An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in London, Volume 1, Westminster Abbey. Originally published by His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1924.
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Westminster Abbey is the premier historical monument of England. It is not the oldest of our sanctuaries, but in beauty it is not surpassed by any, and, as the coronation-church of our sovereigns, and the burial-place and shrine of remembrance of the heroes of our race, it is more closely bound up with every moment and aspect of our history than is any other work of human hands in the whole Empire. Nor, indeed, will there be found throughout the world any place or building in which a great nation has so continuously sought to perpetuate the memory of its great sons.
The central distinction which has been the means of attracting to Westminster the whole multitude of later memories has been its status as the shrine of the monarchy of these realms. That status may date back to the eve of the Conquest, if it be true that Harold, in January of the year 1066, was crowned, or crowned himself, in the new-built church of Edward the Confessor. It is certain, at any rate, that on the Christmas Day of that same fateful year William the Conqueror elected to be crowned here because it was the Confessor's church, and because he based his claim to the throne of England upon the promise made to him by the Confessor, and that in so doing he inaugurated a series of solemnities uninterrupted from that day to this. For all but one of the sovereigns since the Conquest have been crowned here: the exception, young Edward V, was never crowned at all.
At a definite epoch in its history the church became also the burial-place of the sovereigns and their consorts: in this it was unlike other coronation-churches: only the Polish kings were both crowned and buried at Cracow.
It was the second founder of the church, Henry III, who inaugurated this custom. In doing so he was following precedent, for several of his predecessors—William I, Henry I, Stephen—had been buried in Abbey churches (Caen, Reading, Faversham) which they had founded. But he was swayed less by precedent than by the desire to rest near the Confessor, whose memory he had so glorified, whose name he chose for his eldest son, and in whose coffin he was actually laid at first. Sixteen of his successors, the last being George II, are buried in the Abbey:
No better occasion than this will offer itself for introducing a word about that strange palladium of the Empire, the Stone of Scone, which Edward I brought from Scotland and placed in the coronation chair which he made to hold it and which holds it still. What was it ? The mediaeval chroniclers, as is well known, made it to have been Jacob's pillow at Bethel, and told of its transportation to Ireland and thence to Scotland. Nineteenth-century antiquaries unearthed and supported the legend that it was St. Columba's pillow brought from Iona. Both tales point to an ancient, one to an immemorial, sanctity: both are well beyond the reach of proof.
Whatever was its original form, and whatever the origin of the sacredness attached to it in the minds of men, this Stone is surely the most venerable and mysterious object now to be seen in the Abbey.
It is not, however, the main object of the inventory which these pages introduce to bring out the historical, the imperial, or the spiritual significance which Westminster Abbey possesses for the British race. That has really been done once for all in Dean Stanley's Historical Memorials, which deserves to rank as a classic. The aim is humbler and simpler, yet, in a way, not less ambitious. It is no more, and no less, than to record and describe in detail every existing part of the fabric and fittings of the Abbey church and the monastic buildings attached thereto which can be assigned to a date anterior to 1714. It is important that this limitation of date should be realized: familiar as it may be to readers of previous volumes issued by the Commission, it may be new to the larger public. They will not find here a complete catalogue of the monuments, memorials, and furniture set up in the Abbey in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Nothing that is not over two hundred years old is described: and this limitation excludes many of the most bulky and conspicuous objects in the church, as well as the more sober memorials of men of assured renown.
On the other hand, they will find a methodical account, drawn up in accordance with the best knowledge of our day, of the structure of the church and its dependent buildings, and of every relic of mediaeval, renaissance, and 17th-century workmanship which in the year 1924 was to be seen there.
Such is the character of the record itself. In this introduction to it an attempt will be made to analyse it and to guide the reader to the points of greatest interest, artistic and archaeological. As in the inventory, so here, the church will be treated first, and the monastic buildings (far more briefly) by themselves: and the basis will be the natural one, the order of date.
