Book 4, Ch. 2: The city parishes of St. Margaret and St John, Evangelist, Westminster

Pages 698-717

A New History of London Including Westminster and Southwark. Originally published by R Baldwin, London, 1773.

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In this section


A survey of the city of Westminster; or of the parishes of St. Margaret, and St. John the Evangelist.

St Margaret's church.

When king Edward the Confessor resolved to rebuild the conventual church of St. Peter in a more magnificent stile than it was in before, he thought that it would be a dishonour to have the neighbouring people assemble in it as usual, for the performance of religious worship; as well as prove troublesome and inconvenient to the monks: therefore about the year 1064, he caused a church to be erected on the north side of St. Peter's, for the use of the neighbouring inhabitants, and dedicated it to St. Margaret, the virgin and martyr of Antioch.

St. Margaret's church, which stands on the north side of Westminster abbey, at the distance of only 30 feet, was rebuilt in the reign of king Edward I. by the parishioners and merchants of the staple, except the chancel, which was erected at the expence of the abbot of Westminster. At length, in the year 1735, this church was not only beautifully repaired, but the tower cased, and mostly rebuilt, at the expence of 3500l. granted by parliament, on account of its being in some measure a national church, for the use of the house of commons.

It is a plain, neat, gothic structure, well enlightened by a series of large windows: it has two handsome galleries of considerable length adorned in the front with carved work; these are supported by slender pillars which rise to the roof, and have four small black pillars running round each of them, adorned with gilded capitals both at the galleries and at the top, where the flat roof is ornamented with stucco. The steeple consists of a tower, crowned with a turret at each corner, and a small lanthorn, much ornamented with carved work in the center, from whence rises a flag staff. In 1758 this church underwent a thorough repair, on the inside a new vault was built through the whole body of the edifice; and the whole ornamented with new gilding and painting.

The patronage of this church, which was antiently in the abbot and convent of Westminster, is now vested in the dean and chapter.

Extent of the parish.

The parish, taking in part of Privy Garden, extends through Channel Row, properly Cannon Row, to New Palace-yard, with all the courts in that row; the Wool-staple, part of Old Palace-yard, St. Margaret's-lane, part of Dirtylane, part of College-street, the south side of Stable-yard; the south side of Orchard-street, the west side of New Pye-street, part of Old Pye-street, the north side of Peer-street, the north side of the Artillery-ground, Strettonground, the Broad way; from thence to College-lane, including that lane with all the streets, lanes, courts, &;c. within that compass. In King-street it takes in both sides, with all the streets and avenues to St. James's-park; Union-street, Thieving-lane, the Broad and Little Sanctuary, Dean's-yard, Tothill-street, Longditch, St. John-street, Dartmouth-street, Cartaret-street, Queen's-square, Petty France, Jane's-street, part of Knight's-bridge, some part of Chelsea, St. James's-park from Stafford house along the canal to the Horse-guards (fn. 1).

Great part of these streets were remarkably narrow ill-built dirty places before the building of Westminster-bridge; many alterations have however since taken place about that spot, particularly by laying out a fine open street from Whitehall to Old Palace-yard, and crossing it by another from the bridge foot strait to St. James's-park, at that part formerly known by the name of Storey's-gate (fn. 2).


Between Old and New Palace-yards, is situated that fine old hall so well known by the name of Westminster-hall; wherein are held the great courts of justice, and adjoining to which are the houses of Lords and Commons. This hall was originally built by William Rufus as an addition to the palace of Westminster; and was used during several reigns for royal entertainments whenever our kings feasted their nobility and clergy. Of this many instances occur in history, but the most uncommon of these treats was when Henry III. on New Year's day 1236, gave a public entertainment to 6000 poor men, women, and children, in this hall and the other rooms of the palace. The building growing ruinous it was rebuilt by Richard II. in the year 1397, as it at present appears, together with the buildings on the east and west sides; and it was no sooner finished than it received the appellation of the new palace, to distinguish it from the old palace, where the house of Lords and Commons at present assemble. It is still used for our coronation feasts, and for the three great courts of justice, the Chancery, King's bench, and Common pleas, beside the court of exchequer which adjoins to it.

The building is of stone in the Gothic style; the front is narrow, with a tower on each side the entrance, adorned with abundance of carved work. The hall within is esteemed the largest room in Europe unsupported by pillars; being 270 feet in length, and 74 in breadth: the construction of the roof is greatly admired. The courts of Chancery and the King's-bench are ascended by a flight of steps at the upper end of the hall; as the courts of Common-pleas and Exchequer are on the west side: and as the law courts and sessions of parliament draw a continual flux of the people to the hall, there are several pamphlet shops kept within on the east side.

The antient palace to which the hall appertained not having been used as a royal residence since the 23d of Henry VIII. in 1532, the several apartments have been converted to other uses: two of which are for holding the great national assemblies of lords and commons in parliament. Other rooms used to be occupied by the courts of Star-chamber, Requests, Wards, and Liveries, while those courts existed; but the courts of Exchequer and of the dutchy of Lancaster are still held in their respective chambers.

Antiently the parliaments used to be held in Westminster-hall; but king Richard II. having occasion to call one in the year 1397, when that building was in a very ruinous condition, he erected an house on purpose in the middle of the palace court, at a small distance from the gate of the old hall. This was a plain and mean structure, open to the common people, that all might hear what passed; while the king's person, and those assembled there for the service of the nation, were secured by a guard of archers maintained at the public expence. Two years after, Westminster-hall being rebuilt and sufficiently accommodated for the meeting of this great assembly, they met there again: but at length a taste for regularity and magnificence increasing with our improvements in arts, a noble room was appropriated for the meeting of the national senate.

House of Lords.

This room is spacious, lofty, and every thing within it is disposed with great regularity. It is hung with a set of tapestry, presented to queen Elizabeth by the Dutch states, representing the defeat of the Spanish armada, which is shewn in various designs; as the first appearance of the Spanish fleet; the several forms in which it lay at different times on our coasts, and before the comparatively handful of English which pursued it; the place and disposition of the fleets when engaged; and, in fine, its departure. These designs are certainly well adapted to the place, as they perpetually present to view the importance of our navy, on which our principal strength depends.

