The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark, and Parts Adjacent, vol. 4

Allen, Thomas

1827

 

The object that demands attention, in surveying the exterior of this building, is the principal entrance. This is at the west end,

49

and, taken as a whole, makes rather a mean appearance. The great doorway is of considerable depth, and contracts inwards. The sides are composed of pannels, and the roof intersected with numerous ribs. On each side of the door are pedestals in empty niches, with shields in quatrefoils beneath them. A cornice extends over the whole, on which are niches separated by small buttresses: they are without statues, and their canopies are cones foliaged and pinnacled. Above those is a modern cantilever cornice, totally unfit for the design. The king's and other coats of arms adorn the frieze above it.

Hence arises the great painted window; it has a border of pointed enriched pannels; a large heavy cornice over it; and a frieze inscribed A. R. GEORGII II. VIII. MDCCXXXV. The roof is pointed, and contains a small window, with tracery. great buttresses strengthen the towers, and are grand ornaments: with ranges of canopied niches (unfortunately deprived of their statues) on their fronts. Each tower has projecting wings, pannelled. The lower windows are pointed; those above them arches only, filled with quatrefoils and circles. It is from this part that the incongruity of the new design begins in a Tuscan cornice; then a Grecian pediment, and enrichments over the dial of the clock, a poor, tame window, pannels, and battlements. The truly great and excellent architect, sir Christopher Wren, reprobates irreconcilable mixtures in designing, thus:

I shall speedily prepare draughts and models, such as I conceive proper to agree with the original scheme of the architect, without any modern mixtures to shew my own inventions.

The ancient front of the Jerusalem Chamber obstructs the view of the south tower; it has a square window, divided by an horizontal and upright mullions ; with a battlement repaired with bricks. The wall extends some distance westward, when it terminates in modernized houses, against whose end is the ruin of a great arch of decayed stone, abutting on the turning to , being the last remains of the Gate-house.

The architectural anomalies displayed in this front are peculiarly remarkable: and they are still more apparent in the towers than in the central division. This arises from the heightening of the towers and the other alterations made here, during the general repair, which was commenced in the reign of king William, anno , but not ended till several years after the accession of George II. The credit of completing the west front, as it anciently appeared, is due to the abbots Estney and Islip; but it was never entirely finished till the time of the latter sovereign.

It is evident,

says sir Christopher Wren, in his architectural report, addressed to bishop Atterbury,

that the

two

towers were left imperfect, the

one

much higher than the other, though still too low for bells, which are stifled by the height of the roof above them; they ought

certainly to be carried to an equal height,

one

story above the ridge of the roof, still continuing the Gothic manner in the stone work, and tracery. Something must be done to strengthen the west window, which is crazy; the pediment is only boarded, but ought undoubtedly to be of stone.

The north side of the church has buttresses, each of gradations, with windows to the side aisles; and over them semi-windows, filled with quatrefoils. The buttresses are connected to the nave by slender arches; the wall finishes with battlements. The niches on the buttresses all remain, though there are but statues, which appear but little injured, and are certainly excellent figures. They represent abbot Islip, James I. and other sovereigns, probably Edward the Confessor and Henry III. What sir Christopher Wren said of the north side, upwards of years past, is strictly descriptive at this moment;

but that which is most to be lamented, is the unhappy choice of the materials. The stone is decayed

four

inches deep, and falls off perpetually in great scales.

And so indeed hath the casing intended to repair it from the north transept to the towers, leaving a decayed, corroded, and weatherbeaten surface, half black, and half the colour of the stones. The front of the transept is less injured, because most of the heavy rains are from the west; and the north-east sides remain perfectly smooth and good, as sir Christopher Wren left them.

The great door is an arch sprung from large pillars on each side, whose capitals are singularly beautiful foliage. Within them is a range of circles inclosing stars on the roof, and on the sides arched pannels. The wall is of considerable thickness, adorned by columns on both sides, with the same number of mouldings. It is remarkable that all the tops of the doors are flat, both in this and the smaller arches. The space over the principal entrance has a vast circle of circles, within which is another of pointed pannels; and in a others, with the arms of Edward the Confessor, for a centre. In small circles at the bottom are portcullises. On either side of the great door the wall is formed into arches by handsome pillars; the lesser entrances to the aisles are pillars in depth, with ribbed roofs, and angels on the intersections; over the door are circles inclosing cinquefoils. Above the whole is a range of pierced arches. enormous buttresses secure the front, those at the angles terminate in octagons, and connect with the upper part of the walls, over the side aisles, by strong arches.