The history of the fabric is comparatively simple. There was a church of St. Peter at Westminster in the 8th century we are sure; there may have been one in the 7th. The legend first recorded in the 12th century told how St. Peter had himself appeared and consecrated the new church which Mellitus (first Bishop of London, a.d. 616) was preparing to dedicate on the following day. But of the Anglo-Saxon period no relic is now visible, unless it be a stone coffin-lid upon which a cross has been cut, and which is now preserved in the chapter house vestibule.
For our purposes the history begins with Edward the Confessor who, probably soon after his accession in 1042, began the building of a great church, the plan of which was apparently modelled upon, or at least closely akin to, that of Jumièges, in Normandy, still extant as a ruin. It is on record—yet the record is not accepted on all hands as conclusive—that Edward completed the church even to the (western) "vestibule."
Of this church, again, no relic exists above ground: a few fragments of foundations have been disclosed at different times by excavation; bases of piers of the choir, and the curved wall of the apse. This church was dedicated on Holy Innocents' Day (28 Dec.) of 1065, only some ten days before the Confessor's death. It is possible, though it is nowhere recorded, that in connexion with the first translation of his relics to a shrine, which took place in 1163, the church was extended eastward, and an ambulatory added to the choir. Except for this conjectured alteration, the Confessor's church remained unchanged from the year before the Conquest until 1220, when a large Lady chapel was built at the extreme E. end, at the cost of the Abbey. How it was connected with the Norman church, if not by the extension just spoken of, is not known. This chapel survived until, in 1503, it was replaced by Henry VII's chapel.
The church which we see is the work of Henry III, the greatest builder and the greatest patron of the arts who has ever occupied the throne of England. He began it in 1245, when the eastern part of the Confessor's church was pulled down, and he went on building until 1269, by which time the whole eastern limb, the transepts, and the four eastern bays of the structural nave, together with the lower part of the fifth, were completed. The western part of the nave of the Confessor's church was left standing.
A hundred years later (in 1375) Cardinal Simon Langham, formerly Abbot of Westminster, and later Archbishop of Canterbury, began, and King Richard II pressed on, the continuation of the nave westward, and by a rare and notable inspiration, the work was continued in the style of Henry III's time, and so carefully that the difference of date between the two portions may very easily elude any but an expert eye. By the year 1388 the Confessor's church had disappeared.
Under Henry IV the work languished; Henry V was enthusiastic in furthering it; not so Henry VI. In and after his time the building was carried on at the cost of the Abbey. The last piece of work to be done on the structure of the nave was the vaulting of the fifth and sixth bays from the crossing (where a gap had hitherto been left) carried out in 1504–6 under Abbot Islip, who also did some building at the W. end.
The western towers (and the gable between them) were still unfinished, and unfinished they remained until about the middle of the 18th century. It was in 1739 that the completion of the south-western tower (the latest to be taken in hand) was voted.
Meanwhile two additions of unequal importance had been made to the fabric. The smaller was the chantry of Henry V, inserted E. of the Confessor's tomb, and begun in 1438; the larger was the new Lady chapel, or Henry VII's chapel, already mentioned, of which the foundation stone was laid early in 1503. This building is one of the most marvellous creations of expiring Gothic. It may be just worth while to add here that John Islip, the last but one of the old line of abbots, built a small two-storied chantry chapel on the N. of the ambulatory of the choir shortly before his death, which happened in 1532.
Thus the fabric of the church consists of three great sections: choir, transepts, and part of the structural nave, built in 1245–69: remainder of the nave, built between 1375 and 1506: Henry VII's chapel, begun in 1503. Add to these the western towers of 1734–40.