At the upper end of the room is the throne, upon which the king is seated on solemn occasions, in his robes, with the crown on his head, and adorned with all the ensigns of majesty. On the right hand of the throne is a seat for the prince of Wales, and on the left, for the next person of the royal family. Behind the throne are places for the young peers who have no votes in the house. At a small distance below, on the king's right hand, are the seats of the two archbishops, and a little below them the bench of bishops. On the opposite side of the house, sit those peers who rank above barons; the president of the king's council, with the lord privy seal, if they are barons, sit above all dukes, marquises and earls: the marshal, lord-steward, and lord chamberlain, sit above all others of the same degree of nobility with themselves. Just before the throne are the woolpacks across the room, on which are seated the dignitaries of the law. The lord high chancellor, or keeper of the great seal, sits on that nearest the throne, with his great seal and mace by him; he being by his office speaker of the house of lords. On the other two woolpacks which are placed parallel to this, sit the lord chief justice, the master of the rolls, and the other judges. These have no votes in the house, but attend to be advised with in points of law, on all occasions wherein they come in question. The reason why all these sages are placed on woolpacks, may probably be to remind them of the great importance of the woollen manufactory to this nation. The clerk of the crown, who is concerned in all writs of parliament, and the clerk of the parliament, who records every thing done there, sit on a form behind a table. Without the bar sits the king's first gentleman usher, called the Black Rod, from a black wand he carries in his hand. Under him is a yeoman usher, who waits at the inside of the door, a crier without, and a serjeant at mace, who always attends the Lord Chancellor.

When the king is present with the crown on his head, the lords sit uncovered, and the judges stand till his majesty gives them leave to sit. In the king's absence the lords, at their entrance, do reverence to the throne, as is done by all who enter the presence chamber. The judges then may sit, but may not be covered, till the Lord Chancellor or keeper signifies to them, that the lords give them leave to be so. The king's council and masters in chancery also sit; but may on no account be covered.

When the king goes in state to the house, either at the opening or breaking up of the sessions, the Park guns are discharged; and his majesty arriving at the house of lords, enters a room adjoining to it, called the Prince's Chamber, where he puts on his robes and crown, and from thence is conducted into the house by the Lord Chamberlain, where all the lords are dressed in their scarlet robes: being seated on the throne, he sends for the commons by the gentleman usher of the Black Rod. On their appearing, his majesty's speech is read by the Lord Chancellor to this grand united assembly; after which his majesty returns in the same manner as he came, in his state coach drawn by eight fine horses, attended by his guards, and the guns firing. A stranger cannot any way form a more just notion of the dignity of the English nation, than by attending this noble and august assembly, when the king is present, with the crown upon his head, and not only his majesty, but all the lords are in their robes, and the commons attending without the bar.

This house, in conjunction with the king and commons, has the power not only of making and repealing laws, but of constituting the supreme judicature of the kingdom: the lords here assembled take cognizance of treasons and high crimes committed by their peers, and others; try all who are impeached by the commons; and acquit or condemn without taking an oath, only laying the right hand upon their breasts, and saying guilty, or not guilty, upon my honour. They receive appeals from all other courts, and even sometimes reverse the decrees of chancery: but the decisions of this highest tribunal are final.

All the lords spiritual and temporal have the privilege of appointing proxies to vote in their stead, when, from sickness or any other cause, they cannot conveniently appear: but such as would make proxies are obliged, at the beginning of every parliament, to enter them in person.

The lords give their suffrages or votes, beginning at the puisne, or lowest baron, and then proceeding in a regular series, every one answering apart, Content, or Not content. If the affirmatives and negatives are equal, it passes in the negative, the speaker not being allowed a voice, unless he be a peer of the realm.

House of Commons.

The House of Commons joins to the south east angle of Westminster-hall. King Stephen first founded the chapel here, and dedicated it to St. Stephen the Protomartyr: but Edward III. rebuilding it in the year 1347, in a very magnificent manner, converted it into a collegiate church, the revenues of which at its suppression amounted to 1085l. 10s. 5d. per annum. Edward VI. assigned it for the reception of the representatives of the commons of England, who have ever since continued to meet there except when they were summoned by the king's writs to Oxford. It is a spacious room wainscotted up to the ceiling, accommodated with galleries, supported by slender iron pillars adorned with corinthian capitals and sconces; from the middle of the ceiling hangs a handsome branch or lustre. At the upper end, the speaker is placed upon a raised seat, ornamented behind with corinthian columns, and the king's arms carved and placed on a pediment. Before him is a table, at which the clerk and his assistant sit near him on each hand, just below the chair; and on each side, as well below as in the galleries, the members seat themselves promiscuously. The speaker and clerks always wear gowns in the house, as the professors of the law do in term time; but no robes are worn by the members.

This house has an equal share with the lords in making laws, and none can be made without the consent of the commons, who are the guardians of the liberties of the people; and as they are the grand inquest of the nation, they have a power to impeach the greatest lords in the kingdom, both spiritual and temporal.

Parliamentary forms.

On the day prefixed by the king in the writ of summons, for the meeting of a new parliament, his majesty goes in person to the house of lords, where being seated with the crown on his head, and cloathed in his royal robes, he sends for the commons by the gentleman usher of the Black Rod, who coming to the bar of the house, bows, and advancing a few steps, repeats this mark of respect a second and a third time, saying, "Gentlemen of the house of commons, the king commands this honourable house to attend him immediately in the house of peers." The commons then immediately attend his majesty in the house of lords, where the Lord Chancellor or keeper commands them in the king's name to chuse a speaker, upon which they return to their own house. One of the members then proposes a person to take the chair, and his motion being seconded by some other member, if no contest happens, they lead the person chosen from his seat to the bar of the house, from whence they conduct him bowing thrice up to the chair. Being placed, he stands up, and returns thanks to the house for the honour done him, and, with an excess of modesty acknowledging his inability to discharge so great a trust, desires they would make choice of a more able person; but this being disapproved of course, he submits to their pleasure; and after receiving the directions of the house, on the usual requests to be made on his appearing before his majesty, adjourns to the day appointed for that purpose.

