For anyone who has grown up in and around Southend there is one icon that we all know and recognise – Southend Pier – the longest Pleasure Pier in the world.
Firstly, what is a Pleasure Pier? Pleasure Piers were first built in England in the 19th Century, the first being Ryde Pier in 1813. A popular pastime of the era was going to coastal towns and enjoying the sea and beaches. The building of the Piers was the answer to what to do when the tide was too far out to enjoy. They allowed the holidaymakers and day-trippers to take a stroll along the promenade while enjoying the amusements, and for some theatre shows and rides.
The Life of Southend pier began around early 1800’s when travellers who wanted to get to Southend by boat had to wait until high tide as the mudflats made it difficult to reach the shore. A wooden pier was established to overcome this problem. Work started in 1834 and it was completed in 1846 with hand-propelled carts. It was 1 1/8 of a mile long. This still seemed too short so it was completely rebuilt years later to 1 1/3 of a mile out to sea. This ‘new’ pier opened in 1889 and the additional length made it the longest pleasure pier in the world – a record it retains to this day’!
In 1889 the electric pier railway was laid (for a time they used horse drawn carts but they kept putting their hooves through the wooden planks) and officially opened in August 1890. The first public service carried 800 people in the first three hours. The new iron pier was the first of its type in the world to use toast rack trains.
Millions of people would come to visit the pier and in 1949, it reached its peak with 7 million people record as visiting it. The Pier museum would open in 1989 in the old train workshops and is still open today.
The pier is known to have had a
number of mishaps and damage, including fire and being hit by boats and
bombs. The first incident was in 1890 while the new iron pier was being
constructed. A welder’s torch set fire to the wooden pier, fortunately no major
damage was caused but the same cannot be said with future fires.
The first significant fire was in 1959 when the pier pavilion burnt down. This pavilion was replaced later and became a bowling alley (one I remember having a birthday party at when I was a child). But this too burnt down in 1995.
Another fire at the piers head broke out in 1976 and devastated the New Pier head. Fire tugs were called in to help the fire fighters try to out the blaze out in addition to Ladi Marmol (aviator who came from Czechoslovakia who lived and worked in Southend) who dive-bombed the pier with his crop spraying aircraft. The flames were 100 feet in the air. Fortunately, only two people were injured, these being two fire fighters.
In addition to fires, there have been a number of ships hitting the pier in its lifetime. The first recorded incident was in July 1895 when it was sliced in two by Thames Lighter Barge during a gale. The Ketch ‘Dolphin’ would destroy a 1200ft section of the pier in 1898 and the list goes on – 1907, 1908, 09, 21, 33… In 1986 (the year I was born) the Kings Abby sliced through the pier causing damage to its structure, this was the ninth collision to the pier by a ship.
During the second world war the
pier was taken over by the admiralty and became HMS Leigh, it would closed to
the public in September 1989. As with many military sites near to the cost, the
Pier would become a target for the German bombers. Its first attack was in
November 1939. The following year Heinkel He111’s stick bomb (where the bombers drop their bombs in one long line)
the pier. There was another hit in February 1941 and on one
occasion n (no date is given), a v2 rocket hits the pier pavilion and
luckily did not explode.
In 2005 the pier that I had grown up with a knew would be gone forever. A fire broke out destroying a large quantity of the structure including the south station and the old pier head. The fire stretched 40 foot into the sky and could be seen from the Kent cost. It took 100 fire fighters over six hours to get the fire under control with more assisting to get put it out. Although the skeleton of the pier was saved all the buildings at its end were either burnt or with bits washed up along the shore. After a lot of restoration work, the pier would be open to the public on the 5th August 2005.
At the Piers end is the Royal
Pavilion, an events venue that opened in 2012. There is also the Salt Cafe,
RNLI Lifeboat Station, and a Mini Golf Course. You can walk both ways, get the
train or do one of each and experience all the pier has to offer.
Even through all of this the pier still thrives and stretches out to sea like a beacon to all who look out on from the foreshore. It is a symbol of a bygone era and something so simple an activity and cheap for all ages to enjoy and do. It is part of Southend’s identity. It is living history.
Situated near the Royal Terrace Southend Cliff lift has been in action since 1912 and before that was a moving walkway. It is one of those things that I always looked at as a kid but did not really go on until last year!
Originally a moving public walkway, which opened in 1901 and was the
forerunner to the modern day escalator. Built by the American engineer Jessie Reno,
and known as ‘Reno’s Electric Stairway’, and was unique in the country.
The stairway was wooden slatted steps attached to a looped chain powered by a diesel engine. There was no cover to the elements, very little safety measures and was found to be too noisy, uncomfortable and unreliable to those that used it. Therefore, it was deicided to change it a build in its stead a cliff lift.
