The Garden Guide

Book: London and Its Environs, 1927
Chapter: 3 Westminster

Dean's Yard

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The archway immediately to the south of the Westminster Column leads into DEAN'S YARD, once a portion of the Abbey gardens and now surrounded by houses. On the east side is the entrance to Westminster School, or St. Peter's College, the ancient monastic school, referred to as early as 1339, refounded by Queen Elizabeth in 1560, and now one of the great public schools. Visitors are admitted on Saturday afternoon (daily in vacation) on application to the school sergeant at the lodge beside the gateway. The school buildings are built round Little Dean's Yard, on the site of the monks' quarters, relics of which remain. The College Hall dates from Edward III. and was formerly the abbot's refectory. It contains a minstrel gallery, a timbered roof, and oak tables made from the timbers of the Spanish Armada. The Great School Room was the monks' dormitory. Since 1882 the school has incorporated also Ashburnham House, built after 1660 by John Webb, a pupil of Inigo Jones, but named after Lord Ashburnham who occupied it in 1708. It is noted for its fine staircase and panelling, Webb probably built also the school gateway. Westminster School now contains about 260 town-boys, and 68 foundationers or King's Scholars. The boys enjoy certain privileges in connection with the Abbey and are entitled to seats there at coronations. They attend a daily service there. They have also certain rights of admission to the Palace of Westminster. At Christmas the King's Scholars annually perform a comedy of Terence or Plautus, with a topical Latin prologue and epilogue. On Shrove Tuesday 'tossing the pancake' takes place in the dormitory, the boy securing the largest fragment being rewarded with a guinea. The scramble is known as the 'pancake greeze.' The playing-field is in Vincent Square. Nicholas Udall, author of 'Ralph Roister Doister,' the earliest English comedy, was headmaster of Westminster in 1554-56; Dr. Busby in 1640-95; and Vincent Bourne (died 1747), the Latinist, was a master here when Cowper was a pupil. In the long list of famous pupils are the names of Giles Fletcher, Ben Jonson, George Herbert, Cowley, Dryden, Locke, Wren, Cowper, Charles Wesley, Lord Mansfield, Warren Hastings, Gibbon, and Southey. At No. 7 Dean's Yard, on the south side, is the Royal Almonry Office, whence the royal alms are distributed at Easter and Christmas. It has no connection with the Almonry of Westminster Abbey. No ceremony attends any of the distributions except that of the Royal Maundy, which takes place at a service in Westminster Abbey on Maundy Thursday, i.e. the Thursday before Easter. On that day gifts of money (formerly of clothing, provisions, and money) are made to as many poor men and as many poor women as the King has lived years. The Abbey is open to the public, but tickets for the reserved portions must be obtained at the Almonry Office. The name Maundy is usually connected with the first word of the text (Mandatum novum do vobis; John xiii. 34), with which the interesting ceremony begins. At the 'first distribution' each man receives �2 5/ and each woman �1 15/ in lieu of the clothing formerly given. At the 'second distribution' each person receives a red purse containing �2 10/ (�1 to redeem the King s gown, �1 10/ in lieu of provisions) and a white purse containing as many pence as the King is years old, in silver pennies, twopences, threepences, and fourpences. These small silver coins are, with the exception of the threepences, coined only as 'Maundy money.' The purses pass ceremoniously through the hands of the Secretary, the Sub-Almoner, and the Lord High Almoner before reaching those of the recipients. The white linen scarves and the bouquets of the lay officials represent the towels and the sweet-smelling herbs used when the washing of the recipients' feet was part of the ceremony. James II. was the last sovereign that personally took part in the distribution of alms and washing of feet. From 1724 until 1890 the annual distribution took place in the Chapel Royal, Whitehall. On the same side of the square, close by, is the Church House, the most striking part of which is the large red-brick extension behind, built in the Tudor style by Sir A. W. Blomfield (1896 et seq.). In this building meet the Canterbury Houses of Convocation, the House of Laity, and the National Assembly of the Church of England. It is likewise the headquarters of over 50 Church societies. Visitors (daily 10-12 and 2-4; Saturday 10-12) are shown the Great Hall, with its fine timber roof, and the Hoare Memorial Hall. An archway in the south-east angle of Dean's Yard leads to Tufton St., where, at No. 18, is the Royal Library for the Blind. The church of St. Matthew. in Great Peter St., a little to the south-west, has good music.