But before the commons can enter upon any business, or even the choice of a speaker, all the members enter the court of wards, where they take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, with those appointed by the act of the 1st of William and Mary, in the presence of an officer appointed by his majesty, who is usually the lord steward of the houshold. After they have chosen the speaker, they take the same oaths again in the house, at the table, and subscribe their opinions against the doctrines of transubstantiation, the invocation and adoration of saints, and the sacrifice of the mass: before they can give any vote in the house, except for the choice of a speaker, they are obliged also to abjure the pretender.

On the day appointed, the usher of the Black Rod is again sent for the commons, when he alters his stile, and addresses himself to the speaker. The members, obeying this summons, return to the house of lords, and present their speaker to the king: having obtained his approbation, the speaker desires, that the commons, during their sitting, "may have free access to his majesty, liberty of speech in their own house, and freedom from arrests." After which the king makes his speech to both houses, the whole house of Commons being supposed to be at the bar of the house of lords.

Any member of parliament is at liberty to move for a bill to be brought into the house; which being agreed to, the person who made the motion, with some of those who seconded it, are ordered to prepare, and bring it in. When the bill is ready, some of the members, who were ordered to prepare it, desire leave to bring the bill to the table; and upon the question being agreed to, it has a first reading by the clerk at the table; and then the speaker, taking the bill in his hand, reads the abbreviate or abstract of it: which done, after the debate upon the bill, if any happens, he puts the question, whether it shall have a second reading; and sometimes, upon a motion being made, appoints a day for it.

When the bill has been read a second time, the question is put, whether it shall be committed, which is either to a committee of the whole house, if the bill be of importance; or to a private committee. Their names being read by the clerk at the table, they are ordered to meet in the speaker's chamber, and report their opinion to the house. Accordingly meeting there, they chuse a chairman, and proceed upon the bill; the chairman reads it paragraph by paragraph, and puts every clause to the question, fills up the blanks, and makes amendments according to the opinion of the majority of the committee. When they have gone through the whole bill, the chairman makes his report at the side bar of the house, reading all the alterations made by the committee. The speaker then puts the question, whether they shall be read a second time, and if this be ageed to, he reads them himself, and particularly as many of them as the house agrees to. After which the question is put, whether the bill so amended shall be ingrossed, that is, written fair on parchment, and read the third time some other day. It being at length read the third time, the speaker holds the bill in his hand, and puts the question, whether the bill shall pass, and if the major part be for it, the clerk writes on the bill Soit baillè aux Seigneurs, i. e. Be it delivered to the lords.

Petitions are offered like bills at the bar of the house, and brought up and delivered at the table, by the member who presents them.

When a member speaks to a bill, he stands up uncovered, and addresses himself only to the speaker; but if he be answered by another, he is not allowed to reply the same day, unless personally reflected on: for nobody is to speak to a bill above once in a day, unless the whole house be turned into a committee, and then every member may reply as often as the chairman thinks proper. But if a bill be rejected, it cannot be any more proposed during the same sessions.

Messengers from the lords, and all persons appearing at the bar of the house, are introduced by the serjeant attending the house, with the mace upon his shoulder.

While the speaker is in the chair, the mace lies upon the table, except when the members resolve themselves into a committee of the whole house: the mace being then laid under the table, and the chairman to that committee takes the chair where the clerk of the house usually sits. Forty members are necessary to make a house, and eight a committee. But the speaker is not allowed to vote, except the house be equally divided: nor is he to persuade or dissuade in passing a bill; but only to make a short and plain narrative.

The members of the house of commons vote by Yeas and Noes; but if it appear doubtful which is the greater number, the house divides: if the question relates to any thing already in the house, the Noes go out; but if it be to bring any thing in, as a bill, petition, &;c. the Ayes go out. Where the house divides, the speaker appoints four tellers, two of each opinion, who, after they have told those within, place themselves in the passage between the bar and the door, and tell the others who went out; which done, the two tellers who have the majority take the right hand, and placing themselves within the bar, all four advance bowing three times; and being come up to the table deliver the number: the speaker then declares the majority. In a committee of the whole house, they divide by changing sides, the Ayes taking the right hand the chair, and the Noes the left; and then there are only two tellers.

If when a bill is passed in one house, and sent to the other, they demur upon it, a conference is then demanded in the painted chamber, where certain members deputed from each house meet, and debate the affair; the lords sitting covered at a table, and the commons standing without their hats. If they disagree, the affair is dropped; but if they come to an agreement, it is at length brought, with all the other bills that have passed both houses, to receive the royal assent. The king being seated in the chair of state, the clerk of the crown reads the title of each bill; and as he reads, the clerk of the parliament, according to the instructions he hath received from his majesty, pronounces the royal assent; if it be a public bill by saying, Le Roy le vent, i. e. The king will have it so: if a private bill, Soit fait comme il est desiré; i. e. Be it done as desired. But if his majesty does not approve the bill, the answer is, Le Roy s'avisera: that is, the king will consider of it.

Money bills always begin in the house of commons; because the greatest part of the supplies are raised by the people, and for this reason the commons will not allow the lords to alter them; and on the presenting these bills to his majesty, the answer is, Le Roy remercie ses loyaux sujets, accepte leur benevolence, & aussi le veut: that is, the king thanks his loyal subjects, accepts of their benevolence, and therefore grants his consent.

A bill for a general pardon has but one reading in each house; because they must take it as the king will please to give it: and when this bill is passed, the answer is, Les Prelats, Seigneurs, &; Communes en ce parlement assemblez, au nòm de tous vos autres sujets, remercient très bumblement vôtre Majestè, & prient Dieu vous donner en santè bonne vie &; longue: that is, the Bishops, Lords, and Commons in this parliament assembled, in the name of all your other subjects, most humbly thank your majesty, and beseech God to grant you a long and healthful life.

The king, without his personal presence, may, by a commission granted to some of his nobles, give his royal assent to any bill that requires haste.

When his majesty prorogues or dissolves the parliament, he generally comes in person, and being seated with the crown on his head, sends the black rod for all the house of commons to come to the bar of the house of lords; and then the speech being read by the lord chancellor, he, by the king's special command, pronounces the parliament prorogued or dissolved (fn. 3).

The parliament was formerly dissolved at the death of the king; but to prevent tumults and confusion, it is now provided, that a parliament sitting, or in being at the king's demise, shall continue for six months; and if not sitting shall meet expressly (fn. 4).