For nearly years, this must have been the principal entrance into the church, and all the stately processions associated with the rites of the Roman Catholic worship, all the pompous trains assembled to grace coronations, and the burials of our sovereigns, must have been ushered beneath its porch, to give interest to the solemnities within.

It is unnecessary to describe the windows, as their shape is the

51

same as others in the church. The colonnade of arches, and deep recesses, have a fine effect, as well as the point of the roof, which is divided into pannelled arches, with circles and quatrefoils over them.

Between the colonnade and the point of the roof is a beautiful rose window, which was rebuilt in .

All the chapels that project on the north east and south east are, in their designs, like the body of the church. The western wall of the north transept is rebuilding at the present time (A. D. ), under the judicious superintendence of Mr. Blore, the architect.

The repairs on the south side of the abbey still perfect. The chapter-house was injudiciously placed by the architect, as it hides all the south end of the transept; and it was certainly never sufficiently enriched to make it worthy of the intruder. It is an octagon, protected to the east by a vast pierced buttress, with very large pointed windows, now filled up; they had each mullion in the shape of the letter Y. Several windows of the common size are made in them, but appear very diminutive by comparison; those could have been introduced for no other reason than to save expence; so far they are to be preferred to the ancient. The front of the south transept is far less elegant than that of the north; this incongruity is rendered of little consequence by the confined nature of its situation, the library, chapter house, and cloisters being so immediately contiguous as to exclude all the lower part from public view. It is sustained by large buttresses, each terminating in a plain octagon tower, crowned by a ball. There is no porch, but over the place is a range of narrow pointed windows; above them are larger; and the next compartment displays the great rose or marygold window, which is very elaborate in tracery, and far superior to the in the opposite transept. In the early part of the present century it was found to be so craggy and ruinous, that the dean and chapter gave orders for its restoration, and the present window was constructed under the superintendence of Benjamin Wyatt, esq. by Mr. Thomas Gayfere. It is glazed with plain glass; in the centre, which is a quatrefoil, is the date of erection, . All the buttresses on the south side of the nave, for the length of the cloister, being in number, have their bases without the walls of the cloister, consequently it is only by their weight that they remain erect, and at the same time support the wall of the church by slender arches, whose insertions are so managed as to send all the pressure downward. This manner of

contriving them,

sir Christopher Wren says, was the work of a

bold, but ignorant architect, and for the purpose of flattering the humour of the monks.

How an unobstructed space close against the side of the church could have been otherwise procured, I cannot perceive; but, supposing it could, I do not see the architect's ignorance in acting as he has; for I really believe the specific

52

gravity of each mass of abutment to be equal to double the pressure now experienced by it. But as conclusive evidence, he adds, that the walls above the windows were forced out inches, and

the ribs broken.

This I do not deny; but query, what has caused the same derangement directly opposite, on the north side; where, I aver, the wall is actually in a waved line, and where the abutments are firm against the wall? I am afraid that against the cloisters, on every side, from repeated interments, there is no solid support for either walls or abutments. Whether, any settling has occurred from this circumstance on both sides of the church, it would be well worth consideration to enquire. The remainder of the buttresses, to the tower, are close to the wall. All the exterior walls of the edifice are embattled, and the roof is covered with lead. The central tower, which has a dwarfish, and unfinished aspect, was rebuilt after the fire here in . It has narrow pointed windows on each side, and the angles are finished octagonally.

The entrance of the cloisters is from Dean's-yard. Great part of the neighbouring walls are of the original buildings; and where our present ideas of convenience have not introduced sashed windows, or other alterations, they bear all the marks of venerable age and decay.

It cannot be denied that our plans of economy are hostile to large and enriched structures at the present day. It was different with our ancestors; they certainly did sacrifice comfort to splendour. Witness the vast halls in their mansions, which it is impossible ever could have been warm; with elevated windows never more than partially opened: thus retaining in them the humid vapours continually floating in our atmosphere from August to March.

