The Garden Guide

Book: London and Its Environs, 1927
Chapter: 5 Westminster Abbey

Ambulatory and Choir Chapels 1

Previous - Next

We now proceed to visit the Chapels, entering by the gate at the end of the south Ambulatory. On the left, outside the gate, is a monument by Bird to Dr. Richard Busby (1606-95), the famous headmaster of Westminster School. In pre-Reformation days many of the ancient tombs in this part of the church were resplendent with painting, gilding, jewels, and brightly coloured mosaics, and careful treatment has recently revived much of this splendour. Precious relics also were often deposited beside them, and to protect these treasures the chapels were railed in and the ambulatory itself always had gates where the present ones now stand. The numerous pilgrims to these shrines probably entered the church by the door in the west aisle of the north transept and were conducted round the chapels in parties much as is done now. On the left, inside the gate, is the so-called tomb of Sebert and his wife. Above is the back of the sedilia in the sanctuary, on which are 14th century paintings of Edward the Confessor, Henry III., and the Annunciation (mutilated). Opposite is the CHAPEL OF ST. BENEDICT (no admission), which is best seen from the south transept. Beside the railing on this side is the alabaster tomb of Simon Langham (died 1376), abbot of Westminster and afterwards archbishop and cardinal; he left his vast fortune to the monastery and much of the later part was built with his bequest. Between this chapel and the next is a small altar-tomb with much defaced mosaics. This covers the remains of four children of Henry III. and four of Edward I., and was probably removed hither from its original position in the Confessor's Chapel in 1272 to make room for Richard II.'s tomb. Opposite we see the outer side of Richard II.'s tomb and then that of Edward III.; the beautiful little brass Statuettes of his children and the enamelled coats-of-arms on the latter should be noticed. The CHAPEL OF ST. EDMUND is separated from the ambulatory by an ancient oaken screen. To the right, inside, Williamde Valence, Earl of Pembroke (died 1296), half-brother of Henry III. This tomb consists of an oaken coffin and effigy of the deceased, which were formerly coated with metal plates covered with Limoges enamel, remnants of which may still be seen here and there. Edward Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury (died 1617), and his wife; a handsome Jacobean tomb, to accommodate which, however, some of the arcading was destroyed. Farther on, Sir Bernard Brocas (died 1395). Beyond the large monument to Lord John Russell (died 1584), whose infant son is represented at his feet, is that of his daughter Lady Elizabeth Russell (1675-1601), a fine seated figure, the earliest non-recumbent statue in the Abbey. In the floor in front are slabs marking the graves of Edward Bulwer Lytton (1803-73), the novelist, and Lord Herbert of Cherbury (died 1678). In the centre of the chapel are the table tombs of Robert de Waldeby, Archbishop of York (died 1398), the companion of the Black Prince, with a brass representing him in full eucharistic vestments, and of Alianore de Bohun, Duchess of Gloucester (died 1399), in conventual dress as a nun of Barking, the largest and finest brass in the Abbey. Near the east wall is the recumbent figure of the Duchess of Suffolk (died 1559), mother of Lady Jane Grey. Adjoining are the finely modelled but sadly mutilated alabaster effigies, 20+ inches in length, of two children of Edward III. Beside the door into the chapel, John of Eltham (1316-36), second son of Edward II.; this tomb of alabaster is especially interesting for the careful representation of the prince's armour. The CHAPEL OF ST. NICHOLAS has a fine stone screen. On the right of the door, Philippa, Duchess of York (died 1431). In the centre is the fine tomb, by Nicholas Stone (circa 1631), of Sir George Villters (died 1606) and his wife (died 1630), parents of the Duke of Buckingham. The large monument on the south wall, to the Wife and Daughter of Lord Burleigh (circa 1588), and that on the east wall to the Duchess of Somerset (died 1587), widow of the Protector, are good examples of the Renaissance period. Below this chapel is the vault of the Dukes of Northumberland, the only family with right of sepulture in the Abbey. In the ambulatory, opposite the door of this chapel, is the back of Queen Philippa's tomb, with coats-of-arms. Beside it is a bust of Sir Robert Aiton or Aytan (1570-1638), who wrote the earliest known version of 'Auld Lang Syne.' We now pass under Henry V.'s Chantry and ascend the broad flight of steps leading to the Lady Chapel, now always called, after its founder, the Chapel of Henry VII.