The track is 130 feet and rises to 57 feet with a gradient of 43.4%. It
runs on electricity and can carry up to 12 passengers. The lift was constructed
by Waygood and Company and has been modernised three times in its lifetime. It opened
on August bank holiday in 1912 and is a single-track gauge counterweight track
In 2004, Southend Council was awarded £1.5 million of heritage Lottery
funding for the restoration of the Cliff Lift. This included work on the carriage,
the track, and the two stations. In 2007, more funding was acquired to get it
back into operation which it finally was in May 2010.
Today it is looked after by Southend Council. It is 50p per person per journey and while on the lift you can get a history of it from the enthusiastic volunteers who operate the lift.
On 11th May, the Cliff lift will be involved in the Cliff Lift Railway day from 10-6pm. Other places taking part are Deacon, Scarbourgh, Shropshire, and Bristol. There will be entertainment going on throughout the day with free rides for children. If you have not taken a ride on the historic lift then now is your chance.
In June 1667, a fleet of ships sailed down the river Medway and attempted to attack Chatham docks. They did not quite get as far as they would have liked but the damaged they caused was enough to cause embarrassment in the English Court of King Charles II, especially as his own flagship was taken and a fort – Upnor Castle was built to protect the docks and had failed in its one task. The attacking fleet was the Dutch and it was during the time of the second Dutch War between England and the Netherlands.
In the 1660’s the English navy was not as great as it had once been. Due to lack of wars, it had lapses in development to the point where we were actually using Dutch ships to trade in the seas around our Island, as they were the most up to date ships in Europe. However, this soon changed when the navigation Act was passed in 1651 making law that all goods bound for England had to be carried by an English made ship. This act made the relationship with the Dutch sour and would eventually lead to the first Dutch war.
In 1665 the second war with the Dutch would start, this time the English being responsible when they attacked a large Dutch merchant fleet and then landing at the nearby town of West-Terschelling and ransacking it to the ground. Of course, the Dutch were fuming at this and decided that it would not go unavenged.
A man named Johan De Witt had decided that the peace talks with Charles were pointless and wanted a victory and pay back against the English. His plan was to cross the North Sea with 62 ships, 15 small vessel and 12 fire ships and attack the English on their own soil. They set off for the Medway at the start of June.
During the time that the English knew the Dutch were on their way no real defence were put into places, we seemed to have sat ideal not really thinking that they were a threat, especially somewhere as far inland as Chatham was. Only three guard ships and three fire ships were left at the docks, thinking it would be enough.
On 6th June, the Dutch fleet reached Canvey Island and Sheerness. Not much plundering was done due to orders being given that they were not to stop to the British level and do what they did at West-Terschelling a few years previous. From these two islands at the mouth, the Dutch fleet continued inwards. By this time, Charles had ordered his militia to mobiles in addition to sending Admiral George Monck to Chatham to check on their situation – and it was dire with only 12 of the 800 men at the dockyard and no weapons. He acted as quickly as he could but only time would tell if it was to be enough. Meanwhile the Dutch continued to sail up the Medway breaking through a defensive chain at Sheerness. They also attacked any unmanned ships and set them alight, making them useless to all. In addition, the British had already sunk a number block ships to hinder the Dutch trying to get down the river and a number of other ships to stop the Dutch capturing them.
After much destruction, the Dutch withdrew back down the Medway on 14th June with the HMS Unity and the Royal Charles with them. Jeroen van der Vliet, a curator at the Rijksmuseum states that ‘It was one of the last times England was invaded by an enemy force while in the Netherlands it is regarded as the “high water mark of Dutch naval power.”
So why were the Brits so unprepared? If they had such a large fleet in the Medway, why were there not more defences to prevent such an attack? Well along with the fact that, even though there were spies in Europe who had pre warned them of a potential attack the authorities did not believe that one would actually be launched. In addition, there were such defence in place. The biggest defence was Upnor Castle just further down the river to Chatham Docks.
Until the time of Upnors creation, a small number of defences around the River Medway but none were seen as being able to provide sufficient defence and protection of the fleet at Chatham docks. There was Rochester Castle, which although impressive was unable to actually provide, and protection to the ships anchored nearby. Then there was Queensbourgh Castle further downstream but was not lager enough to protect the Medway itself, only ships planning to attack Sheppey. There was a small blockhouse at Sheerness, which had become obsolete since its creation. The decision was taken to build a new large defensive building on the bend in the River Medway and this was to become Upnor Castle.
Upnor was built in 1559-67 and designed by Sir Richard Lee, a military engineer. However due to him being occupied the actual build of the site was overseen by his assistant Humphrey Locke. It was a quite design in so that it was a solitary bastion parcelled only by Milton blockhouse Gravesend which was built in 1539. It had an angled bastion, which enable the guns to cover the river approached both down and upstream. Behind the bastion was a two storey building which could hold further guns and was where the accommodation rooms were based along with the magazines.
