Monday, March 5, 2018


As part of my 'Above the Underground ' challenge I have now reached Westminster, the 83rd station out of 270 that I have visited. It is the 11th station on the Circle Line travelling anti clockwise from Edgware Road. The station also serves the District and Jubilee Lines. Unlike a number of stations previously visited, Westminster is one station that many of you will have visited. However, I wonder how many of you realised that it is on five different levels. The concourse level is below street level with escalators down to the Circle and District platforms on level two. Below that is the interchange level. The next level down is for the Jubilee line travelling eastbound and finally on the fifth level is the Jubilee Line travelling westbound.

Designed in 1999 by Michael Hopkins when the station had to be rebuilt for the new Jubilee Line. It was shortlisted for the Stirling prize. It is well worth taking a minute out of your travel time to just look at the stacks of escalators amongst the concrete beams and steel tubes.

The station is on the corner of Bridge Street and Victoria Embankment. Above the station, with its entrance on Victoria Embankment is Portcullis House.

This building provides working space and facilities for Members from both Houses of Parliament and their staff. It was officially opened by the Queen in 2001.

When th,e new Jubilee Line was constructed at Westminster tube station it gave an opportunity to clear the corner site and build a new building which was named Portcullis House. It was designed by the same architect who redesigned the tube station, Michael Hopkins. I was fortunate this year to have a look inside during  Open House weekend.

  The inner courtyard is covered by a glass roof at the second floor level. Six columns provide support for the tube station  below and the building above. Many of the features are designed to help with energy saving.

I was allowed to take photos of the atrium but not the upper floor with its meeting rooms. The corridor on the upper floor was filled with paintings of all the previous Prime Ministers and leading members of Parliament. The styles varied greatly from some very modern to the more traditional portrait. Well worth a look if you ever get the opportunity.

I stepped back around the corner to the tube station. As you exit the tube, the first building you see is the Palace of Westminster,to give the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey their official name. The medieval Palace of Westminster began with Canute in the 11th century, followed by William the Conqueror  who made his base here. A royal palace was established by his son, William II (1087-1100). The seat of government was wherever the king placed his seal and so began the long history of the seat of government being Westminster. A fire in 1512 resulted in Henry VIII moving his court to Whitehall Palace but the government remained in Westminster.

The current Parliament building dates from the mid 19th century as another fire in 1834 destroyed most of the Palace of Westminster. The cause of the fire was said to be the burning of two cartloads of tallies (wooden sticks used for tax accounting) being burned in stoves beneath the Lords' Chambers which got out of control.

The Palace was rebuilt in this neo Gothic style by Sir Charles Barry (1795-1860). It took almost 20 years to complete. Currently the building is undergoing a review of its safety. It is expected that Parliament will have to relocate sometime in the next decade whilst a major refurbishment takes place. The cost of the work is expected to total £3.5bn.

Big Ben, the bell inside Elizabeth Tower has already been silenced whilst major repairs to the clock take place. Visitors to London at the moment are only able to see the Tower shrouded in scaffolding.

Only two places survived the fire of 1834 . One was the Jewel Tower and the other was Westminster Hall. The Hall  was completed in 1099 as a place to hold state banquets and for entertainment. It was designed to impress and is still one of the largest undivided medieval spaces in existence. The roof was replaced in 1399 with the hammer beam roof that can be seen today.

Much security surrounds Parliament but it is possible to take a guided tour of the two main chambers  (the House of Commons and the House of Lords) and Westminster Hall, when Parliament is not sitting. No photography is allowed though.