Westminster abbey

The next edifice in point of consideration in this city is the fine abbey church dedicated to St. Peter. The first building is said to have been erected by Sebert, king of the East Saxons, who died in 616 (fn. 5). This church and its monastery were repaired and enlarged by Offa, king of Mercia, but being destroyed by the pagan Danes, they were rebuilt by king Edgar, who endowed them, and in the year 969 granted them many ample privileges. But having again suffered by the ravages of the Danes, Edward the Confessor pulled down the old church, and erected a most magnificent one for that age in its room, in the form of a cross, which became a pattern for that kind of building. The work being finished in the year 1065, he caused it to be consecrated with the greatest pomp and solemnity, and by several charters not only confirmed all its ancient rights and privileges, but endowed it with many rich manors, and additional immunities: and the church, by a bull of Pope Nicholas I. was constituted the place for the inauguration of the kings of England. In short, he gave it a charter of sanctuary, in which he declared that any person whatsoever, let his crimes be ever so great, who took sanctuary in that holy place, should be assured of life, liberty, and limbs, and that none of his ministers, nor those of his successors, should seize any of his goods, lands or possessions, under pain of everlasting damnation: and that whoever presumed to act contrary to this grant should lose his name, worship, dignity, and power, and with the traitor Judas be in the everlasting fire of hell. From this charter, Westminster Abbey became an asylum for the most abandoned miscreants, who lived there in open defiance of the laws. These great privileges drew people thither from all parts, so that in a short time there was not sufficient room in the Abbey church for the accommodation of the numerous inhabitants, without incommoding the monks; he therefore caused a church to be erected on the north side of the monastery, for the use of the inhabitants, and dedicated it to St. Margaret; as has already been related.

William the Conqueror, to shew his regard to the memory of his late friend king Edward, no sooner arrived in London, than he repaired to this church, and offered a sumptuous pall, as a covering for his tomb; he also gave fifty marks of silver, together with a very rich altar cloth, and two caskets of gold; and the Christmas following was solemnly crowned there, his being the first coronation performed in that place.

Henry III. in the year 1200 began to erect a new chapel to the Blessed Virgin here; but about twenty years after, finding the walls and steeple of the old structure much decayed, he pulled them all down, with a design to enlarge, and rebuild them in a more regular manner; but he did not live to accomplish this great work, which was not compleated till 1285, about fourteen years after his decease: and this is the date of the building as it now stands.

About the year 1502, king Henry VII. began that magnificent structure which is now generally called by his name: for this purpose, he pulled down the chapel of Henry III. already mentioned, and an adjoining house called the White Rose Tavern. This chapel, like the former, he dedicated to the blessed Virgin, and designing it for a burial place for himself and his posterity, he carefully ordered in his will, that none but those of royal blood should be permitted to lie there.

At length, on the general suppression of religious houses, the Abbey was surrendered to Henry VIII. by William Benson, the abbot, and seventeen of the monks, in the year 1539, when its revenues amounted to 3977l. 6s. 4d. ¾per annum, a sum at least equal to 20,000l. a year of present money. Beside its furniture, which was of inestimable value, it had in different parts of the kingdom, no less than 216 manors, 17 hamlets, with 97 towns and villages: and though the Abbey was only the second in rank, yet in all other respects it was the chief in the kingdom; and its abbots had a seat in the house of lords.

The Abbey thus dissolved, that prince erected it first into a college of secular canons, under the government of a dean, an honour which he chose to confer on the last abbot. This establishment, however, was of no long duration, for two years after he converted it into a bishopric, which was dissolved nine years after by Edward VI. who restored the government by a dean, which continued till Mary's accession to the crown. She, in 1557, restored it to its ancient conventual state; but queen Elizabeth again ejected the monks, and in 1560 erected Westminster Abbey into a college, under the government of a dean, and twelve secular canons or prebendaries. She also founded a school for forty scholars, denominated the queen's, to be educated in the liberal sciences preparatory to the university, and to have all the necessaries of life, except cloathing, of which they were to have only a gown every year. To this abbey belong choristers, singing-men, an organist, twelve alms-men, &;c.

The abbey church, which was stripped of many of its decorations by Henry VIII. and was much damaged both within and without during the unhappy civil commotions that defaced the ancient beauty of most of the religious houses in this kingdom; had continued from the death of Henry VII. almost to the present time, without any other considerable repairs, and was gradually falling to ruin, when the parliament interposed, and ordered a thorough reparation at the national expence (fn. 6).

This venerable fabric has been accordingly new coated on the outside, except that part called Henry the Seventh's chapel, which is indeed a separate building: the west end has been adorned with two new stately towers, that have been thought equal in point of workmanship to any part of the original building. But though such pains have been taken in the coating, to preserve the ancient Gothic grandeur, that this church in its distant prospect has all the venerable majesty of its former state, yet the beautiful carving with which it was once adorned is irretrievably lost; the buttresses, once capped with turrets, are now made in plain pyramidical forms, and topped with free stone; and the statues of our ancient kings that formerly stood in niches, near the tops of those buttresses, are for the most part removed, and their broken fragments lodged in the roof of Henry the Seventh's chapel. Four of these statues are still standing next the towers on the north side, and indeed that is the only side where you can take a view of the Abbey, the other sides being so incumbered with buildings, that even its situation cannot be distinguished.

Figure 31:

Westminster Abbey

What next to the new towers principally engages the attention on the outside is the Gothic portico which leads into the north cross, which by some has been stiled the Beautiful, or Solomon's Gate. This was probably built by Richard II. as his arms carved in stone were formerly over the gate. It has been lately beautified, and over it is a new window admirably well executed. But the principal beauties of this pile are to be found within.

The extent of the building is very considerable; for it is 360 feet long within the walls, at the nave it is 72 feet broad, and at the cross 195. The Gothic arches and side isles are supported by 48 pillars of grey marble, each composed of clusters of slender ones, and covered with ornaments. On entering the west door, the whole body of the church opens itself at once to view, the pillars dividing the nave from the side isles being so formed as not to obstruct the side openings; nor is the sight terminated to the east but by the fine painted window over Edward the Confessor's chapel, which anciently, when the altar was low, and adorned with the beautiful shrine of that pretended saint, must have afforded one of the finest prospects that can be imagined.