It is not practicable to set out a list of all the minor repairs and mutilations which the church has undergone. Only the most far-reaching can be mentioned. By the end of the 17th century the atmosphere of London had grievously corroded the whole exterior: in 1698 part of the duty on coal was devoted by Parliament to remedy the mischief that coal-smoke had wrought. The repair was begun in that year under Sir Christopher Wren, and continued by him and his successors until 1745, with the necessary result that hardly a single original stone of the external surface of the main structure was left. This repair did not include Henry VII's chapel: that was wholly refaced by Wyatt in 1807–22: his methods compare most unfavourably with those of Wren. In and after the middle of the 19th century much work was done by Sir Gilbert Scott and the rose window of the S. transept was renewed by J. T. Micklethwaite. In 1875 Scott began, and in 1884 Pearson continued, the work of remodelling the front of the N. transept in a way which laid both of them open to severe criticism.
The plan of the structure is French: the working out and the details are English. As Edward the Confessor seems to have borrowed ideas from Jumièges, so it has been long recognized that the Cathedral of Rheims, the coronation-church of the kings of France, was to a great extent copied in the eastern portion of Henry III's church. It has even been made to appear possible that "Master Henry," the architect first employed by the king, was a man of Rheims. Nor is the Rheims influence the only foreign one that has been pointed out. On the showing of Professor Lethaby "the Sainte Chapelle at Paris and the Cathedral at Amiens have each their share of influence on the new work, though not to the same extent" as Rheims. Anyone who is even superficially acquainted with the great churches of France will be reminded at Westminster of two of their constant characteristics—a series of radiating chapels surrounding the apse, and the great height in the central alley. Westminster, indeed, is the only one of our Gothic churches in which the apex of the vault reaches the height of a hundred feet above the floor. It is also the only one in which the French chevet with radiating chapels is faithfully reproduced, though at Hayles Abbey (destroyed), Tewkesbury and elsewhere the influence of Westminster was perceptible.
Another distinguishing point about Westminster is the fact that the ritual choir, or monks' choir, projects several bays into the nave. It did so in the Confessor's church, and it did so in most of our monastic cathedrals: but in few places is the arrangement better preserved than at Westminster, though even here it is not intact, for a screen that stood a bay further W., with altars against it, has disappeared. In most other cases the choir screen has now been carried back to the "chancel arch," E. of the transept.
Other points concerning the plan of the church are these. The N. transept, of four bays, has aisles both on E. and W. In that on the E. were three chapels— taken from the N., they were those of St. Michael, St. Andrew, and St. John the Evangelist. The S. transept has an eastern aisle, but there seem not to have been any chapels in that: and the space corresponding to the western aisle of the S. transept is here filled by part of the cloister, which thus encroaches upon the church. Above this piece of the cloister is the muniment room, where a vast collection of the archives of the Abbey is stored—archives which in recent years have been made to throw light on many sides of the history, and from which yet more will doubtless come. On an ancient plastered partition here is a damaged painting of the hart, the badge of Richard II; and in the room are chests, some as old as the end of the 12th century.
Of the chapels which flank or surround the choir the two first (on N. and S., at the entrance of the ambulatory) are rectangular; the four which follow towards the E. (on the N. and S.) are polygonal. The rectangular chapels on N. and S. are respectively those of Abbot Islip (the Jesus chapel) and of St. Benedict. A supplementary chapel, of Our Lady of the Pew, is fitted in between that of Islip and St. John the Baptist. There is a very beautiful alabaster niche over the entrance. The polygonal ones on the N. (taken from the W.) are those of St. John the Baptist and St. Paul: on the S. (from W.), those of SS. Edmund and Thomas of Canterbury, and St. Nicholas. Add to these the chapel of St. Faith, which, though entered from the S. transept, is outside the wall thereof, and intervenes between the church and the chapter house.
In most churches which, like this, possessed a famous shrine that was the object of pilgrimages, a considerable space for the accommodation of that shrine was set apart behind the high altar. At Westminster the Confessor's shrine, gravely mutilated, yet better preserved than any other in this country, still occupies that place, the most sacred and historic in the church; and that is his chapel. At the eastern end of it is the chantry chapel of Henry V cleverly bridging over the ambulatory.
