Our visit to Westminster Abbey
After the heavy rain we had experienced the day before, it was a pleasure to wake up to a dry sunny day for our visit to Westminster Abbey. Our journey was fast and hold up free, probably thanks to half-term! We arrived at our meeting point where we met Martin, our guide before going into the Methodist Central Hall to visit their excellent restaurant for morning refreshments. The restaurant is open to the public and very important for this part of London it has free toilets!
Half of our party went with our guide for a morning tour of the Abbey, while the other half had time to visit any of the other sights in the area. A short walk away, the Roman Catholic Cathedral was a popular destination. The foundation stone was laid in 1895 and the first regular services were held in 1903. Near to the Abbey is the lovely St Margaret’s Church, often known as the ‘House of Commons church’ as this is the parish church of the Palace of Westminster. It was built at the same time as the Abbey to enable ordinary people to worship without disturbing the monks in the Abbey. The church has hosted many parliamentary weddings; Winston Church and Harold Macmillan being just two distinguished parliamentarians who were married there.
On the other corner of the square is the building that hosts one of our newer institutions; the Supreme Court. There is a small museum here and you can visit the court and listen to the proceedings as appropriate. The Cabinet War Rooms was another venue that attracted a number of our party. While some ventured further afield.
It being such a pleasant morning it was ideal for a walk. A walk to Westminster Bridge gave a good view of the Houses of Parliament terrace, the London Eye and the riverside architecture which brings London to life. Some of us ventured along Whitehall, mingled with the tourists outside Downing Street and reminisced about more innocent times, when you could walk along Downing Street and have your photo taken at the door of number ten! Horseguard’s Parade was splendid in the sun as was St James Park with the Pelicans enjoying the lake. Have you ever noticed the rather delightful ‘Bird Keepers Cottage’ on the edge of the park? Our little group returned to the Methodist Central Hall for lunch, but not before visiting the magnificent Great Hall. Judging by the size of the organ pipes we thought that Ollie could have fun there!
After a brief word with those returning from their tour we made our way over to the Abbey. The statistics about the cathedral are endless; it has been the setting for every coronation since 1006, the site of 16 royal weddings, there are over 600 monuments and over 3000 people are buried there. (Some reluctantly as our expert guide mentioned Charles Dickens who wished to be buried at Rochester but ended up in Poet’s Corner.) The Abbey is known as a ‘Royal Peculiar’ and has a Dean and Chapter but no bishop and is subject only to the Sovereign. The Abbey really is living history as it charts so much of this nation over the centuries. No visit to the Abbey should be complete without a visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. How the body of the unknown warrior was selected, transferred from the battle fields of the First World War and buried with a full State Funeral never fails to move me. Nearby is the Coronation Chair, which as we were told, has over the centuries, been ‘knocked about a bit’ on behalf of various monarchs and it shows! But there is so much history in this rather decrepit looking chair that has our American visitors fascinated. When not in use the chair is tucked away in a small secure alcove, again according to our guide American visitors are astonished that monarchs are crowned in this small alcove! We learnt that during Victorian times one of the vergers would charge people a penny to sit on the chair!
There is just so much to see and so much information to take in. Our excellent guide made it all come to life and our two hour visit went far too quickly. There was time for a quick refreshment break before we made our way home.