At the opposite end from Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben is Victoria Tower. At a height of 323 ft (98.5m) it was once the tallest square tower and the tallest secular tower in the world.  Built in 1834 to house the records of Parliament, no external scaffolding was used in its construction. Instead materials were hoisted up through the middle of the tower by steam winch.. It was redesigned between 1948 and 1963 to provide 12 floors of air conditioned storage.
Across the road in Abingdon Street gardens is an early bronze sculpture by Henry Moore (1898-1986)  which he donated to the nation in 1967.
"When I was offered the site near the House of Lords for the ‘Two-Piece Knife Edge’ sculpture, I liked the place so much that I didn’t bother to go and see an alternative site in Hyde Park. I remembered as a young student a sculpture called ‘Rima’ by Epstein, a memorial to the poet W.H. Hudson… Six years ago I couldn’t find it when I wanted to show it to a foreigner, which proves how easily one lonely sculpture can be lost in a large park. The House of Lords site is quite different. It is next to a path where people walk and it has a few seats where they can sit and contemplate it, unlike the placing of the very fine equestrian statue of Charles the First, in Trafalgar Square, which, in order to look at closely and appreciate in detail, you have to risk your life in crossing a maze of traffic.” (Henry Moore 1964) . 

Next to Abingdon Street gardens is the Jewel Tower, which also survived the fire of 1834. It was  built around 1365 to house Edward III's treasures, it was known as the 'King's Privy Wardrobe'. Today, the Tower houses a small museum.

Crossing back over the road you enter Victoria Tower gardens, a small triangular park which runs alongside the River Thames. Being next to the Houses of Parliament it is frequently used by the media for interviewing Members of Parliament. Although very small it has three statues/monuments of note in the gardens. Immediately in front of you, as you enter the gardens, is the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the Suffrage movement. She died in 1928, a month before all adult women could finally vote in elections.

Take note of the bronze reliefs on  either side of the statue. One is of her daughter, Christobel Pankhurst (1880-1958) who was also a suffragette.
The other relief is of the prisoners' badge of the WSPU (Women's Social and Political Union), known as the 'Holloway Brooch' designed by Sylvia Pankhurst in 1909.

Just a little further on is the statue of the Burghers of Calais by Rodin.This statue represents 6 citizens of Calais who offered themselves as hostages to King Edward III during the 100 yr war between England and France. The King ordered them to be beheaded but they were saved by the English Queen Philippa. The statue dates from 1895 and can be found in cities throughout the world including Paris, Venice, Washington, Seoul, New York and Canberra.

The Buxton Memorial was erected to commemorate the emacipation of slaves following the 1883 Abolition of slavery act. It was donated by Charles Buxton MP in memory of his father and others who worked together in the struggle for the abolition of slavery in the British Colonies. The memorial was originally in Parliament Square but was moved in 1957 on the 150th anniversary of the 1807 act abolishing Trans Atlantic Slave Trade.

From Victoria Tower gardens I crossed over Millbank to go down Dean Stanley Street which led me into Smith Square.

St John's started life as a church in 1728. It was sold to a charitable trust as a ruin following bombing in WW2 and was restored as a concert hall. Charles Dickens, in Our Mutual Friend, described it as appearing to be 'some petrified monster, frightful and gigantic, on its back with its legs in the air'. It has become known as the footstool.

Looking at it from this angle, it is easy to see  why it is known as the footstool.

Just off St John's Square on Romney Street is the Marquis of Granby pub. It is an historic pub with parliamentary connections. It houses a division bell that still rings today to call MPs back to Parliament.

The area has some of the best examples of Georgian houses in London dating from the early 18th century. Lord North Street dates from the 1720s but what I found more interesting were these rare faded signs from WW2 directing people to the public shelters.

This sign says ' Public Shelters in vaults under pavements in this street'

I believe the shelters are still there but access was blocked up after the war.

I spotted this blue plaque in Barton Street to mark the home of the author and Intelligence Officer T E Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia. When in London Lawrence used to occupy an attic room in this house which at that time was used an an architect;s office, He wrote much of Seven Pillars of Wisdom there during 1919-20. The house is now part of Westminster School.

Round the corner on Cowley Street is this brown brick Georgian house which was home to the actor and director, Sir John Gielgud from 1945  to 1976. The blue plaque was unveiled in April 2017 by Dame Judi Dench, a life long friend and fellow actor.