The pillars are terminated to the east by a sweep, inclosing the chapel of Edward the Confessor, in a kind of semicircle: and it is worthy of observation, that as far as the gates of the choir, the pillars are filletted with brass, but all beyond with stone. Answering to the middle ranges of pillars, there are others in the wall, which, as they rise, spring into semi arches, and are every where met in acute angles by their opposites, which in the roof are adorned with a variety of carvings. On the arches of the pillars are galleries of double columns fifteen feet wide, covering the side isles, and enlightened by a middle range of windows, over which there is an upper range of larger windows, and by these together with the four capital windows, facing the north, east, south and west, the whole fabric is admirably enlightened. In the great west window is a curious painting of Edward III. to the left of which in a smaller window is a painting of one of our kings, supposed to be Richard II. but the colours being of a water blue the features of the face cannot be distinguished. On the other side the great window is a lively representation of Edward the Confessor in his robes, and under his feet are painted his arms. At the bottom of the walls between the pillars are shallow niches, arched about eight or ten feet high, on which the arms of the original benefactors are depicted, and over them are their titles, &;c. but these are almost all concealed by the monuments of the dead placed before them, many of which are extremely noble.

After viewing the open part of the church, the next thing to be seen is the choir. The grand entrance is by a pair of fine iron gates; and the floor is paved with black and white marble. The ancient stalls are covered with Gothic acute arches, supported by small iron pillars, and are painted purple; but what is most worthy of observation is an ancient portrait, near the pulpit, of Richard II. sitting in a gilt chair, dressed in a green vest flowered with gold, with gold shoes powdered with pearls. This piece is six feet eleven inches in length, and three feet seven inches in breadth; but the lower part is much defaced.

The next thing worthy of observation is the fine altar enclosed with a curious balustrade, within which is a pavement of mosaic work, laid at the expence of Abbot Ware, in the year 1272, and is said to be one of the most beautiful of its kind in the world. The stones of which it is composed are porphyry, jasper, lydian and serpentine. The altar is a beautiful piece of marble, removed from Whitehall, by queen Anne. On each side of the altar are doors, opening into St. Edward's chapel.

Beside the chapel of Henry VII. which, as a separate building, will therefore be mentioned by itself; there are ten chapels round that of St. Edward the Confessor, which stands as it were in the center, and, as has been said, is inclosed in the body of the church, at the east end of the choir, behind the altar. These, beginning from the north cross, and passing round to the south cross, are in the following order: St. Andrew's, St. Michael's, St. John the Evangelist's, Islip's chapel, St. John the Baptist's, St. Paul's, Henry the Fifth's, St. Nicholas's, St. Edmund's, and St. Benedict's.

In the chapel of St. Edward, the first curiosity that fixes our attention, is the ancient shrine erected by Henry III. upon the canonization of Edward king of England, the last of the Saxon race: a prince who owed the title of Confessor and Saint more to the vast sums he bestowed on the church, and the solicitations of the monks, than to his own personal merit; circumstances which will not by inference heighten our veneration for saints in general. He was a bad son, a bad husband, and so bad a king, that he favoured the Normans in preference to his own people; and thus by his folly prepared the way for the conquest. He died in the year 1066, and was canonized by Pope Alexander III. in 1269. This shrine, which was once esteemed the glory of England, is now much defaced and neglected. It was composed of stones of various colours, beautifully enriched with all the cost that art could devise. No sooner was it erected, than the wealth of the kingdom flowed to it from all quarters; a lamp was kept continually burning before it; on one side stood a silver image of the blessed Virgin, which with two jewels of immense value, were presented by queen Eleanor, the wife of Henry III. on the other side stood another image of the Virgin Mary, wrought in ivory, presented by Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury. Here also Edward I. offered the Scots regalia and chair, in which the kings of Scotland used to be crowned; which are still preserved and shewn to all strangers. About the year 1280, Alphonso, third son to the last mentioned king, offered here the golden coronet of Llewellyn, prince of Wales, and other jewels: it is now so stripped as to afford no satisfaction, except to the curious; however some of the stone-work with which it was adorned is still to be seen. This stone-work is hollow within, and now encloses a large chest, which Mr. Keep, soon after the coronation of James II. found to contain the remains of St. Edward; for it being broken by accident, he discovered a number of bones, and turning them up, found a crucifix, richly ornamented and enamelled, with a gold chain of twenty inches long, both which he presented to the king, who ordered the bones to be re-placed in the old coffin, and enclosed in a new one made very strong, and clamped with iron. On the south side of this shrine lies Editha, daughter to Goodwyn, earl of Kent, and queen to St. Edward, with whom she lived eighteen years, and though the most accomplished woman of that age, confessed on her death-bed, that he suffered her to live and die a virgin.

There are in this chapel several other tombs of the following royal personages:

Queen Maud, surnamed the good, daughter of Malcolm Conmair, king of Scotland, and wife of Henry I. of England.

Henry III. the pannels of whose tomb are of polished porphyry, with a mosaic work round of gold and scarlet.

Edward I. who lies in a rough unpolished coffin of grey marble, composed of feven stones.

Edward III. and his queen Philippa, daughter to William earl of Hainault: though they lie in one grave their tombs are distinct. Round her tomb were placed the brazen statues of no less than thirty princes and noble personages her relations. That of Edward is covered with a Gothic canopy; his effigy lies on a tomb of grey marble, and at his head are placed the sword and shield borne. before him in France: this tomb like the former was surrounded with statues, particularly those of his children.

Richard II. and his queen; over which is a wooden canopy remarkable for a painting of the Virgin Mary and our Saviour, still visible.

The chapel of Henry V. is parted from that of Edward the Confessor only by an iron screen; on each side of which are statues as big as the life. Henry's monument is of black marble, on which lies his effigy without a head; which has, by some accident, been broke off and lost. Over this tomb are still to be seen, in a chauntry chapel, the armour and caparisons of that king. Near this tomb lie the remains of Catharine his consort, in a wooden chest.

The remaining chapels surrounding the choir, as well as the walls all round the open part of the church, are crouded with monuments of the most distinguished personages in English history, statesmen, heroes, and men of learning and genius; many of which are celebrated for the designs and sculpture: but as the limits of this work render it impossible to enter into the detail, we shall proceed to that most splendid appendage to the cathedral, the chapel of king Henry VII.

Henry VII's chapel.