Three important appanages of the church have ceased to exist. Attached to the N. transept portal was a large Galilee porch: in the angle between that transept and the nave was the Sacristy, where many church valuables were kept: further N. was a detached belfry of very massive construction, which came to be known (quite erroneously) as the sanctuary—whereas the whole precinct of the Abbey was the sanctuary. The Galilee, which dated from Richard II's time, was demolished about 1662; the sacristy at an earlier but unknown date; the belfry about 1750. Views or plans of all but the sacristy have been preserved.
There is a common belief that-the architects of the great mediaeval churches are nameless to us. As soon as records come to be examined the falsity of this notion is made plain. In the case of Westminster the investigations of Professor Lethaby (perhaps the foremost in dispelling the illusion), Mr. R. B. Rackham and Mr. Westlake—to name no earlier workers—enable us to name, and in some degree to visualize, the whole line of the men who presided over the building from its inception. They were:—
|Master Henry, the mason, perhaps more exactly "of Reyns," who, says Professor Lethaby, "must be considered as the architect of the building in all its parts"||From 1245 to about 1253.|
|John of Gloucester||1254|
|Robert of Beverley||1261|
For Henry VII's chapel the records are not yet forthcoming. Robert Vertue, Robert Jenins and John Lebons are named as the King's three master-masons at this date, and it has been usual to look upon Robert Vertue as the principal designer of the work. But this is not proved. An ecclesiastic, William Bolton, Prior of St. Bartholomew's, Smithfield, is styled Master of the Works in the King's will, but he may have been concerned merely with the finance of the works. We await further light.
Passing now from the structure of the church to its contents, we propose to take account very briefly of various classes of works of art which are represented there: and, first, of figure-sculpture, architectural and sepulchral.
Architectural figure-sculpture of the 13th century is confined to the relics of the arcade sculptures. These have been sadly mutilated by the insertion of monuments in the lower stage, but some beautiful fragments remain on all three walls of the N. transept, and in the chapels of St. Paul and St. John the Baptist. In the W. aisles of both transepts there are also some figured bosses in the roof.
But the finest of these arcade sculptures are in the upper stages of the end walls of the two transepts, especially on the S., where the two angels in the corners rank among the noblest of English works in this province of art.
It is convenient to include the chapter house in this part of our survey, and to call attention to the sad remains on the outer portal (in the cloister) of two angels on brackets, and a Jesse tree in the arch; and, within the building, to the Angel and Virgin of the Annunciation above the portal: these again are of the highest value.
Reverting to the church and proceeding E., we have some interesting figure-sculpture on the cornice of the E. face of the altar-screen. This is of the 15th century and tells, in fourteen scenes, the story of St. Edward the Confessor. The selection and treatment of subjects are curiously close to the pictures in a manuscript at Trinity College, Cambridge.
But Henry VII's chapel was, and is, far richer in saintly imagery. Outside, on its turrets, it had a hierarchy, in part at least of Old Testament worthies, whose names, much corrupted by stone-cutters, are still to be seen. Within, it has a series, unrivalled in this country, of the saints on whom the popular devotion of the time was concentrated. Some, like St. Armel (Arthmael, Armagilus) of Brittany, and St. Wilgefort, are unfamiliar: and a word about these may be welcome. There is evidence to show that Henry VII considered himself indebted for preservation from shipwreck to St. Armel, whose name and picture are not seldom found in prayer-books of this date. St. Wilgefort—Uncumber—Liberata—known by a multitude of names, is one of the oldest of all hagiological figures: a princess of Portugal who, urged by her father to marry, whereas she had vowed chastity, prayed to be made uncomely and was endowed with a large beard, whereupon her father crucified her. Many of these images have a grotesque liveliness about them which tempts one to think they might be portraits. If so (it is a very doubtful and contentious point) they are far more likely to have been inspired by quite obscure people in the sculptor's entourage than by personages of distinction. There has always been a tendency to find portraits of famous contemporaries in statues on our churchfaçades or in paintings on screens, but it is rarely justified. The caution is perhaps worth repeating here, and it is worth while to add that even the effgies on tombs of the 13th and 14th centuries are, to say the least, very much idealized.
