Friday, August 19, 2011

London: Westminster Abbey

And so it finally came to the last week of my journey. I chose to spend it in London as I hadn't really spent much time there. I found a cheapish hotel across the road from King's Cross tube station and parked myself there for the week. It's not the most upmarket area but you get what you pay for I suppose. The 91 bus stops right outside and goes in to Trafalgar Square so getting around was easy enough. I preferred to take the bus rather than the tube because I like to see where I'm going. The downside to the buses is, however, that they can get stuck in traffic.

Double decker

Anyway....being a tourist in London is easy because there's so much to see.
I started with Westminster Abbey.

Westminster Abbey

No photography allowed inside unfortunately. That's a shame because the abbey is full of interesting bits and pieces. There are 17 monarchs buried there for a start. It's actually very cluttered inside I thought: tombs and memorials everywhere. There was one large tomb, I don't know whose though, which featured an effigy of the person on a kind of four poster bed with the whole thing being carried on the shoulders of four (or possibly six) life-sized kneeling men. They appeared to be carrying whoever it was right into a wall. There aren't just kings and queens buried there: Geoffrey Chaucer, Oliver Cromwell, Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Handel, Charles Dickens, David Livingstone, Kipling, Thomas Hardy, Tennyson, Laurence Olivier plus a whole host of politicians, military men, writers, etc. Poet's Corner has many memorials to poets and other writers, such as Shakespeare; all along the walls and on the floor of that particular area. They're not all buried there but it's become tradition to place a memorial in the abbey. The Shrine of Edward the Confessor (died 1066 and the first monarch to be buried in the abbey) was closed off due to its fragile condition. I felt a bit sorry for Anne of Cleves: amidst all the pomp and finery of other tombs and memorials she just has her name inscribed, very plainly, on a small section of a wall down near floor level. The whole thing is about the size of the front (or back) of her coffin which, presumably, is in the wall itself. Poor girl.
I managed to surreptitiously snap a few pics inside but they're all at wonky angles with even wonkier focus. This is probably the best of them but it doesn't really show what the abbey is really like.

Westminster Abbey

I had a chat with one of the abbey officials on duty about why photography is not allowed. He told me it was down to a decision taken by the Dean and Chapter but couldn't give me their reasons. I told him I thought it was a selfish decision, wanting to keep it all for themselves. It's all about the money really - buy the postcards! This is on top of Westminster Abbey being the most expensive church in the country to enter: 16 pounds a pop if you don't mind. (I had a London Pass so didn't actually have to hand over any cash at the door, but that's by the by.)

The cloisters are similarly lined with memorials. I particularly noticed Halley's with the words spread out to the side like a comet's wavy tail. There was another chapel further on with a photographic display of William and Kate's wedding. I was more interested in the medieval frescoes on the walls - most of them had their lower halves worn away from people sitting against them. Clearly no-one, back in the day, thought to protect them for future viewers. Hindsight's a wonderful thing.

All in all though, the Abbey is a fascinating place, full of history. If you stopped and looked at every little thing you could be there all day.

I have more observations on London so stay tuned.


9fragments - CJStrahan said...

Am I right in thinking Henry VIII is not buried there?

Janet said...

I can't wait to see and hear more!