To deny that our castles and baronial residences, our abbeys and cathedrals and many of the ancient parish churches, were grand, lasting, and sublime, is impossible; and to assert that we erect any thing equally excellent and durable now, is equally impossible. Therefore it is that I would preserve their ruins, and when practicable, restore them to their original design by repairs.

Once enter the cloisters,

says Mr. Malcolm,

and I would have even every ornament restored, and the same through the whole church; for, with justice do I dread, such another will never rise on its ruins. Dean's-yard is certainly an odd mixture of decayed grandeur, modern ruins, strong old flinty walls, and crumbling new bricks. Even the very trees nod in unison with fallen structures and broken rails; and the earth, in many a rise and fall, shews some remote effects of Henry the eighth's dissolution of monasteries. There is a silent monastic air in the small court from which is the entrance to the Jerusalem chamber, This chamber is noted for having been the place where Henry the IVth. breathed his last. Shakespeare in one of his plays thus notices it:-- Laud be to God even there my life must end; It hath been prophesied to me many years, I should not die but in Jerusalem, Which vainly I suppos'd the Holy Land! now extremely different from its ancient state, having undergone various alteration from the Reformation to the present time. It is used for a chapter-house. The picture of Richard the Second, so often engraved, and written of, which was removed from the choir, now adorns the room. This, with some tapestry, and an old chimney-piece, and a little painted glass, remind us of past days.

Two anti-chambers are more in their original state; in one is a handsome niche. The abbot's hall is on the western side, and contains a gallery at the south end. East of the passage leading to the school, is a long ancient building, whose basement story is roofed with semi-circular groined arches, arising from pillars with handsome capitals. At the north end the regalia is said to have been formerly kept. Since that has been removed the standard-money has been deposited there. An architect,The late John Carter, esq. than whom no man has done more towards the elucidation of the beauties and perfection of English architecture. in the Gentleman's Magazine for July, 1799, has given an account of this place, so much to my purpose, that I shall transcribe it without ceremony. I likewise noticed, at the east end of the first division, a complete altar-table, raised on two steps; which of late years has been erroneously called the tomb of Hugolin: with a curious piscina on its right side. I saw the double doors closed, and fastened by seven locks; each lock had a different key, and each key a different possessor. The upper story is used as the school-room. The building just mentioned, if we may pronounce from the Saxon style, is the most ancient in the precincts of the abbey. Very little is left of the lesser cloisters; some Saxon columns were accidentally discovered a few years past in the neighbouring garden. Near it is another portion, or room, of equal antiquity. The place in which the records of the house of lords are kept, was originally a great square tower, erected for a treasury to the abbey; it is now greatly altered; and so indeed is the inside of the old Chapter-house, to make room for the records of the treasury of the exchequer, and the everlasting Domesday-book. The roof, as usual in such buildings, is supported by a centre column; but the galleries, shelves, and presses, are determined enemies to description. I shall therefore leave them undescribed; and conclude this survey of the exterior of the abbey and its dependencies, by saying, fragments in some cases, and large portions in others, of walls and gates, may be found in many directions; by means of which, the ancient inclosure might be traced with considerable accuracy.

54

Measurements.
Abbey Church.
Length. Exterior, from east to west, including Henry 7th's chapel 5300
Of church, in the clear 3750
Vestibule before Henry 7th's chapel 180
Henry 7th's chapelexterior1137
 interior834
 aisles619
Transept, from north to south, in the clear 20410
Width. Church, west front 1190
Nave, interior 310
Aisles,--- 120
Total, in the clear 790
Each arch 210
Henry 7th's chapel, exterior 774
 nave, interior 338
Height. West Towers, each 2250
Central tower 1539
Church, exterior, to upper parapet 1140
 to ridge of roof1410
interior, to vault of nave 1030
Henry 7th's Chapel. Exterior to parapet of aisles 416
Buttresses ditto 709 1/2
Upper parapet 742 1/2
West buttresses 1016
Interior to vault of nave, 637
Cloister, from east to west 1410
north to south 1600
Diameter chapter-house (octagon) 590
A Chronological View of the History of the Fabric ofWestminster Abbey.
Sovereigns.A. D.Works.
King Sebert604Abbey church founded, and monastery rebuilt.
Edward the ConfessorBetween 1050 and 1065Church rebuilt and enlarged.
Henry III1245Eastern part of the church, including the choir and transept, rebuilt.
1369
Henry III1269Eastern part of the nave and aisles built.
1307
Edward I.
Edward II1307Great cloisters, abbot's house, and principal monastic buildings erected.
Edward III
Richard II1386
 