Of Sepulchral Imagery the church has an unsurpassed treasure. The oldest relics are the dim effigies of early abbots in the S. walk of the cloister—sole specimens here of 12th-century images: but in the presbytery and the Confessor's chapel are tombs of the 13th and 14th centuries which in their pristine glories must have shone like gems, and even now are beyond price. Crouchback's and Aymer de Valence's—the two canopied tombs on the N. of the presbytery, are of admirable design, though Aymer's canopy is markedly inferior in execution to Crouchback's. The 'weepers' and effigies on these and on the neighbouring tomb of Aveline, the remains of colouring recently revived by a skilful hand, and the heraldic decoration (of which the whole church offers the most varied and splendid examples) claim a prolonged study. Not less do the effigies in the Confessor's chapel. Here are Henry III and Edward I's queen, Eleanor of Castile, in metal by William Torel, Edward III, Philippa, by Hennequin of Liège, Richard II and his queen Anne. Torel's are the finest of these: the effigy of Eleanor must be placed in the forefront of all such work. The fine iron grate about her tomb was made by Thomas, of Leighton (Buzzard), in 1294.
Of churchmen's monuments, that of Archbishop Langham, in St. Benedict's chapel, is perhaps the finest. The 15th-century tombs with effigies or brasses are numerous, but do not call for special remark here.
Italian work of the first years of the 16th century is found in Henry VII's chapel. The effigies of Henry and his queen, and the medallions of saints on the sides of the tomb: the effigy of his mother, the Lady Margaret, and the medallion of Sir Thomas Lovel in the S. aisle—to which may be added the fragments of marble in the altar— are all by Pietro Torrigiani (for so—and not Torregiano—he seems to have been consistently called by Vasari, his biographer, as well as in this country). On the other hand the magnificent screen which encloses Henry's tomb, once rich with another band of saints of which but six remain, is by Thomas Ducheman. The great western doors of the chapel, of oak plated with bronze, are not to be paralleled in England for richness. They are doubtless native products.
It is, moreover, in this part of the church that some of the most imposing of the later monuments will be found: but to embark here upon even the most general survey of the works of the later 16th, the 17th, and the early 18th centuries, we feel is impracticable. They are both a curse and a blessing to the Abbey. The erection of them has entailed dismal outrages upon the structure and upon their predecessors: beautiful 13th-century sculptures have been cut away, rich 15th-century screens have been torn down: enormous masses of marble block up ancient features and throw their surroundings out of scale. When the Duchess of Northumberland was buried in 1776 the splendid canopy over John of Eltham's tomb broke down under the weight of spectators; and when James Watt was put in place he narrowly missed going through the floor. But such catastrophes and such bulky additions are, we may believe, done with; and we would not now erase a line of the history of England (and of sculpture, native and foreign) which is written in and upon these memorials, though doubtless everyone who reads these pages bears his own special grudge against one or more of them.
We next reach a form of art practically unique in England—the Mosaic work that is to be seen in the presbytery and the Confessor's chapel. On the shrine of St. Edward, on Henry III's tomb and on that of his children, are remains of beautiful Cosmatesque mosaic. This form of mosaic takes its name from the family of the Cosmati. They were of Rome, where their most perfect achievements are to be seen, notably in the cloisters of the Lateran and of St. Paul-without-the-wall. Parts of a shrine of the same workmanship, which once belonged to Horace Walpole, are in the modern church of Wilton, near Salisbury; but nowhere except at Westminster and Canterbury is there an example made in England in mediaeval times. Canterbury possesses a patch of much restored pavement of similar character at the site of Becket's shrine. At Westminster, the mosaic of the Confessor's shrine is a signed work of "Peter, a Roman citizen." The pavement of the presbytery (1268) was also signed, by Odericus of Rome. It had a scheme and a meaning which was expounded in verse— inscriptions now nearly gone. The universe, the macrocosm (as opposed to man, the microcosm) was symbolized by a central circle, and its duration was set forth in a longer inscription, of which the gist was proverbial in the Middle Ages. A hedge lasts three years, a dog lives nine years, a horse twenty-seven, and we go on, always trebling the last figure, through Man, Stag, Raven, Eagle, Whale, till we reach 19,683 years as the appointed duration of the world.
