Anne of Bohemia and Henry V.
Queen Elizabeth I’s tomb – in the north aisle of Henry VII’s chapel.
Queen Mary I entombed alongside her sister.
The carved altar screen in the Confessors’ chapel which shows events in the life of St Edward.

chaucer in london
Geoffrey Chaucer on his Canterbury travels

Poets’ Corner in the South transcept – the first poet to be buried there was Geoffrey Chaucer; Clerk of Works to the palace of Westminster (and author of “The Canterbury Tales”).
Other burials of poets include John Dryden, Robert Browning and Alfred; Lord Tennyson.

 

visit westminster abbey london
Dr Samuel Johnson…statue outside St Clement Danes on Strand

A number of writers are also buried here:
Dr Samuel Johnson, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, and Charles Dickens amongst others.
The famous composer George Frederic Handel is buried here as is David Garrick; Shakesperean actor, and Laurence Olivier; actor.

 

“The communication of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living” – epitaph on the memorial to T.S. Eliot.
You can also see the tomb of the Unknown Warrior at the west door.

visit westminster abbey london
The Coronation Chair, Westminster Abbey

You can see the famous Coronation Chair; usually located within St Georges Chapel – King Edward I had the Coronation Chair made in 1300-1; a magnificent oaken chair decorated with animals, birds and foliage on a gilt ground, to enclose the famous Stone of Scone. The stone was brought from Scotland in 1296 and placed in the care of the Abbot of Westminster.

The chair was painted on the back and featured the figure of a king with his feet resting on a lion – either Edward the Confessor or Edward I.  In the early 16th century, four gilt lions were added, replaced again in 1727. Originally the Stone of Scone was totally enclosed, but due to wear and tear over the centuries the wooden decoration tore away from the front and the space where the stone rested is now visible.
Used at the Coronation of every new monarch since Edward II in 1308, except Edward V and Edward III who were never crowned – during the proceedings it stands at the High Altar. A 2nd chair especially for Mary II, was made for the joint coronation of William III and Mary II in 1689, this can now be seen in the Abbey Museum. The Coronation Chair was also used by Queen Victoria at her 1887 Golden Jubilee Services in the Abbey.
For centuries the chair was kept in the Chapel of St Edward the Confessor which closed to visitors in 1997, then in 1998 it was moved to and raised upon a pedestal near the tomb of Henry V where it stayed until April 2010 then moved to an enclosure within St Georges Chapel for conservation work where it can currently be viewed (this may have changed in the meantime). If you could see the back of the chair you would notice the graffiti carved into the chair by Westminster schoolboys and visitors in the 18th & 19th centuries.  The chair has left the Abbey on a couple of occassions; when Oliver Cromwell was installed upon it as Lord Protector in Westminster Hall and during the 2nd WW at which time it was evacuated to Gloucester Cathedral while the stone was buried secretly in a vault in the Abbey.
The Stone of Scone was returned to Scotland in 1996 and the Coronation Chair, after 700 years, now stands empty

At the time of William the Conqueror’s victory in 1066, London was the largest town in England.

visit westminster abbey london
Richard I

The founding of Westminster Abbey and the old Palace of Westminster under Edward the Confessor had marked it as a centre of governance, and with a prosperous port it was important for the Normans to establish control over the settlement.

Richard I, Duke of Normandy, aka Richard the Lionheart seen outside Houses of Parliament – King of England from 6 July 1189 until his death.

Notable people with links to the Abbey: the list is comprehensive so I have inserted a link for your perusal http://www.westminster-abbey.org/our-history/people

Within the grounds of the abbey:
The Abbey Museum in the Undercroft – traces of Edward’s monastery can be seen in the round arches and supporting columns of the undercroft

visit westminster abbey london
The Chapter House – stained glass windows

The Chapter House – Located in the east cloister, built by the royal masons in 1250, the octagonal Chapter House of Westminster Abbey was originally used by Benedictine monks for their daily meetings, prayers and to read a chapter from the rule of St Benedict.

 

visit westminster abbey london
The Pyx Chamber, Westminster Abbey

The Pyx Chamber – A low vaulted room off the East Cloister, part of the Undercroft that was built about 1070, was walled off from the rest of the room sometime in the 12th century and probably made into
a treasury in the 13th century. It may have been used as a sacristy when Henry III was rebuilding the main Abbey.

 

visit westminster abbey london
The Cloister – Westminster Abbey, London

The Cloisters – The present Cloisters were begun in the thirteenth century, when Henry III’s church was being built.

 

 

 

Be sure to include a visit to Westminster Abbey on your 3 Days in London itinerary.