Edward III1340Western part of the nave and aisles re built.
Richard II1483
Henry IV. V. VI
Edward IV
Richard III1483West front and great window built.
Henry VII1509
Henry VII1502Henry the seventh's chapel erected.
Henry VIII1520
George I1715Great west window rebuilt, and western towers completed.
George II1735
George III1809Henry the seventh's chapel restored.
George IV1828West side of the north transept restored.

In describing the interior the object is the choir. The altar piece is very handsome of plaster, executed by Bernasconi; it consists of niches and pinnacles of pointed architecture; this was erected in the autumn of , the older screen having been removed at the coronation of his present majesty.

The former altar piece was of white marble, faintly veined with blue, and was a present from queen Anne, and removed from , for which it was designed by sir Christopher Wren. It consisted of a basement of the Tuscan order, in compartments; the middle semicircular, and largest; and was formed by pilasters, with their architrave, frieze, and cornice. On the frieze of a slight projection over the altar was inscribed,

is modern, formed into squares, lozenges, sexagons, stars, and crosses, of rich white and coloured marble. Descending steps of white marble, which cover part of the grand mosaic platform, we tread on the wreck of the most glorious work in England; venerable through age, costly in its materials, and invaluable for its workmanship. What must have been the beauties of this holy place soon after the completion of the church! the altar-piece, resembling in workmanship its transcendant back in Edward the Confessor's chapel; the shrine of that saint beaming with jewels, gold, and silver statues, and other offerings; the sides of the choir shewing glances of the numerous altars in the chapels, with the rich tombs on the right and left: and this pavement, sparkling with the bright rays of vast tapers, and ever-burning lamps. And hither did Henry VI. after making a public entry into London, come,

Where all ye convent, in copis richely,

Mett with hym, as of custom as yey ouzt,

The abbot aft; moost solempnely

Among ye relikes, ye scripture out he souzt

Of Seynt Edward, and to ye kyng he brouzt,

Thouz it were longe. large, and of gret weizte,

Zit on his shuldres ye kyng bar it on heizte

Ex duab'r arborib'r vr S'ci Edwardi et S'ci Lodewyce

In the mynstre, whiles all the bellys ronge

Til he com to ye heize auter,

And ful devoutly Te Deum yn was songe.

MS. Harl. No. 565, Lidgate.

Abbot Ware's pavement is separated from the modern by a skreen of iron rails. The materials are lapis lazuli, jasper, porphyry, alabaster, Lydian and serpentine marbles, and touchstone. It was made at the charge of the abbot, and is said to have been purchased by him in France. An admirer of the arts must view it with the deepest regret. It was injured, no doubt, at the Reformation, when the high altar was removed, at its restoration by queen Mary, and afterwards almost demolished. The most irreparable attack was from the workmen at erecting the late altar-piece. The following description will shew its injuries; and even now,

says Mr. Malcolm,

since it has been the custom to the choir for money, it is trodden, worn, and dirtied, daily by hundreds, who are unconscious of its value, and I know barely look at it. Is it not a national treasure? When it is quite destroyed, can we shew such another? It may be seen over the rails adjoining; and may it in future be seen from thence only! The centre of the design is a large circle, whose centre is a circular plane of porphyry, spans and a quarter in diameter; round it stars of lapis lazuli, pea-green, red, and white, which, being of most beautiful colours, have been much depredated; those enclosed by a band of alabaster; and without, a border of lozenges, red and green; the half lozenges contain triangles of the same colours. A dark circle held brass letters, whose places may be seen, but now reduced to . The extreme lines of this great circle run into smaller circles facing the cardinal points; that to the east a centre of orange and green variegated; round it a circle of red and green wedges; without that, lozenges of the same colours; and completed by a dark border. To the north, the circle has a sexagon centre of variegated grey and yellow; round it a band of porphyry, and a dark border. The west circle nearly similar. The south, a black centre within a variegated octagon. A large lozenge incloses all the above circles, which is formed by a double border of olive colour; within which, on corner only, are circles intersecting each other, and each made by oval pieces inclosing a lozenge. The other parts vary in figure, but would take many pages to describe.