That of the chapter house—of figured tiles, not mosaic—is entirely English, "the finest pavement of the kind," says Professor Lethaby, "now existing." The tiles that have been found in great numbers at the abbeys of Chertsey and Hales Owen are of the same school and perhaps designed by the same artist.
Paintings fall to be considered next. In these the Abbey, compared with most English churches, is rich. On the N. side of Crouchback's tomb and on the S. side of Eleanor's are faint traces of what must have been fine works; in the former case figures of knights, in the latter a scene with the Virgin and Child adored by the king, a tomb, and other figures.
To the same period, the last quarter of the 13th century, belongs the unique and lovely retable now shown in the S. ambulatory of the choir. It is but a shadow of its former self, and no wonder. A description written in 1775 speaks of it as "the very old painting in Westminster Abbey which now (as a mere refuse bit of board) forms the top of the case wherein the wooden stuffed images of our ancient kings (vulgarly called the ragged regiment) are kept." The question, "English or French?" has often been raised about this noble work, "the most beautiful thirteenth-century painting in England." If it could be firmly established (and we think it has been made to appear most probable) that a certain illustrated manuscript of the Apocalypse (MS. Douce 180 in the Bodleian) written about 1270 for Edward I or Eleanor of Castile, was done in England, then we should be justified in stating it as a fact that the retable also was done in England: for the two works are most closely connected in style.
The sedilia on the S. side of the altar have very notable remains of large figures painted on both faces, and recent treatment has revived them to a most remarkable extent. They are of the early years of the 14th century. To the close of that century belongs the great portrait of Richard II—more likely, this, to be French than English—and the dim paintings on the tester, or canopy, of his tomb.
The coronation chair was painted by Master Walter, Edward I's painter, in 1300–1. It had once a throned king with his feet on a lion at the back. The lion's paws and the sides of the throne are once again distinguishable, thanks to revival. On the arms are remains of gilt gesso-work with representations of birds among leaves, which are really exquisite.
Wall-paintings form a class by themselves. The two important members of it —disregarding small relics—are that in St. Faith's chapel, of late 13th-century date, and those in the chapter house. The latter are of two periods. In the eastern bay and those adjoining was a most beautiful Majesty or Last Judgment, now faded almost to nothing. This was of the middle of the 14th century. The rest of the walls was covered with illustrations of the Life of St. John and of the Apocalypse (copied no doubt from one of the many pictured manuscripts of that book), and below these was a frieze of animals with their names in English. These pictures were paid for by a monk of the Abbey, John of Northampton, late in the 14th century. Only the beginning and some of the scenes near the end of the series remain: far inferior to the older paintings in merit.
Faint traces of figure-painting are in the upper storey of Islip's chapel. And throughout the church, on tombs, shields, cornices, and elsewhere, the work of revival newly carried out by Mr. E. W. Tristram has brought up beautiful touches of gay colour and gold which were absolutely invisible before, and has greatly increased the brilliancy of the colouring that was still perceptible.
Of Glass the church has little: nor do we know much about its former riches. At present we can only point to the made-up, but mainly old, figures in the easternmost windows of the clearstorey, to two figures, also made-up, in the western towers, to some inconsiderable pieces of decorative and heraldic work in the N. transept and chapels, and to a number of heraldic badges and a single panel in Henry VII's chapel. In connexion with this last it should be noted that the contract of 1526 for the windows of King's College chapel at Cambridge refers to the king's new chapel at Westminster as the model to be followed at Cambridge in "form, manner, goodness, curiosity, and cleanliness." Whether scheme and subject are included is not quite clear. If that was the intention, we could definitely say that the windows of Henry VII's chapel had a series of scenes from the lives of the Virgin and Our Lord, illustrated by Old Testament types taken from the Biblia Pauperum and the Mirror of Salvation, and accompanied by figures of prophets and angels holding explanatory scrolls. That is the system of the King's College windows.