This chapel, which was founded by Henry VII. in the year 1502, is stiled by Leland the wonder of the world. It is situated to the east of the abbey, to which it is so neatly joined, that on a superficial view it appears to belong to the same building. It is supported without by fourteen Gothic buttresses, all beautifully ornamented, and projecting from the building in different angles; and is enlightened by a double range of windows that throw the light into such a happy disposition as at once to please the eye, and afford a kind of solemn gloom. These buttresses extend up to the roof, and are made to strengthen it by their being crowned with Gothic arches. In these buttresses are niches, in which formerly stood a number of statues; but these, being greatly decayed, have been long taken down.

This chapel is one of the most expensive remains of the ancient English taste and magnificence; there is no looking upon it without admiration: yet, perhaps, its beauty consists much more eminently in the workmanship than the contrivance. It gives some idea of the fine stile of Gothic architecture in that age, which seems to have been its meridian; but it soon fell into a bad taste in the time of queen Elizabeth, as may be seen in the tomb of this queen and her predecessor in the side isles of this chapel.

This may be sufficient for the outside of this edifice, the entrance to which is from the east end of the abbey, by a flight of steps of black marble, under a very noble arch, that leads to the gates opening to the body or nave of the chapel: for, like a cathedral, it is divided into a nave and side isles, to which you may enter by a door on each hand. The gates at the entrance of the nave are of brass frame work curiously wrought, and have in every other open pannel a rose and portcullis alternately.

Being entered, the eye is naturally directed to the lofty ceiling, wrought in the most admirable manner with an astonishing variety of figures, impossible to be described. The stalls on each side are of oak, with Gothic canopies, most beautifully carved, as are also the seats; and the pavement is of black and white marble, laid at the charge of Dr. Killigrew, once Prebendary of this abbey. The east view from the entrance presents you with the brass chapel and tomb of the founder, which will be hereafter described; and round it, where the east end forms a semicircle, are the chapels of the dukes of Buckingham and Richmond. At that end the side isles open to the nave. It must not be omitted, that the walls both of the nave and the side isles are adorned with the most curious imagery imaginable, and contain an hundred and twenty statues of patriarchs, saints, martyrs, and confessors; under which are angels supporting imperial crowns, beside innumerable small ones, all of them esteemed so curious, that the best masters are said to travel from abroad to copy them. The roof of the side isles is flattish, and supported on arches between the nave and side isles, turning upon twelve stately Gothic pillars, curiously adorned with figures, fruitage and foliage. The windows, beside a spacious one at the east end, are thirteen on each side above, and as many below; and were formerly painted, having in each pane a white rose, the badge of the house of Lancaster; an [H] the initial letter of the founder's name, or portcullises crowned, the badge of the Beauforts family; of which there are some still remaining.

This chapel was originally designed as a sepulchre solely for the use of those of royal blood; and so far has the will of the founder been observed, that none have been yet interred there, but those of high quality, whose descent may generally be traced from some of our ancient kings.

In the middle of the east end of the nave is situated the magnificent tomb of Henry VII. enclosed with a screen of cast brass, most admirably designed and executed; this screen is nineteen feet in length, eleven in breadth, and the same in height. It was ornamented with statues, of which those only of St. James, St. Bartholomew, St. George, and St. Edward, are now remaining: and also adorned with other devices alluding to the family of king Henry VII; as portcullises, signifying his relation to the Beauforts by his mother's side; roses twisted and crowned, in memory of the union of the two houses of Lancaster and York, by his marriage; and at each end a crown in a bush, alluding to the crown of Richard III. found in a hawthorn bush, near Bosworth field, where the famous battle was fought in which Richard lost his life. Within the rails are the effigies of the royal pair, in their robes of state, on a tomb of black marble, the head whereof is supported by a red dragon the ensign of Cadwalladar, from whom king Henry VII. was fond of tracing his descent, and the foot by an angel. At the head of this tomb lie the remains of Edward VI. grandson to Henry VII. who died in the sixteenth year of his age, and the seventh of his reign. A fine monument was erected to his memory by queen Mary, his sister and successor; it was adorned with curious sculpture representing the passion and resurrection of our Saviour; with two angels on the top kneeling; and the whole elegantly finished: but it was afterward demolished as a relict of Popish superstition.

On one side of Henry's tomb is a small chapel, in which is the monument of Lewis Stuart duke of Richmond, and Frances his wife; whose statues in cast brass are represented lying on a marble table under a canopy of brass curiously wrought, and supported by the figures of Faith, Hope, Charity, and Prudence: on the top is a figure of Fame taking her flight, and resting only on her toe. On the north side of Henry's tomb is a monument decorated with several emblematical figures in brass gilt; the principal is Neptune in a pensive posture with his trident reversed, and Mars, with his head reclined; these support the tomb on which lie the effigies of George Villars Duke of Buckingham, who fell a sacrifice to the national resentment by the hand of Felton: together with those of his lady. The Latin inscription, after recounting his noble qualities, and high titles, alludes to the manner of his death.

Of a later date, and superior in design and workmanship, is a noble monument erected to the memory of John Sheffield duke of Buckingham, where his Grace's statue, in a Roman habit, reclines on an altar of fine marble: his duchess is represented sitting at his feet weeping. On each side are military trophies; and over all an admirable figure of Time holding several medallions representing the heads of their Graces children. This monument is very justly admired. It has been observed, that the duke himself appears the principal figure in the group; and though he lies in a recumbent posture, and his lady is in the most beautiful manner placed at his feet, yet her figure is so characterized, as to be only a guide to his, and both reflect back a beauty on each other. The inscription sets forth the duke of Buckingham's posts, with his qualifications; and over his statue is a Latin inscription to the following purpose; at which some of the rigidly orthodox part of mankind have taken needless umbrage.
I lived doubtful, not dissolute;
I die unresolved, not unresigned;
Ignorance and error are incident to human nature;
I trust in an almighty and all-good God,
Thou king of kings have mercy upon me.

In this isle is a lofty pyramid supported by two griffins of gilt brass, on a pedestal of curious marble, erected to the memory of Charles Montague marquis of Halifax, son to George Montague of Horton.

Against the east wall at the end of the north isle is a monument in the form of a beautiful altar, raised by king Charles II. to the memory of Edward V. and his brother Richard; on which is an inscription in Latin relating the story of their murder, the finding their bones in the Tower, and their removal to this place.