In 1596, Lord of Effingham the lord Admiral would visit Upnor and stated that it had to either be properly manned or destroyed to prevent it falling into enemy hands. It seemed that the fort had been an out of sight, out of mind site. Improvements were therefore made between 1599-1601. The bastion was modified so it could take the weight of heavier weaponry. A wooden palisade was created at the front of the castle to defend against land attack. In addition a gatehouse and curtain wall were added which can still be seen today, along with two new towers, the North and South.
In 1653, a fire broke out at the Castle damaging much of the gatehouse. Some evidence of the fire can be seen today. Repairs were made in brick, which gives it s distinctive look, which can be seen by visitors to Upnor today. During the attack by the Dutch in the Medway Upnor did try her hardest to prevent the ships from travelling towards the docks. Additional troops had been sent to the area and to man Middleton Battery, which had been hastily erected in one night opposite Upnor. However, both Upnor and Middleton Battery were not enough.
“I do not see that Upnor Castle hath received any hurt by them though they played long against it; and they themselves shot till they had hardly a gun left upon the carriages, so badly provided they were.” – Samuel Pepys
It was decided that such a humiliating attack cannot happen again and so changes were made to the defence of the Medway. A new bastion, Garrison Fort was built near Sheerness, alone with another two outposts Cockham Wood Fort and Gillingham Fort further down the Medway. More were built as time went on resulting in Upnor Castle itself becoming redundant. However, it was not useless. It was deicide that Upnor would become a powder magazine. The roof-level gun platforms were removed and the building itself heightened to give it more internal space. A water jetty was also added to the bastion so the powder boats could get alongside.
A survey carried out in 1691 recorded that it held 5,206 barrels of powder, 164 iron guns, 62 standing carriages, 100 ships carriages, 7125 round shot with more than 200 muskets and 77 pikes.
By 1827, Upnor was used as a magazine and was part of the Naval Armament Supply Department until the late 19th century. In 1945 it became a museum, open to the public and the management was taken over by English Heritage in 1961. Today it is a grade I listed building and Medway Council manages events.
Coad, J (2017) Upnor Castle. English Heritage; London
The current structure for Westminster Palace sits majestically
by the Thames for all to admire and see. It looks as if it has been there for
many hundreds of years when it has in fact has been there for only 149 years
old. Tsar Nicholas II described it as ‘a
Dream in stone’ and is ranked as number three of 940 London attractions by
Trip advisor in London. However, what is its story? In part one we learnt all
about the original Westminster Palace, part two will look at its reincarnation
into the Houses of Parliament.
After the fire destroyed the Palace in 1834, Prince Albert set up a Fine Arts Committee to fine an architect to design and rebuild the Palace. Their vision was to combine the fine arts and sculpture with the buildings architecture. There was much debate about what style should be used for the new build. A discussion was had about neo classical style, which was used for the White House in America, but it was felt that this design was associated with revolution and republicanism so another style was chosen – Gothic Revival.
At the time, gothic style architecture was seen as an English style, which was also picturesque and romantic. Characteristics of the style include pointed arches, sloping roof, and ornamental patterns. The style was coming back into trend in many churches. The earliest document example in a residential property is that of Strawberry hill.
In 1836, a public competition was held for architects
across the country to design a new palace. 97 entries were received, all
identities withheld from the judges, the deigns were finally whittled down
until one was left, a design which incorporated the emblem of the Portcullis. The
portcullis being symbol of strength and security and crown is symbol of royal power,
which is given to parliament by the monarch. This emblem was used by both
houses and is still done so today. The architects name was Charles Barry.
Part of Barry’s design was to incorporate the old remaining parts of Westminster Palace but to have a completely new layout. It combined classical planning and picturesque outline. “The buildings regular bays, with identical pavilions projecting ast north and south ends are broken up by three asymmetrically placed towers.” (The Palace of Westminster pg 72) Much of his inspiration would come from Henry VIII chapel over the road in Westminster Abbey along with the Gothic revival style.
Construction would begin in 1840 with end date of six
years (which actually would be 30 years and costing over 2 million). Barry
however would spend 20 years on the Palace as he died when it was still being
built. His third son Edward was chosen to complete his father’s work.
Barry was already a famous architect having built several churches and winning a number of competitions. Nevertheless, his style was more classical than gothic. He would turn to a man named Augustus Wilby Pugin to help him design the Gothic Palace. Pugin was a young catholic architect whose passion was in the gothic architecture style. Barry would pay him £400 for his assistance in the drawings and would contuse to use his help in the construction and interior design of the Place. Although he was not happy with the Palace, which he had helped create. Pugin too would not live to see the Palace completed, due to the long hours and endless worry, Pugin’s health was soon affected, and he was committed to Bedlam for a short time before his death in 1852. The Palace of Westminster was completed in 1870.