The glass of the northern rose window, dated 1722, falls only just outside our period, and that of the W. window is but a decade later. Both are interesting members of the scanty succession which connects mediaeval glass-painting with modern. The N. rose glass (mutilated by Pearson's restoration) was made from cartoons drawn by Sir James Thornhill, and perhaps he also designed the W. window, which was made by Price in 1735.
It is in the Jerusalem chamber that the best fragments of earlier glass are preserved. Here are several good subject-medallions of the 13th century. Their provenance is not certainly known, but there is nothing to contradict the common belief that they came from the church. The suggestion of Mr. Westlake is well worth recording, that their original home was the Lady chapel of 1220 (destroyed, as we saw, in 1503). It gains probability from the fact that the window in which they are was put in by Abbot Islip, in whose abbacy also the old Lady chapel was destroyed.
THE MONASTIC BUILDINGS.
We are dealing here not only with a great church but with the buildings attached to it which were the dwelling-place of the religious community who served that church. These buildings conform to a regular plan which is common, with slight variations, to the vast majority of western monasteries.
The cloister was fitted into the angle formed by the nave and transept of the church, and there were accesses from it into the church, chapter house, and frater. In it the monks sat, studied, taught, walked and talked, and sometimes were buried.
The infirmary was commonly provided, at any rate in later times, with a little cloister of its own: and itself was—in early times—a building planned like a church with an aisled nave and a chancel. The chancel formed the infirmary chapel. In the aisles of the nave the beds were placed, and monks who were confined to bed could hear and perhaps see the offices performed in the chapel.
The dorter had an access into the cloister and also into the church, for there were nocturnal services which the monks had to attend: and as it was on the first floor this second access was generally made by a staircase leading down into the transept.
All these were necessary buildings. Every monastery had them. But clearly they do not provide for every contingency, and so large an establishment as Westminster was bound to have many subsidiary buildings in addition to them. The position, however, of such buildings was not strictly laid down either by rule or custom: it was dictated by the site at disposal. The usual requirements included:—
There was not always (it seems there was not at all at Westminster) a separate building for the library: the books were often kept in presses in the cloister (as, probably, they were here): and it is doubtful if in any of our monasteries the site of the scriptorium, or writing-room, can be pointed out.
There was often a building near the frater or infirmary called the misericord, where monks who had been bled (which was regularly done) or required indulgence in respect of diet were cared for. Meat, which was not allowed to be served in the frater, was permitted in the misericord.
Finally, a great deal of space was occupied by storehouses and granaries and such domestic offices as bakery, brewhouse, and stables, which were often grouped in and about the outer court, immediately within the great gate which gave access to the precincts of the monastery.
In the first place we have the Cloister, intact except for restorations. The cloister which we see stands nearly on the same site as the original Norman one. A great fire devastated this part of the monastery in 1298 and occasioned a general rebuilding, which went on very slowly until near the end of the 14th century, when a great deal was done under Abbot Litlington.
The oldest part of the present cloister is, naturally, the angle adjoining the church, the northern half of the eastern walk and part of the eastern half of the northern walk. The southern half of the eastern walk comes next. The southern and western walks are wholly of the latter part of the 14th century.
Of the buildings which surround the cloister the oldest are those on the E. Here the ground-floor buildings next to the chapter house (technically they are called the undercroft of the dorter) have some claim to be considered part of the Confessor's building. They belong to the years immediately before the Conquest or immediately after it: it is not really possible to say which. They once formed a single long hall: now they are divided by a party wall. The portion next the chapter house is called the chapel of the pyx, for in it was formerly kept the pyx, or box, containing the specimens of the current coinage in gold and silver which were periodically tested by comparison with certain standard trial pieces of gold and silver. The latter continued to be kept here for some time after the pyx had been transferred to the mint, but are likewise now transferred. Until that time the trial of the pyx was held here every five years or so.