At the east end of the same isle is a vault in which are deposited the bodies of king James I. and Anne his queen, daughter to Frederic II. king of Denmark. Over this vault is a small tomb adorned with the figure of a child, erected to the memory of Mary the third daughter of James I. who was born at Greenwich in 1605, and died at two years old. There is also another monument on which is the representation of a child in a cradle, erected to the memory of Sophia, the fourth daughter of the same king, who was born at Greenwich in 1606, and died three days after. In the same isle is a lofty monument with a fantastical canopy over it, erected to the memory of queen Elizabeth by king James I. her successor: the inscription represents her character, high descent, and the memorable acts of her reign.

In the south isle is a lofty and pompous tomb, in the same incorrect stile, erected to the memory of Mary Queen of Scots, the mother of king James I. who, after being beheaded on a scaffold erected in the hall of Fotheringhay castle, in Northamptonshire, was pompously interred by order of queen Elizabeth, in the cathedral church of Peterborough: but upon the accession of her son to the throne of England, he ordered her remains to be removed from thence, and placed near this monument. Near the last monument is a tomb enclosed with iron rails, on which lies a lady also finely robed, the effigies of Margaret Douglas, daughter of Margaret Queen of Scots by the earl of Angus. Her son the lord Darnley, father to king James I. is represented foremost on the tomb kneeling, with the crown over his head, and there are seven others of her children represented round the tomb. This great lady, though she herself never sat on the throne, had, according to the English inscription, king Edward IV. for her great grandfather; Henry VII. for her grandfather; Henry VIII. for her uncle, Edward VI. for her cousin german; James V. of Scotland for her brother; Henry king of Scotland for her son; and James VI. for her grandson. Having for her great grandmother and grandmother two queens, both named Elizabeth; for her mother, Margaret queen of Scots; for her aunt, Mary the French queen; for her cousins german, Mary and Elizabeth queens of England; and for her niece and daughter-in-law, Mary Queen of Scots. This great lady died March 10, 1577. Here is also the monument of Margaret Countess of Richmond, mother of Henry VII. by her first husband Henry Tudor.

At the east end of this isle is the royal vault of king Charles II. king William III. queen Mary his consort, queen Anne, and prince George. Over these royal personages are their effigies (except that of prince George) in wainscot presses; they are of wax work resembling life, and dressed in their coronation robes. Another wainscot press is placed at the corner of the great east window, in which is the effigy of the lady Mary Duchess of Richmond, daughter to James Duke of Richmond and Lenox, dressed in the very robes her grace wore at the coronation of queen Anne.

On leaving this isle you will be shewn in another wainscot press a coarse image of Monk, duke of Albemarle, who had so great a share in the restoration of Charles II. and was interred in a vault appropriated to him and his family. This image is dressed in Monk's real suit of armour; and his ducal cap is made use of by the guide who shews these tombs to petition for the voluntary bounty of the spectators (fn. 7); the three pence demanded of each person for the privilege of viewing the several chapels in the abbey, being claimed, and disposed of, by the reverend dean and chapter.

Underneath the body of this chapel is the vault prepared in 1737 on the death of queen Caroline, for the reception of the present royal family. On descending the stairs it is found to consist of a double range of arched chambers, three on each side, open to the middle walk between them. This middle walk terminates with the principal vault in front, where in a large marble sarcophagus lie the two coffins of the late king George II. and his queen Caroline: the coffins of Frederic prince of Wales, his princess, the duke of Cumberland, the duke of York, and others of the family, lie in the vaults on either side.

An ingenious critic on this venerable repository of mortality, has made some reflections on it, which the judicious reader will not think impertinently introduced in this place. "It is certain, says he, there is not a nobler amusement, than a walk in Westminster-abbey, among the tombs of heroes, patriots, poets, and philosophers; you are surrounded with the shades of your great forefathers; you feel the influence of their venerable society, and grow fond of fame and virtue in the contemplation: it is the finest school of morality, and the most beautiful flatterer of imagination in nature. I appeal to any man's mind that has any taste for what is sublime and noble, for a witness to the pleasure he experiences on this occasion; and I dare believe he will acknowledge, that there is no entertainment so various, or so instructive. For my own part, I have spent many an hour of pleasing melancholy in its venerable walks; and have been more delighted with the solemn conversation of the dead, than the most sprightly sallies of the living. I have examined the characters that were inscribed before me, and distinguished every particular virtue. The monuments of real fame, I have viewed with real respect; but the piles that wanted a character to excuse them, I considered as the monuments of folly. I have wandered with pleasure into the most gloomy recesses of this last resort of grandeur, to contemplate human life, and trace mankind through all the wilderness of their frailties and misfortunes, from their cradles to their grave. I have reflected on the shortness of our duration here, and that I was but one of the millions who had been employed in the same manner, in ruminating on the trophies of mortality before me; that I must moulder to dust in the same manner, and quit the scence to a new generation, without leaving the shadow of my existence behind me: that this huge fabric, this sacred repository of fame and grandeur, would only be the stage for the same performances; would receive new accessions of noble dust; would be adorned with other sepulchres of cost and magnificence; would be crouded with successive admirers; and at last, by the unavoidable decays of time, bury the whole collection of antiquities in general obscurity, and be the monument of its own ruin (fn. 8)."

Westminster school.

On the south side of the abbey in Dean's yard is Westminster school, or Queen's college; founded in the year 1590 by queen Elizabeth, for the classical education of 40 boys, who are still called the queen's or king's scholars, as the case happens to be. Beside this establishment, a great number of the sons of the nobility and gentry are educated there, which has rendered it one of the greatest schools in the kingdom: so that instead of one master, and an usher, as at first; there are now an upper and under master, and five ushers. There are several boarding houses kept in the neighbourhood for the accommodation of these young gentlemen.

Gate house.

Fronting the two towers at the west end of the abbey is an old gate, which by its situation appears to have been originally a gate belonging to the abbey close; this gate is made use of as a prison for debtors and criminals by the magistrates of Westminster.

Tothill fields Bridewell.

By Tothill-fields is a house of correction for loose and disorderly persons; which, like all other prisons of the like nature, is called a Bridewell, after the London-house of correction in the antient palace of that name.