There are a number of rooms and pieces within the Palace, which hold a particular function or role. The most iconic would be the Elizabeth Tower, often referred to at Big Ben, which is in fact the name of the bell inside the tower. Pugin’s drawing for this tower would be the last work he did for Barry. The tower stands at 316 ft in height. I will be exploring this tower more in a separate blog.
Along with the Elizabeth tower there is the Victoria Tower,
which at 323 ft in height makes it the tallest secular building in the world.
It is home to the parliament records. The third and final tower is the Central tower,
which is immediately above the central lobby. Octagonal in shape it is the
shortest of the three at 330 ft. It has a spire and contains the largest known
gothic vault without a central pillar.
The largest room in the Palace is the Royal Gallery, which is designed to be imposing to those who enter it and walks its 110 ft length. The paintings in the gallery were meant to show the military history and glory of the country but only two were ever completed. They would be the largest work commission for the entire palace.
The Lords Chamber is the grandest room and is decorated
as such. It is where the pillars of Britain’s society come together – monarch, church,
and parliament. It leads onto the Central lobby, which marks the central part
of the whole building.
The fire in 134 would be the Palaces biggest disaster but
not its last. In 1885 two fenians bombs were planted and detonated in the
commons chamber and the chapel of St Mary Undercroft, no one was killed and
Then during the blitz in World War Two, bombs were dropped on the historic building. One landed though the roof and into the House of Lords, luckily it did not explode. The same cold not be said for the next bomb which struck. On the night of 10.5.1941, a bomb hit the House of Commons and destroyed it. It could have been saved but it was decided to save Westminster Hall instead as that too had been hit. Giles Gilbert Scott would re build it in very sedate fashion when compared to the rest of the Palace and reopened in 1950.
Today the Houses of Parliament is owned by the State and
is home to the British government. It can be visited by members of the public. For
more information on how to book please head over to the following link:
It is currently undergoing a huge restoration project due
to the condition and safety of parts of the building. The renovation is
believed to take 6 years to complete and means that the whole of parliament
will move out of the Palace for the first time since the Second World War.
Inside the Palace, there are crumbling walls, leaking pipes, collapsing roofs and many issues, which one would associate with an old building including a number of fire risks.
The Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster said: “The Palace of Westminster, a masterpiece of
Victorian and medieval architecture and engineering, faces an impending crisis
which we cannot responsibly ignore.
It is believed the project will cost around six million and is due to start in 2025. Let us hope it is enough to save this historic and iconic building before it goes beyond repair.
Part 3 and the last part of this blog will be called Ceremony and Art
and will look at Westminster Palace as a place of British ceremony and being a
home to a large art collection – coming soon.
Anon (2012) The palace of
Westminster: The official guide. House of Commons: London
Dover Castle – an impressive fortress situated on the cliff edge of Dover, guarding the country against invasion from the Channel. It has stood for 950 years and in a reference made by Hubert de Burgh in it is ‘the key to the country’. It has withstood sieges in addition to housing thousands of soldiers underground during both the Napoleonic war and was a base for Operation Dynamo in World War Two. Part one – Under Siege of this two-part blog post will look at the origins of Dover Castle and how it withstood two sieges, even when the odds were against it.
Dover Castle was begun under the instruction of King Henry II in 1180 (William the Conquer had fortifications constructed on the old Iron age hill fort). It was designed by a man named Maurice the The Ingeniator, who had worked on the keep at Newcastle. He would use every feature at the time on Dover. Dover was a Concentric Castle, the first in Western Europe. It was something that had been brought back by those who had been on a crusade and was in effect a castle within a castle. There was a keep surrounded by two walls, the inside usually being built higher than the first. These walls were great at keeping the new siege engines away from the Keep, which was usually where the lord of the castle would be based, where their great hall would be and more importantly the a siege. The gap in between the two walls became known as a death hole as those caught between the two would most likely face death from the defenders above.
When the Castle was being built, its well was dug 122 down, a very deep hole indeed. As deep as the Salisbury Cathedral tower was high. Such a deep well is an indication that the castle keep was also designed to be used as a potential refuge should it ever been under siege. Dover’s outer cover an area of 4HA, which makes it one of the largest in the British Isles, and its history is clear evidence that such planning and development by its defenders used to their advantage and kept the Castle such an imposing stronghold.
In 1216, Prince Louis of France would attack Dover Castle. He had been invited by a number of English barons at the time to come and take the crown. They had become unhappy with how King John was ruling the country (known as the Barons War). Prince Louis wasted no time and was quite successful in securing southern England and was offered the crown in there was a thorn in his side – Dover Castle.
In the words of Dan Jones, ‘if England was Dover was its main gate1]’ and to secure the country one needed Dover. At the time of Louis and the baron’s attempt to overthrown King John, Dover was being managed by a man named Hubert de Burgh and 140 of his knights. Not enough to thwart two attacks on the castle.