I then went down Great College Street, turning right through the gated arch into Dean's Yard.

Dean's Yard is a quiet square  with a green at its centre. It is home to the headquarters of the Church of England and Westminster School as well as other buildings attached to Westminster Abbey.
Dean's Yard used to be the playground for the boys of Westminster School before they obtained playing fields in the centre of Vincent Square.

                                                          Gas lamps still light up the Square.

This is the entrance from Dean's Yard into Westminster School. Westminster School is an independent day and boarding school situated within the precinct of Westminster Abbey. It is the only ancient school to remain on its original site in Central London rather than move out of the city as others have done. This is the Upper School with boys from the age of 13 upwards and girls in the sixth form. The School was founded around 1320 when monasteries were urged to support a school. There is evidence from 1371 to suggest that the Benedictine monks of the Abbey provided a charity school for local boys. The school incorporates parts of the original Benedictine monastery dating from 1179. In 1540 Henry VIII  ordered the dissolution of the monasteries but he protected the school by Royal Charter and provided finance for 40 King's Scholars. When Elizabeth I became Queen the patronage continued and she refounded the school with new statutes to select 40 Queen's Scholars.
The school has educated many distinguished pupils such as the writer, Ben Johnson,  the architect Christopher Wren, the philosopher Jeremy Bentham, composer Purcell. In more recent times Andrew Lloyd Webber plus a number of parliamentarians including Prime Ministers.

Once through the gate the pathway takes you to Little Dean's Yard with its surrounding houses. All pupils belong to one of the eleven houses, six of which have boarders as well as day pupils.

There is also a tuck shop just off the Yard and the dungeon which is the sixth form common
One of the first things that greets you in the Yard is this unusual statue of Elizabeth I, designed by an Old Westminster, Matthew Spender. It was commissioned to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the school being refounded by Queen Elizabeth I in 1560.

An original medieval window.

Off Little Dean's Yard is the 17th century Ashburnham House which has been part of the school since 1882. There has been a building on this site since the 11th century and remains of a medieval prior's house have been found. Inside the current house is the beautiful Grand Staircase. Thought to have been designed by Inigo Jones or his pupil John Webb, it has now been attributed to local architect,William Samwell, who is thought to have designed the whole house.  The highlight of the house is the Staircase with its elliptical dome giving the illusion of height.

The garden behind the house was the site of the medieval monks' refectory and was also where early parliamentary meetings of the House of Commons took place. You can see the wall of the Abbey behind the garden.  

Nowadays the garden is used for a variety of social functions as well as housing the school's Fives courts. 'Fives' is a ball game hit by the hand against the walls of the 3 sided court. The game is mainly associated with public schools.

The other side of the garden adjoins the school hall. Above the hall is a sculpture of a phoenix. Erected in the 1950s as a reference to the restoration of the hall after it was destroyed during WW2.  The original  hall was built in the 11th century as a monks' dormitory. Apologies for the poor quality of the photo,  but then it is rising from the ashes!

This is the inside of the school hall (not to be confused with College Hall), known as 'Up school' in Westminster slang. In the 16th century Up School is where all the classes used to be taught and` is where the naming of the year group 'shell' originates. An alcove at the front of the hall is known as the shell and was used for teaching. The year groups are known as Fifth form( corresponding to Year 9 in a state school), then Lower Shell, Upper Shell, Sixth form and Remove.  An iron bar from which a curtain hung divided the 'upper' and 'lower' school. There is still a bar in the hall today which you can just see at the top of the photo. It is over this bar that the tradition of the Greaze takes place on Shrove Tuesday. No-one knows when or why this tradition started but it has existed since at least the 18th century. It begins with the throwing of a reinforced pancake by the cook over the high bar. In the presence of the Dean of Westminster, pupils compete to get hold of the largest piece of reinforced pancake The winner is then presented with a gold sovereign. However, it has to be returned immediately for use the following year.  The pupils are rewarded with a half day's holiday.