The above lozenge has a circle on each of its sides, to the north west, south west, north east, and south east. The contains a sexagon, divided by lozenges of green; within which are red stars. In the intersections red triangles. Green triangles form a sexagon round every intersection. The contains a sexagon; within it several stars of red and green, forming several sexagons, containing yellow star. The has a sexagon, formed by intersecting lines into sexagons and triangles; within the former, stars of red and green. The latter smaller triangles of red,

57

green, and yellow. Tire last a sexagon, with within it, filled by stars of rays, green and yellow. The spaces within the great lozenge round the circles is composed of circles, stars, squares, lozenges, and triangles, whose component parts are thousands of pieces of the above shapes. The whole of the great lozenge and circles is inclosed by a square; the sides to the cardinal points. It has held other parts of the inscription, of which few remains are now visible.

The outsides are filled by parallelograms and circles of considerable size, all divided into figures nearly similar to those described.

The design of the figures that were in it was to represent the time the world was to last; or the , according to the Ptolemaic system, was going about, and was given in some verses, formerly to be read on the pavement, relating to those figures:

Si lector posita prudenter cuncta revolvat,

Hic finem primimobilis inveniet.

Sepes trina, canes et equos, hominesque subaddas,

Cervos et corvos, aquilas, immania cete,

Mundum; quodque sequens pereuntes triplicat annos.

Sphaericus archetypum monstrat globus hic microcosmum

Christi milleno, bis centeno, duodeno

Cum sexago, subductis quatuor, anno,

Tertius Henricus Rex, Urbs, Odoricus, et Abbas

Hos compagere porphyreos lapides.

Of these, and they seem to need it, I find this explanation given :Biblioth. Cotton. Claudius, A. viii. the threefold hedge is put for three years, the time a dry hedge usually stood: a dog for three times that space, or nine years, it being taken for the time that creature usually lives; an horse in like manner for twenty-seven: a man, eighty-one: a hart, two hundred and forty-three; a raven, seven hundred and twenty-nine; an eagle, two thousand one hundred and eighty-seven: a great whale, six thousand five hundred and sixty-one; the world, nineteen thousand six hundred and eighty-three; each succeeding figure giving a term of years, imagined to be the time of their continuance, three times as much as that before it.

In the four last verses, the time when the work was performed, and the parties concerned in it, are expressed; the poet seems to have been under some difficulty to express the time. By the rest is meant that the king was at the charge, that the stones were purchased at Rome, that one Odorick was the master workman, and that the abbot of Westminster, who procured the materials, had the care of the work.

Much of this exquisite work is lost, and a great portion is hidden by the steps. The north and south sides are replaced by lozenges of black and while marble. It was laid in the year ; and

58

must have been the work of many years, as several of the pieces of marble are not more than - of an inch in length, and the largest not more than inches, except those particularized.

This fine pavement is enclosed by a rich scroll-work railing; and, upon descending steps, we come to the lozenged black and white marble surface of the choir, made by Dr. Busby, the celebrated prebendary of , and master of the school, whose rigid discipline has

damned him to fame

throughout all generations. At the east end of it are engraved the names of Richard Busby, , and Robert South, .

All traces of the interments beneath this part of the church are now gone; and are succeeded by pews for the scholars, and or private pews.

The pulpit is attached to the north-west pillar of the tower; and is supported by a clustered column, spreading into a sexagon. On each corner is a small pillar, terminating in a cherub. Within the pannels is a flower of leaves. A palm tree, of exquisite workmanship, supporting the sounding-board, whose top and sides are pinnacled. The lower is richly inlaid with dark wood.

The sides of the choir are of wood, and divided by slender columns with tasteful capitals into arches, adorned with foliage and pinnacles. The transepts are entered by a door on each side of the choir.

The enriched canopies of the stalls render them extremely beautiful. They are in number, besides those of the dean and the sub-dean at the west end, higher than the rest, and hung with purple cloth. Lower than those are the seats of others of the scholars.