Westminster Abbey, 20 Deans Yard, London SW1P 3PA, UK
Phone: +44(0)20 7222 5152
http://www.westminster-abbey.org/

Nearest tubes stations: Westminster, St James’s, Charing Cross
Plan your journey: http://www.tfl.gov.uk

What you can see in the area:
St Margaret’s Church – the parish church of the House of Commons is right next to the north transcept of the Abbey
Parliament Square – where you can see a number of statues
The Supreme Court – on the west side of Parliament Square, free to enter and recommended
The Jewel Tower – on the east end of the Abbey (outside the gates) a remnant of the original Westminster Palace
The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben also Westminster Hall
The Cenotaph – memorial to the war dead on Whitehall

the cenotaph london
The Cenotaph, Whitehall London

Visit Westminster Abbey – found in the recently published: ‘While You Are There…53 Places to go in London’ – Buy your copy here
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The Royal Watermen’s Tudor Pull – 11 May 2014

The Tudor Pull is an annual rowing event by the Royal Watermen between two great HRP Palaces, Hampton Court and H.M Tower of London.

annual events in london tudor pull
Hampton Court Palace

The Queen’s Row Barge ‘Gloriana’ rowed by the Royal Watermen is escorted by Thames Waterman’s Cutters, rigged with ceremonial canopies and flags, from Hampton Court to the Tower of London in order to deliver a ‘Stela’ to the Governor of the Tower.

The ‘Stela’ is a piece of ancient water pipe made from a hollowed tree trunk which stands on a base of timber from the old Richmond Lock and bears the coat of arms of the Watermen & Lightermen’s Company. The cutters are rowed by members of the Livery Companies of the City of London and, in keeping with tradition, each must carry a passenger.

annual events in london tudor pull
The Trinity Tide gets ready to join the flotilla – Tudor Pull

The event is organised by the Thames Traditional Rowing Association who support and promote the sport of fixed seat rowing and sculling on the River Thames in Waterman’s cutters.

Each year Her Majesty’s Royal Watermen complete a marathon row from Hampton Court Palace to the Tower of London, a distance of some 25 miles.

annual events in london tudor pull
The Gloriana pulls out into the middle of the River Thames at the start of the Tudor Pull

They do this to support the apprentices system of the trade of Thames Watermen and Lightermen and to   draw attention to London’s great underused asset ~ The River Thames. They also commemorate events of 1256 when Queen Eleanor’s royal barge sank under the old London Bridge with the loss of one of her courtiers, the Lady of the Bedchamber.

The Queen has a retinue of 22 appointed Watermen with her Royal Bargemaster to oversee and organise their duties~ these consist of accompanying Her Majesty when travelling on the river, at State visits and at the State Opening of Parliament.

Men are chosen for this honour for the dedication to their trade and for their prowess as oarsmen. Several of the men in the Queen’s retinue have competed in the Olympics and many in major events within the sport of rowing.

annual events in london tudor pull
The Trinity Tide – watermen’s cutter alongside the Gloriana passing Battersea Park

After the ceremony of accepting the ‘Stela’ at Hampton Court Palace HM Bargemaster carries the emblem, made from a slice of Medieval elm water-pipe, placing it aboard the Queen’s Row Barge ‘Gloriana’.

During the Tudor Pull the barge is accompanied by traditional oar powered Watermen’s Cutters belonging to the Livery Companies of the City of London dressed in their full company regalia, the Royal Shallop ‘The Jubilant’, the Watermen’s Shallop ‘LadyMayoress’ and by other craft from organisation and rowing clubs who preserve the sport of fixed seat rowing on the River Thames ~ this wonderful Royal high-way of the City of London.

annual events in london tudor pull
The Gloriana and flotilla including Liverymen’s cutters reach the City of Westminster

Following a short stop at Richmond the crews row down to the pool of London arriving at HM The Tower of London where the pageant disembark and the ‘Stela’, escorted by Yeoman Warder of the Tower, is processed to be presented to the Governor of H.M. Towerof London.

tudor pull annual events in london
The Gloriana arrives at the Tower of London

At a short ceremony he accepts the ‘Stela’ under his protection until it is returned to Hampton Court Palace for the following years procession.


The Tudor Pull is organised under the governance of the ‘Thames Traditional Rowing Association’.

More information at: http://www.traditionalrowing.com and http://www.jubilant.org.uk

and http://www.watermenshall.org/

and http://www.thamesalive.org.uk

For more information about annual and other events in London:

Plan your journey: http://www.tfl.gov.uk

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I have been very lucky to participate as an observer in the Tudor Pull.  The delightful craft I had the good fortune to travel on was the little ship ‘Verity’.

Many thanks to Malcolm K of Thames Alive and Peter who owns the ‘Verity’.

 

one photo tour of London – Christopher Wren lived here

Christopher Wren lived here

Sir Christopher Wren – FRS (20 October 1632 – 25 February 1723) is one of the most highly acclaimed English architects in history. He used to be accorded responsibility for rebuilding 51 churches in the City of London after the Great Fire in 1666, including his masterpiece, St. Paul’s Cathedral, on Ludgate Hill, completed in 1710. The principal creative responsibility for a number of the churches is now more commonly attributed to others in his office, especially Nicholas Hawksmoor. Other notable buildings by Wren include the Royal Naval College in Greenwich and the south front of Hampton Court Palace.