The large piece of the undercroft to the S. now serves as a museum for the Abbey, and many relics, some beautiful and many very curious, are to be seen there: among others, what is probably unique in England, the ancient dinner-bell of the monastery.
The main walls of the upper storey, which was the dorter itself, are also of Norman date, but that part of the building has been wholly remodelled. It is now divided between the chapter library (a venerable room, of which Washington Irving wrote a somewhat famous description) and the school.
The Chapter House is one of the most beautiful things about the Abbey. It is a thoroughly English structure: the circular or polygonal chapter house is a characteristically English form: there are splendid examples at Worcester, Salisbury, York, Southwell, Lincoln and Wells. It is part of Henry III's building, and seems to have been finished by 1253. Attention has already been called to the relics of sculpture and painting which it contains, and to its pavement. It has suffered as much from restoration as any portion of the building. All the window-traceries are new, and so is the vaulted roof. The fact is that tremendous mischief, including the removal of the original stone vaulting, was done in the 18th century, when the public records were accumulated here and galleries and a new upper storey were put in to accommodate them. Before that, from some time in the 13th century to the end of Henry VIII's reign, the House of Commons frequently assembled here. In 1547 they moved across to St. Stephen's chapel.
Of the great Refectory, or Frater, on the S. side of the cloister facing the church, only the walls are left. The structure is of Norman date. The scanty remains of the Misericord adjoin it on the S. near the W. end. The Prior's Lodging, now known as Ashburnham House, lies parallel to it on the S. Though refaced with brick in the 17th century it is really a mediaeval building.
From the E. walk of the cloister a passage leads to the Infirmary or Farmery. As has been said, the normal plan of these buildings was that of a church with nave and chancel. Here the "chancel" (which here had nave and aisles of its own) known as St. Katherine's chapel, still subsists in part as a ruin of Norman date. The "nave," it seems, was done away with in the 14th century, and replaced by the "Little Cloister," most of which is of the 17th century as we see it now.
St. Katherine's chapel was the scene of many interesting events, such as the Church Council of 1176, summoned by the papal legate, at which the Archbishops of Canterbury and York quarrelled for precedence, and the absolution of the king and the barons by St. Edmund, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1236.
The last building which needs to be singled out for special mention here is the Abbot's Lodging, now the Deanery, which stands W. of the cloister and extends W. and N.W. In it is the famous Jerusalem chamber (so called from some ancient wall-decoration representing the Crusades now long gone) in which the last scenes of Henry IV's life were enacted, and in which many assemblies of great note have been held—the Assembly of Divines under the Commonwealth, the upper House of Convocation, the Revisers of the English Bible. Here, too, Addison and Sir Isaac Newton lay in state. The other great feature of the lodging is the hall built by Abbot Litlington, which now serves as the dining-hall of the Westminster scholars. In its general scheme it resembles the many halls of colleges and great houses which we happily still possess, but its early date gives it a special interest.
Detailed descriptions of all the objects and structures which have been mentioned and of many scores of others, will be found in the text of the inventory itself. That has been already explained: but it seemed well to repeat it here, and furthermore to acknowledge with all possible emphasis the debt which this introduction owes not only to the writers of the inventory but to the many investigators who have preceded them. It would have been irritating to the reader if at every step we had named the authority for every statement we have made. But we should have an uneasy conscience indeed were we not to commemorate here, besides Dart, Seymour, Malcolm, Britton, among the ancients, besides Stanley, and Scott and Micklethwaite in the Victorian period, the names of St. John Hope, Rackham, Robinson, Lethaby and Westlake as imperishably bound up with the elucidation of the history of the Abbey and with the care of its fabric and of its unrivalled treasures.