Westminster bridge.

At the north east corner of New Palace-yard stands over the Thames to the county of Surrey, that noble bridge so well known by the name of Westminsterbridge (fn. 9). This bridge consists of 13 semicircular arches, beside a very small one at each end: the dimensions are as under.

The whole length of the bridge 1223
Width of the central arch 76
The rest decrease regularly 4 feet in width on each side
The two small arches at the abutments are about 20 feet wide each.
Width of the carriage way over 30
Width of the raised foot ways on each side 7
Heigth of the balustrade within, 6 feet, 9 inches.

The ascent of this bridge is very easy; and there is a semi-octangular recess over every pier, with benches in them, which have this advantage over those on Black-friars-bridge, that the backs of them being cased round with stone, instead of having the open balustrade carried round them, the passenger may sit to rest himself in them in any weather without injury to his health from the wind at his back. Twelve of them are covered over head with semi-domes; viz. the two middle and two extream ones on each side. The two last, opposite to each other at the ends, are inclosed as watch-houses. These recesses are supported by solid buttresses rising from the foundations, which form the angular extremities of the piers below. Over the central arch are pedestals in the balustrades, intended for groups of ornamental figures, which however were not carried into execution. This bridge was built by Mr. Labelye, a Swiss architect.

As this bridge was built before that at Blackfriars, and as the foundations of the piers of both were laid in the bed of the river in the same manner; some account of the contrivance will not be disagreeable. A strong floor of timber, two feet in thickness well cramped together, was formed for each pier; to this were fitted four sides, higher than high water mark, which being made water proof, composed a case called a caissoon, and in this the men could work below the level of the water as conveniently as on dry land. This vast trough being floated to the spot prepared by scooping for receiving the pier, and fixed to piles, sunk to the bottom as the weight of stone increased; and when the work was raised above water, the sides being taken asunder, left the pier standing in the river on the wooden frame as a foundation.

Though the greatest care was taken in laying the foundation deep in the gravel, and using every probable method to prevent the sinking of the piers afterward; yet all this was in some degree ineffectual, for one of them sunk so considerably when the work was nearly compleated, as to retard the finishing it a considerable time. This gave the highest satisfaction to those who had opposed the work; but the commissioners immediately ordered the arch on the side where it had sunk, to be taken down, and then caused the base of the pier to be loaded with an incredible weight of iron cannon, till all the settlement that could be forced was made. After this the arch was rebuilt, and has ever since remained secure.

The soffit of every arch is turned and built quite through, the same as the fronts, with large Portland blocks, over which is built, bounded in by the Portland, another arch of Purbeck stone, four or five times thicker on the reins than over the key; so calculated and built, that by the help of this secondary arch, together with the incumbent load of materials, all the parts of every arch are in equilibrio: thus each arch can stand singly, without affecting or being affected, by any of the other arches. Moreover, between every two arches a drain is managed to carry off the water and filth, which in time might penetrate, and accumulate in those places, to the great detriment of the building. Some bridges have been ruined for want of this precaution, which should be observed in all considerable stone or brick bridges; and yet has been generally omitted.

At the sides of each abutment, there are large flights of steps down to the river for the embarking and landing of goods and passengers.

St. John the Evangelistss church.

The parish of St. Margaret, being greatly increased in the number of houses and inhabitants, it was judged necessary to erect one of the fifty new churches therein, for the better accommodation of the numerous inhabitants; which was no fooner done, and a district for a parish marked out, than the inhabitants applied to parliament to have it erected into a parish, which was done accordingly, and a provision made for the rector (fn. 10). The advowson is in the dean and chapter of Westminster.

This church was erected in an area on the north side of Vine-street, Millbank, and was finished in 1728; but the low swampy nature of the soil it was founded on caused it to sink while it was building, and produced an alteration in the plan. On the north and south sides are magnificent Doric porticos, supported by vast stone pillars, as is also the roof of the church. At each of the four corners is a beautiful stone tower and pinnacle: these additions were erected, that the whole might sink equally, and owe their magnitude to the same cause. The parts of this building are held together by vast iron bars, which cross even the isles. The chief aim of the architect was to give an uncommon, yet elegant outline, and to shew the orders in their greatest dignity and perfection; and indeed the outline is so variously broken, that there results a diversity of light and shadow, which is very uncommon, and very elegant. The principal objections against the structure are, that it is so much decorated that it appears encumbered with ornament; and that the compass being too small for the design, it appears too heavy.

On a Sunday morning, during divine service in the year 1742, this church took fire by some accident in the vestry, which consumed all the wood-work of the building. The church was however again compleated soon after, as it now appears.


The bounds of the parish are these: beginning at the parliament stairs in Old Palace yard, they extend along the east side of Lindsey-lane or Dirty-lane to College-street, and thence southward to Stable-yard, including the north side of that yard; also half of the south side of Orchard-street, thence to the east side of New Pye-street, and the south side of Old Pye-street: thence along the south side of Pear-street, and the southerly side of the Artillery ground up the Artillery wall, and the back-side of Rochester-row in Tothill fields; all those fields, and through the east side thereof to the great sluice; thence to the Horse-ferry bank, and northward to the Parliament stairs: including all the streets, lanes, courts, &;c. within this compass (fn. 11).

These southerly extremities, being in general the poorest and worst built parts of Westminster, furnish nothing worthy particular notice.


  • 1. Parish Clerks Remarks, p. 276.
  • 2. Vid. p. 337, 370. ante.
  • 3. London and its Environs, voc. Lords, and Commons.
  • 4. Stat. 7 &; 9 W. III. c. 15. 4 Ann. c. 8. 6 Ann. c. 7. § 4.
  • 5. Vid. Book I. p. 12.
  • 6. Stat. 8 &; 9 W. III. c. 14. 9 Ann. c. 22. § 2. 10 Ann. c. 11. § 32. 6 Geo. 2. c. 25. § 20.
  • 7. London and its Environs, voc. Abbey.
  • 8. Ralph's Critical Review of the Public Buildings of London and Westminster, 2d edit. p. 65, 66.
  • 9. For the erection of this bridge vid. p. 337, 370.
  • 10. Stat, 1. Geo. II. c. 15.
  • 11. Parish Clerks Remarks, p. 270.