Almost under the organ, by a descent of steps, we find a door on each side of the wainscot, with niches in the sides, and quatrefoils over them; together with pillars, arches, and pannels. Under the projection of the organ gallery are Grecian dentels and lozenges, with quatrefoils between them.

Directly under the organ is a Gothic ceiling. The centre is a rose surrounded by a quatrefoil. From the corners rise quarter circles, meeting a great circle round the quatrefoil; the quarters divided into rays.

The organ case has nothing to recommend it to particular notice; it is very plain and capacious.

The choir commences at the pillar from the east, and extends in length to the .

The roof is camarated, and very richly adorned with bright gilded ribs, key-stones, all varied in complicated scrolls; so also are the capitals of the pillars in the row of windows. The surface is coloured, and at irregular intervals crossed with grey. Round the key-stones are painted roses.

Mr. Malcolm very justly remarks, that

notwithstanding the strong bars of iron which cross the intercolumniations near the great pillars of the tower, must greatly contribute to their support, they are not sufficient to prevent those vast clusters from each tending to a point in the centre of the space under it. Possibly as they have thus bent by some unknown cause for many years past, they may not for many ages fail; but if I dare prophecy, this will be the spot where this venerable pile will rend asunder, and the adjoining parts accumulate in one dreadful ruin on that centre.

There are already several fissures in the ceiling of the choir; and what is of more importance, the centre rib, east and west, is very far from a straight line.

These alarming symptoms of decay and ruin,

says Mr. Nightingale,

are sensibly, though very little increased within these few years; but I should think Mr. Malcolm did not need to have alarmed himself on account of the weight of stones, marbles, and metals, which this piece of ground, small as it is, has to sustain.

The sides of the tower, over the points of the great arches, have blank windows, nearly triangular; and each side small pointed windows. The ribs of the roof terminate in a circular recess. On the outside of this is a square, with blank shields on the sides. These ornaments are highly gilded. The capitals of the great pillars have projecting heads.

Behind the altar, is

 
 
Footnotes:

[] Letter to the Bishop of Rochester.

[] Neale and Brayley's Westminster abbey, vol ii. p 9

[] The entire height of this front to the top of the centre pinnacle, is 170 feet.

[] Mal., Lond. Red.

[] Mal. Lond. Red. i.93

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 Title Page
 Dedication
CHAPTER I: Site, local divisions, and government of the City of Westminster; history of the Abbey; Coronation Ceremonies; and lists of the Abbots and Deans
CHAPTER II: Westminster Abbey, and Description of the Tombs and Monuments
CHAPTER III: History and Topography of St. Margaret's Parish
CHAPTER IV: History and Topography of St. John's Parish, Westminster
CHAPTER V: History and Topography of the parish of St. Martin's in the Fields, Westminster
CHAPTER VI: History and Topogrpahy of the parish of St. James, Westminster
CHAPTER VII: History and Topography of the Parish of St. Anne, Westminster
CHAPTER VIII: History and Topography of the parish of St. Paul, Covent Garden
CHAPTER IX: History and Topography of the Parish of St. Mary-le-strand
CHAPTER X: History and Topogrpahy of the parish of St. Clement Danes
CHAPTER XI: History and Topography of the parish of st. George, Hanover Square
CHAPTER XII: History and Topography of the Precinct of the Savoy
CHAPTER XIII: History and Topography of the Inns of Court
CHAPTER XIV: History and Topography of the Precincts of the Charter-house and Ely Place, and the Liberty of the Rolls
 CHAPTER XV: Historical Notices of the Borough of Southwark
CHAPTER XVI: History and Topography of the Parish of St. Olave, Southwark
CHAPTER XVII: History and Topography of the parish of St. John, Southwark
CHAPTER XVIII: History and Topography of the parish of St. Thomas, Southwark
CHAPTER XIX: History and Topogrpahy of the parish of St. George's, Southwark
CHAPTER XX: History and Topography of St. Saviour's Parish
CHAPTER XXI: History and Topography of the parist of Christ-church in the County of Surrey
 CHAPTER XXII: A List of the Principal Books, &c that have been published in Illustration of the Antiquities, History, Topography, and other subjects treated of in this Work
 Addenda et Corrigienda
 Postscript