I returned to the Yard via Burlington Arch with all its graffiti. One would be wrong to think that these were done by the pupils. They were actually done by stone masons from the Abbey employed by the pupils to engrave their names in the stone.

However, in the 1990s two pupils did chisel their initials into the stone. To ensure they were not discovered before completing the task they timed their chipping away at the stone to coincide with  the chimes of Big Ben.

One very special place I visited was College Hall, the 14th century abbot's state dining hall. Here we have a medieval refectory still fulfilling that purpose today. During term time, this hall, which was built between 1369 and 1376,  is the canteen for the students of the school. Boarders eat breakfast and supper here and some houses lunch here. In the school holidays the Hall reverts back to usage by the Dean of Westminster. The Hall has changed very little over the centuries  other than the disappearance of the opening in the roof which was there to let out the smoke from the central fire below. The octagonal fireplace was constructed for cooking and was still in place until 1847. At the end of the hall are the coat of arms for Trinity College Cambridge and also for Christ Church Oxford, the two favoured colleges for the students. I thoroughly enjoyed my tour of the school, so, many thanks to my friend and guide, Simon.

Next to Westminster School is Westminster Abbey.  Twice a week on Mondays and Fridays  the students start their day with a service in the Abbey. There is a direct passageway from the school into the Abbey passing through the cloisters.

This is one of the public entrances into the Abbey. The Abbey is one of three medieval buildings in London that are still in use today. The others are the Tower of London and Charterhouse. Westminster Abbey has been the setting for every coronation since 1066 and for many other Royal occasions including 16 Royal Weddings. Many of the Monarchs are also buried here including Elizabeth 1 and Mary 1. There is so much to see within the Abbey from the  600 monuments and tablets  to the Coronation Chair in use since at least 1399 and probably earlier. There is a charge to visit the Abbey but you can wander around the cloisters free of charge or if you want to just see inside the Abbey go to one of the services. However, I would recommend the excellent audio tour.

No photography allowed in the Abbey but here are some photos of the cloisters.

On the right hand side as you go into the Chapter House is the oldest door in Britain. Scientists have discovered that it is almost a thousand years old. It is thought the oak door was put in place about 1050 when Edward the Confessor built Westminster Abbey next to his palace at Westminster.

Some of the many memorials in the cloisters.

Great sailors - Captain Cook, Sir Francis Drake and Sir Francis Chichester

                                                                  The Abbey garden with Elizabeth Tower in the background.

The Cellarium cafe just inside the cloisters provided a well needed  cup of tea.

A view of the Abbey from Parliament Square

This is St Margaret's Church next to the Abbey. It seems strange to have a second church on the site but the Abbey was a Benedictine monastery and the monks were disturbed by the people of Westminster who came to hear mass so they built a smaller church where the local people could receive the sacraments and leave the monks in the Abbey undisturbed. The present building, consecrated in 1523 was the third on this site. Since 1614 St Margaret's has been the church of the House of Commons. Windows commemorate Caxton and Milton who worshipped here and Raleigh, who is buried in front of the altar.  After about nine hundred years of service as a parish church for the people of Westminster, St Margaret's was placed under the care of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster by Parliament in 1973.

The sundials on the four faces are a fairly recent addition. They were completed in 1982 and were a gift from Sir Geoffrey de Freitas. The sundials commemorate the Ecumenical Service held in the church on 16 November 1974 for the 20th annual session of the North Atlantic Assembly.

Across from St Margaret's is Parliament Square, the centre of Westminster. From here you have a good view of the Houses of Parliament. Not at the moment , of course, because of the scaffolding.  The Square became  London's first modern traffic roundabout in 1926.  Tube lines run beneath the Square and the authorities do not allow any large festivities or protests to take place due to structural concerns that the grass might open up the cavity leading to the tube line. In future I will walk around the outside of the grassed area!