You see not only was the Castle well built and fortified what really helped in was Hubert himself. A trusted servant to King John he had already proved his worth in holding Johns French Castle of Chinon for a year against Unfortunately, the Chinon was eventually lost when the siege engines came into that was where Dover would triumph, but at first, it seemed that Louis would be the victor.
Louis plan of attack was to head to the Castles weakest point – the north gate. He had stone throwing engines along with miners going underground. Eventually the outer of the castle were captured. Louis luck continued when the eastern tower collapsed because of the mining but things soon changed. Due to the fierce fighting of Hubert’s knights, the hole was soon patched up and the siege continued.
Then on 14 October, a truce was called due to the death of King John but it Dover again in May the following year. This time he brought with him a siege engine, a Trebuchet named Malvoisin’ (evil), and new determination to take Dover Castle. It was during this second siege that Hugh said to his men that Dover is the key to England and that they must hold it even if he himself was captured, to which they did and Louis eventually accepted a settlement offer and went back home to France.
Hubert did not waste any time after the siege. He took what had happened and decided to build a new set of at Dover. The siege had highlighted the strength and weaknesses of the castle, the main weakness being the high ground to the north. He had his men blocked it and it was replaced by the Constables gate (now the main entrance to the castle) beyond that he had a which could only be reached by underground tunnels, which enabled the defenders to control higher ground without exposing themselves. These tunnels still exist altered slightly in the 19 . In total, Hubert spent over £1000 on the new at the castle, which would also now have a garrison of 1000 men a year.
There were many ways to attack a castle in the medieval period and Louis used a number of them to try to take Dover. First, he brought with him a siege engine, which is known as a Perrier. It was a form of a siege engine, which propels a missile from a sling using human muscle weight rather than the later developed which would use a heavy counterweight. Perrier’s were a lot lighter than most siege them more transportable.
After using his Perrier, Louis then sent in his miners. What would usually happen is the miners would dig under the castle walls, using wood to prop up the tunnel. When they had reached a decent length under the castle, they would place explosives, usually pig fat, or something similar and after evacuating, the tunnel one man would light a fire and quickly flee. The aim was that the explosion would damage the foundations of the castle walls and bring it all a gap for the soldiers to gain access.
The second siege, Louis would bring a much larger siege engine, known as this type of siege engine was called a Trebuchet. Like the a would also launch large were more accurate in their aim and would cause a lot more damage. They were the largest and best-known siege engines of the middle ages. They would work by using a counterweight system of suspense ballast. At the other end, the arm would be pulled down and a missile placed in its sling. When reels the arm would swing up launching the missiles through the air towards its target. It is believed that it was the first time a was used in England at the siege of 1217.
Nearly half a century would pass before Dover was laid to siege again in 1265. This time it was during a period we now know as the Second Barons War. The barons, once again, were unhappy with the King (Henry III, a now grown man) and had risen up against him. The man who led the rebellious barons was a man Simon de Montfort. He had managed to capture the King and his son Edward and became the de facto ruler of England but things began to go against him. Edward, the king’s heir managed to escape from captivity in 1264 and this prompted Simon’s wife, Eleanor the king’s sister to flee to Dover for better security and to hold sway over the Cinque Ports2]
During the battle of Evesham, on 4 August 1265 Simon and their eldest son, Henry . Rather than begging for mercy or even attempting to flee, Eleanor stayed at Dover and tried to keep hold of her position. She had even planned for a that Edward would want control of Dover. She has a siege engine and engineer brought to the castle. While this she also managed to get her surviving son Richard over to France for safety.
What made Eleanor eventually hand over Dover to her nephew was not the fact that he had taken Dover but due to some knights, only 14, who were imprisoned at Dover at the time escaping, and with the help of some of the garrison soldiers managed to take control of Dover’s great keep and harass Eleanor from there. Eleanor had attackers from outside and from within, enough for anyone to give up. She negotiated a settlement with her nephew and was allowed to head to the continent. She would become a nun at in France and would pass away in 1275.
Dover would not be under attack again. It continued to be a magnificent fortress, which stood proud against the backdrop of the White cliffs. It would not really come into prominence again until just over 600 years later when once again England was at war with France only this time rather than being under attack, Dover would be a base base for and in the 20th century the hub of Operation Dynamo in the Second World War.
Find out more about Dover in part two – Deeper underground coming soon.
Today Dover Castle is managed but English Heritage and is open daily to the public, including the medieval tunnels that Hubert de Burgh created. For more information and their opening times please visit their website:
The Houses of Parliament – a UNESCO heritage site and seen by millions every year. It is the home of the English government and where the decisions of the country are made. The current building covers 5 acres and has 1,100 rooms. Did you know that it’s official title is the Palace of Westminster and that its history goes back to pre 1066?