Educated in Latin and Aristotelian physics at the University of Oxford, Wren was a notable astronomer, geometer, and mathematician-physicist, as well as an architect. He was a founder of the Royal Society (president 1680–82), and his scientific work was highly regarded by Sir Isaac Newton and Blaise Pascal.

This house is to be found right next to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on Bankside

 

Lord Mayor’s Show 2011

the lord mayors coach
The Lord Mayor's Carriage

785 years of history and this year The Lord Mayor’s Show was just as enjoyable as last year!  Not sure what folks 785 years ago thought of the show, but for sure….I can say that I loved it this year (as I did last year)!

I did not arrive as early as I had in 2010 and of course then I found myself a spot at St Paul’s Cathedral….something we could not do this year due to the ongoing unsightly ‘tent city’ that currently houses the protesters (or hanger-ons).  Due to this ongoing ‘protest’ the route had to be changed and the usual stop had to be left out.  This year I found a spot on the embankment near Temple station and my view from the pavement was interesting to say the least.

Like no other procession in the world; the Lord Mayor’s Show is nearly 800 years old. There has been a Lord Mayor of London ever since 1189, and probably the most well-known of whom was Dick Wittington.  In 1215, by charter of King John, it became one of the earliest elected offices in Britain.
Thousands of people take part in the Lord Mayor’s Show, one of London’s most spectacular annual displays including servicemen and women, vehicles, Livery Companies, charities, colourful floats, marching bands, and carriages including the glorious State Coach and of course the giant figures of the City’s guardians Gog and Magog; 3 miles of procession along 1.7 miles of city road.

gog and magog city of london guildhall
Gog one of the guardians of the City of London

 

The head of the procession leaves from Mansion House and follows the traditional route through the streets of the City to the Royal Courts of Justice where the Lord Mayor takes his oath of allegiance to the Sovereign before the Lord Chief Justice and the Judges of the Queen’s Bench Division.

 

Along the way, the State Coach and other officials usually pause at St Pauls for the Lord Mayor to receive a blessing, but this year thanks to the protesters, they were unable to do that. He then takes the oath of loyalty at the Royal Courts, after which the whole procession reforms near Victoria Embankment for the return journey to Mansion House, where the newly sworn-in Lord Mayor is greeted by the City Aldermen and Livery Company Masters.

The Lord Mayor has been making the journey every year for 785 years, surviving plague and fire and countless wars and insurrections. The modern Lord Mayor’s procession is a direct descendant of that first journey to Westminster and the pageantry of Pepys and Canaletto is recognisable today.

 

At the end of the Show and the beginning of a new mayoral year, London’s newly confirmed Lord Mayor starts a fantastic firework display on the river Thames at 5 o’clock.  The display, which can be seen for miles, includes more than half a tonne of giant fireworks, some of which shoot over 600ft into the sky before exploding, and takes a team of eight pyrotechnicians two days to set it all up.

fireworks at the lord mayors show
a fabulous display of fireworks at the Lord Mayors show

On the day of the Show many of the road in the City of London are closed and becomes a cyclists dream :)  Many people could be seen cycling around on the Barclays bikes.  Most sensible….I should have hired one myself. :)  A great place to see the tail end of the show is near the Museum of London as the parade and mounted soldiers make their way back after the show.

mounted guards at the lord mayors show
getting up close and personal with horses and mounted guards

A major clean-up takes place after the show and a group of people get stuck in to clear the streets of garbage, horse dung and sand by the end of day. For more information about The Lord Mayors Show for 2012, click here

city of london street cleaners
cleaning the streets of London after the Lord Mayors Show 2011

Sicilian Avenue, Bloomsbury

I recently took a group of people on a tour of Bloomsbury and one of the places we walked through was Sicilian Avenue.

sicilian avenue bloomsbury
Sicilian Avenue, Bloomsbury

Sicilian Avenue is a delightful splash of Italy tucked away on the apex of Southampton Row and Bloomsbury Way.  Designed by R.J. Worley and completed in 1910 as a pedestrianised shopping street with accommodation above the outlets, it boasts beautiful architecture with ornate carved stone facades and original convex shop fronts trimmed with dark wood.

sicilian avenue bloomsbury
Sicilian Avenue Bloomsbury, a delightful London secret

The area is still used a such to this day, and the large stone inscriptions at each end of the street give it a truly old-world Italian feel. The street contains variety of shops and restaurants, including second hand bookshops and spaghetti restaurants. The edges of the walkway are lined with flowers and bushes, and in the summer it is one of the most pleasant areas in Central London.

Just over the way from Bloomsbury Square it is a charming area to stroll through and perhaps stop off for a meal or browse along the shopfronts.  Be sure to look up at the lovely facades.  There was some construction work going on when I was there but hopefully that will soon be completed.

sicilian avenue bloomsbury

nearest tube station Holborn on the Central Line.    Alternatively if you have just visited the British Museum (probably no more than a 5 minute walk away), take a stroll through the lovely leafy streets (in spring & summer) and enjoy this delightful secret of London. p.s. you can visit in autumn and winter too! :)