Westminster Abbey

Posted on 27th Nov 2012 by ian under Travel Tales | No Comments »

From the Eye to Westminster Abbey and our first drop of rain. It wouldn’t be London without a bit of drizzle and one of the perks of a wheelchair kept us pretty dry – we were able to skirt the queue and go in a separate entrance. I love the Abbey – the building, the history, the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior and the fact that it is a ‘working’ church with several services a day. We sought out the wall inscription of O Rare Ben Johnson (sic) – the contemporary of Shakespeare, poet Ben Jonson, is the only person buried standing up in a wee plot near the inscription. The Unknown Warrior was the last body interred in the Abbey (1920) but there have been ashes laid to rest since then.

The most recent memorial stone in Poet’s Corner belongs to previously mentioned Sylvia Plath’s husband, Ted Hughes (Dec 2011)… right is the house of his birth, on the corner at No 1 Aspinall Street, Mytholmroyd, near Hebden Bridge. On the outside is a blue Heritage Plaque. Hughes was Poet Laureate from 1984 to 1998, the year of his death. Funny to see serendipity take us to his beginning and end.

I love Poet’s Corner – the first one interred was Geoffrey Chaucer in 1400 and since then – Robert Browning, Rudyard Kipling, Samuel Johnson (“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life…”), Alfred Lord Tennyson, Laurence Olivier and Thomas Hardy. When Hardy died, in 1928, his ashes went to Poet’s Corner and his heart buried in the grave of his first wife, Emma in Stinsford.

Charles Dickens is also there – he stipulated in his will that he be buried with no pomp or ceremony and so it was – the grave was dug at night by the Abbey’s Clerk of Works and on the following day, June 14th 1870, at 9.30am a hearse delivered the body and a dozen mourners – clergy, family and close friends, farewelled him in the otherwise empty Abbey.

There is also the grave of ‘Old Tom’ Parr – Thomas Parr died in 1635 at the age of 152 – he saw ten sovereigns on the throne! When it comes to royalty, the rich, royal tombs in the Abbey date back 1000 years but these days the royals opt for a final resting place at Windsor Castle.

Earle Lytton Bulwer LyttonHeading along the Cloisters I thought of Edward Bulwer-Lytton who is buried there and who was related to the Bulwers of Heydon Village.

Edward coined the memorable phrases “the pen is mightier than the sword”, “the great unwashed”, “the pursuit of the almighty dollar” and the immortal opening line, “It was a dark and stormy night.” That one earned him the right to live on in the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest where folk compete to write the worst possible opening line for an imaginary novel. Here is the full opening sentence in Bulwer-Lytton’s novel, Paul Clifford…

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

The 2012 winner was Cathy Bryant from Manchester in England (right)…

As he told her that he loved her she gazed into his eyes, wondering, as she noted the infestation of eyelash mites, the tiny deodicids burrowing into his follicles to eat the greasy sebum therein, each female laying up to 25 eggs in a single follicle, causing inflammation, whether the eyes are truly the windows of the soul; and, if so, his soul needed regrouting.

Sterling work, Cathy! (Chatting with her via email, she seems a delight!)

Cellarium Westminster AbbeyFrom the Cloisters we found the Cellarium (right) for a delightful lunch. In the 14th Century the Benedictine monks stored their food and drink in this cellar and now tastefully refurbished it continues the tradition of offering hospitality. I had the rare roast beef and fine beans with ginger & soy dressing (£9.50).  It was so new it was officially opened two weeks after we were there by Prince Phillip.

To round out the afternoon I enjoyed shooting the breeze with Auckland lad and Rydges Kensington acting GM, Neil Collins, while Annie and Laura hit the High Street Ken for some clothes shopping. Ducking and weaving with aplomb if I do say so myself…