The king, newly crowned, the day before his coronation, shall be brought forth in royal robes and shall ride from the Tower of London to his Palace of Westminster with his head uncovered, being accompanied on horseback by his temporal lords, his nobles, the commons of London, and other his servant (the Ancient form of the Coronation of Kings and Queens of England)
Since the coronation of Harold Godwinson in 1066, nearly all of the monarchs of England the same route and been crowned in Westminster Abbey. After the ceremony, they would head over to the Royal Palace of Westminster, to have a large banquet.
The Palace would have its beginnings with Canute, a Danish King who ruled England in 1016-35. He first established a Palace in the area we now know as Westminster. His Royal Palace was further developed by Edward the Confessor when he decided to build a large abbey and wanted to live nearby. It was the building of the new Abbey and Palace, which would elevate Westminster to the status of the primary royal residence of the monarch.
We do not know much of what Edward the Confessors Palace would have looked like. We know he would have had a great hall and private chambers. We can gain a small glimpse from an image of him in the Bayeux tapestry. His Palace was completely demolished to make way for a larger one.
The first major change to take place at the Palace since the conquest of William the Conqueror in 1066 was by his son William Rufus. He was responsible for building the great hall that still exists. A great hall is an important element of any noble residence. Williams Rufus’ Great Hall was really something to see. Even today, one stands in the hall in complete awe of the beauty and the power it emits.
Today it is the oldest building on the estate and almost in its original form. The roof was replaced in 1394 and is the largest hammer-beam roof in northern Europe – 20.7m by 73.2. The hall itself is 240 feet long by 67.5, with walls 6.5 thick. Inside one can see the beautiful roof along with a number of statues of kings dated from 1385. Much of the stonework on display dates from the 19th century.
There have been a number of events taking place in the great hall from marriage feasts, meetings of parliament and state trials. The majority of great events in medieval Westminster would usually be marked by a state banquet. The first would be in 1099.
The banquet in the medieval sense was a means of displaying the great wealth and importance of the monarch. All of their servants would be on display with much pomp and ceremony. The food would be decorated with gold and served on expensive plates accompanied by playing throughout. It was also for the monarch to show their status and generosity. During the reign of Henry III, a number of feasts for the poor would be held in the hall In 1237, 6000 of the poor were invited into the hall to eat and drink to celebrate the Queen’s coronation. Ten years later, more were invited over the Christmas period to feast and be warm.
In 2006, remains of the King’s Seat and table used in the hall were found during some archaeological work. This seat and table were not only an indication of the king’s also the power of the law. have used the table include Henry V, Richard III, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Originally made of wood and later of Purbeck marble, placed in a fixed position, it became a symbol of royal authority and judgement.
Under Henry Palace would become a royal hub of activity and status. He would add royal apartments, including the painted chamber, which took 60 years to paint. Originally known as the Kings Chamber, the Painted Chamber was a sight to see in the Palace. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in a from and accounts, we can gain an understanding of its decor which took so long to complete. There are two ceiling panels located at the British Museum, which once were in the Chamber, and there are paintings by Charles Stohard. We also know that biblical paintings were on the wall, with a canopied bed of state and a painted scene of Edward the Confessor.
As well as being the home of kings, the Palace of Westminster would also become the home to Parliament. Parliament would have its beginnings at the palace. It can be said that the first instance of a parliament, being held, was in 1295 when Edward I summoned the Model Parliament at Westminster. It was the first time that those of the Representative Assembly were elected rather than nominated.
Another important building of the Palace was St. Stephens Chapel. It was the first to be built in England in the perpendicular Gothic style (final gothic phase in England. late 14-early 16th century. A style with strong vertical lines, ornate roofs, vaulting and large windows.) and was built at the request of Edward I. He was also trying to out show the French king Louis IX and wanted his chapel to rival that of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. St. Stephens Chapel had three master masons over its time of creation and development, these men were called Michael of Canterbury, Thomas of Canterbury, and William Ramsey. The roof vault was added in the 1320s and the painting of the chapel was by Hugh of St. Albans.
It was a two-storey structure with St Stephens above at St Mary’s undercroft below and would be built in a number of stages between the years 1292-1363. The buildings accounts for its construction still exist today and can be seen at the National Archives and give an idea of the many people who worked on the chapel.
Later, it became but the dimensions of still kept, in addition to studs on the floor showing where the and the chair, would have been placed. St Stephens Hall would be the location where King Charles I tried to arrest five members of parliament before the outbreak of and where William Wilberforce would argue against slavery.
St Mary’s undercroft, situated below is still in existence today. It was called such to distinguish it from the small chapel of St Mary Le Pew upstairs in the Palace. It has a lower ceiling and was much darker than the chapel above. Aside from a number of services, its main use was for burials. There are at least twenty people in the records who asked to be buried in St Mary’s undercroft including William Lyndwood (adviser to the King and Bishop of St Davids, Wales) who is buried in the walls.
Another building, which is still in existence is that of the Jewel Tower. Today it stands alone, nearly hidden from many in the shadow of the abbey it was once a working building charged with housing the Kings personal treasure of precious stone, gems and silverware
The Jewel Tower is an L shaped three-storey building built of Kentish ragstone and was completed in 1365 by Henry Yevele a famous architect of his day. The window embrasure and a door on the second floor still survive from the medieval period. In 1621, it housed government documents and in 1869 it was an official weight and measurement office.
“The tower was in other words, an office as well as a treasure house and its day to day workings may not have been very unlike those which we know from the black book of the household of Edward to have been followed at the jewel house in the tower of London (English 2011. p8)
The Palace would have two main courtyards – the Old Palace Yard and New Palace yard and along with Westminster Hall, these places would be witness to trails and executions in the Palace walls. The Hall, as previously mentioned was used for state trials. Historical figures such as William Wallace, Thomas More, Guy Fawkes and King Charles I were all placed on trial within the hall before being sentenced to death. Guy Fawkes and those tried with him would later be executed in the Old Palace-yard. In 1618, Walter Rayleigh was executed there and buried in the nearby St Margaret’s Church. Today the statue of Richard the Lionheart marks the site of the yard. Originally, Old Palace Yard was actually a place of peace and meditation. It connected the Palace with that of the Abbey, such a contrast from one period to the next.
There were many alterations to the Palace over time by a number of Sir Christopher Wren and John Soane. 1690s was to maintain the Kings Palaces, including that of Westminster. He was responsible for lowering the height of the Queens Hall and changed the interior to give it a neo-classical style. He felt the medieval stone looked outdated.
John Soane’s involvement with the Palace came in 1791 when he was appointed Clerk of Works for Westminster, Whitehall and St. James’s. However, this ended in 1799. His second involvement with Westminster came twenty years later when he became an Attached Architect to the Palace and was asked to add temporary galleries to the House of Lords for the trial of Queen Caroline. He would also build a brand new Royal Entrance from Old Palace Yard to the House of Lords with a Gothic arcade and grand Scala Regia, a decorated royal gallery with columns in addition to a new library next to the Painted Chamber.
Alas, the medieval palace is no longer in existence except for Westminster Hall, St. Mary’s undercroft and some of the cloisters. As with a number of Royal old buildings a fire would be the culprit for destroying the Palace and what that did survive (aside from what has just been mentioned) was demolished later to make way for the new Palace.
By the 18th century, the Palace was considered inadequate for its function as a home to Parliament. It was a mixture of buildings and additions all linked with lanes and corridors in a mixture of styles. For some, it was a maze of rooms and structures. Many had planned to rebuild it was never actioned until fate made that decision for them.
In 1834 when some workmen were disposing of the exchequer tally panelling caught alight and fire took hold. This was not the first fire to take would be responsible for utterly destroy the Palace. A fire in 1263 destroyed the original interior of the painted chamber, and then another in 1298 laid much of the Palace to waste. In 1512 the residential part was burnt out, it was this that led Henry VIII to eventually move the principal royal residence to Whitehall.
With all these fires one would think caution would have been taken. There were even reports highlighting the concern of what a fire would do. One of these reports was signed by 14 architects, including John Soane. Still, the burning of the tally sticks was allowed to happen and the fire spread, allowing their predictions to come into existence. It would be the largest conflagration in London, aside from the Great Fire in 1666 and the Blitz.
Although destroyed it was not the end of the Palace of Westminster, from the embers it would rise like a phoenix from the ashes once more. This time in a Gothic style by Charles Barry. Next week we will find out all about the new Palace of Westminster and its iconic role in English politics.
Commack, P (1981) Westminster Palace and Parliament. Fredrick London.
English Heritage (2011) Jewel Tower English Heritage: London
Westminster Abbey – a symbol of power, of the Church and of London itself. It is where all English monarchs have been anointed since 1066, the location of royal weddings and has over 3,300 people buried within its walls. This week I want to tell you more about this beautiful building and its role.
To begin Westminster Abbey is not an abbey or even a cathedral. Technically Westminster Abbey is just a very large church and is designated as a royal peculiar, meaning it is under the control of the Monarch since 1560. There are a number of other royal peculiars within Britain, with five in London, including the Queens Chapel at St James Palace.
Westminster Abbey was built at the request of Edward the Confessor on the site on what is believed to have already been a religious house. The current abbey was completed in 1090 although it has had many alterations and additions over time. It was one of the richest religious houses of its day and one of the grandest. This was probably why Edward the Confessor built his new Palace of Westminster alongside it and why Harold Godwinson, his successor, and all monarchs since (bar two) was crowned within the Abbey.
The Royal Coronation has followed the same order of service laid down since this time. It is listed in the manuscript Liver Regalis Cosmati. The Coronation service is organised by the Earl Marshall (officer of State) who has authority over all matters regarding the ceremony and holds the Abbey keys while it is made ready. The essential elemennts of the Coronation – the procession, oath, anointing, and investiture can be traced back to AD973.
The night before a coronation the royal regalia is brought from the Tower of London and kept in the Jerusalem Chamber overnight. On the day of the ceremony it is then moved and placed onto the High Alter and the Imperial State Crown is taken to the altar in St Edwards Chapel.
Out of the 3,300 tombs within the Abbey, one tomb stands out amongst them all. A tomb of one, who represents many. It is the Grave of the Unknown Warrior – A haunting tribute to those fallen soldiers of the First World War.
Along with coronations and burials, the Abbey is also the site for a number of English royal wedding ceremonies. A tradition, which began from the royal weddings, was the leaving of the Royal Wedding bouquet on the Grave of the Unknown Soldier. It was begun by the Queens mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon when she married Albert Windsor, (King George IV) in 1923 as she made her way to the ceremony.
Elizabeth’s brother Fergus had died fighting in 1915 and she wanted to pay her respects to him, and to all of the individuals who died in the conflict. Most royal weddings since have followed this tradition including Catherine Middleton to Prince William, Meghan Markle to Prince Harry and most recently Princess Eugenie to Jack Brooksbank.
In the grave, is a body of an unknown soldier brought over from France and buried at the Abbey on 11th November 1920. Within the tomb also lies soil from France and it is topped with a slab of black marble from Nasmur. It is the only grave or memorial which is never walked on in the Abbey.
The Abbey is also home to what is believed to be England’s oldest door. Dated in August 2005, the door dates back to the time of Edward the Confessor, which makes it over 1000 years old. Made from oak it leads into Chapter House from the Abbey Cloisters.
As well as the main oak, one of the original iron straps still survives which also have skin trapped beneath it. The skin would have been used to cover the door. The specialist has also been able to identify other lost elements of the door by studying the fixing holes and other scars from the door. This enables the specialist to gain an idea o the doors original appearance, minus the paint (which no trace remains)
The abbey is built in the Romanesque style and was later adapted to Gothic. Romanesque churches usually have semi-circular arches, barrel vaults with few windows to provide support; they have side aisles and galleries with a large tower over the nave and thick walls. The later Gothic style, which was adopted by Henry III, would have the characteristics of pointed arches with ribbed vaulting, rose windows and flying buttresses and a geometric pattern. He commissioned three master masons to oversee the redesign of the new abbey – Henry of Reyns, John of Gloucester and Robert of Beverly. The new design was heavily influenced by the new cathedrals being built such as Reims and Amiens in France. The Abbey has the highest Gothic vault in England, which is nearly 102 feet.
Included in the new design was a spacious area near the high altar and the quire where coronations could take place. It gives the feeling of a ‘theatre’ like space. The walls were originally covered in fine paintings of religious scenes including two depicting St Thomas and St Christopher (only discovered in the 1930s)
St Margaret’s Church
Within the Abbey’s shadow lies another smaller church but still beautiful in design and nearly as old as Westminster itself. St Margaret’s church was originally built so that the monks of the Benedictine Westminster Abbey could worship in private. Those who came to hear mass would usually disturb the Monks. The church was then used by the local people to receive the sacraments leaving the monks uninterrupted.
Built around the 11th century, the Church and the Abbey have had a partnership. The first church on the site was Romanesque in style, similar to the first abbey. It was later redesigned on the orders of Edward III in the style of perpendicular. At the end of the 15th century, it was completely rebuilt as it got into a state of disrepair. The new church was built by Robert Stowell and consecrated in 1523, and has essentially stayed the same ever since.
The Church was exempt from the control of the Bishop of London and outside the diocese of Canterbury until 1840. Today it is under the ecclesiastical authority of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey, bringing it full circle to its beginnings.
Although living under the shadow of the Abbey, St Margaret’s has had a small number of notable burials under its roof. William Caxton who was England’s first printer was buried at the church in 1491 and is commemorated in a window, so too is Sir Walter Rayleigh who was buried there after his execution at Old Palace Yard in 1491. There is also a window in the east of the church from 1509 commemorating the betrothal of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon.
Both St Margaret’s and the Abbey are open to visitors today. Please check their website for opening times and admission charges. They are both places I recommend visiting and both have histories intertwined with one another.
The Abbey has many beautiful artefacts’ and tombs to see from some of the Tudors in the Ladies Chapel, memorials to famous writers in poets corner, the RAF chapel, the Cosmatic Floor in front of the altar laid down in 1268 and the Coronation chair made in 1300.