On the opposite side of the Square is the Middlesex Guildhall, now the Supreme Court.

This is the final court of appeal in the UK for all civil cases and criminal cases (except for Scotland). The court  also plays a role in the interpretation and development of the law. The Court used to be held in the House of Lords but in October 2009 a significant move was made to break from the tradition and to house the court elsewhere. It is now housed in what used to be the Middlesex Guildhall.

It is open to the public when the court isn't sitting.

To the right of the Middlesex Guildhall is the Royal Institute for Chartered Surveyors. This Grade II historic listed building was purpose built in 1899 by Alfred Waterhouse. It is the only Victorian building in the street.

The RICS is a professional  body that accredits professionals within the land, property, construction and infrastructure sectors worldwide.

The  Institute was founded in 1868 and will be celebrating their 150 year anniversary this year.
The Library

Solid oak sealing machine used to emboss the diplomas of RICS members.

One of the best features of the RICS building is the roof terrace with  views over Parliament Square, London Eye and Westminster Abbey

There are eleven statues in the Square of statesmen from around the world as well as the UK. Here is   Nelson Mandela

Sir Winston Churchill's statue faces the Houses of Parliament

and Mahatma Gandhi. As yet there are no statues of women in the Square. However it was agreed in 2017 that a statue of Dame Millicent Fawcett, a prominent leader during the campaign for women's suffrage will be the first statue of a women in Parliament Square. It will be erected sometime this year, the centenary of some women being granted the vote in the UK

From Parliament Square I turned left on to Parliament Street which leads into Whitehall. This is where all the government offices are located.

On the left is the Treasury.

Walk a little further on and you come to King Charles Street. Taking up most of the right hand side of the street is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). The building was designed by the architect George Gilbert Scott and was built between 1861 and 1868. Originally it was home to four separate government depts: the Foreign Office, the India Office, the Colonial Office and the Home Office. In 1968 after a number of mergers the FCO was formed. The Home Office moved to a separate building in 1978. In the 1980s the building was given an 18yr refurbishment.

Durbar Court. Scott designed the new Foreign Office as a 'kind of  National Palace or drawing room for the nation' with the use of rich decoration to impress foreign visitors.

The building is open to the public during  Open House weekend.

The Muses' Stair decorated with goddesses supported by cherubs. The Stair was regularly the centrepiece of elaborate floral displays when banquets were held to mark Queen Victoria's official birthday.

In the middle of Whitehall is the Cenotaph which commemorates the fallen of the two world wars. It was designed by Sir Edward Lutyens in 1919. First constructed in plaster for the Victory March in July 1919 and then rebuilt in stone. It was unveiled on 11th November 1920 as Britain's National Memorial. In 1946 a further inscription was added to the Memorial to commemorate those who died in World War 2. A service of Remembrance is held annually on the Sunday closest to the 11th November attended by the Queen.

Also in the middle of Whitehall is this sculpture to commemorate the Women of World War Two. Over 7 million women volunteered for the armed services and other roles including munitions, factory work, the Land Army and first aid. The monument was partly funded by Betty Boothroyd (Baroness Boothroyd, retired speaker of the House of Commons) when she took part in an episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. The rest of the money was raised by a charitable trust. The monument is a recent addition in Whitehall, unveiled in 2005 by the Queen on the 60th anniversary of the end of World War 2. The  fly-past was by military helicopters flown by all female crews. The memorial is not just for those women who lost their lives in the war but for all those women who contributed to the war effort.

On the other side of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is Downing Street, home to the most senior  British Cabinet Ministers for the last 200 years- the First Lord of the Treasury,ie the Prime Minister and the second Lord of the Treasury, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In 1682 Sir Christopher Wren redesigned the street with a cul-de-sac of 15-20 houses. There are only four of the original houses left. No 10 is the home of the Prime Minister and No 11 is where the Chancellor of the Exchequer lives. The other houses are also used by the government. After the election of 1997 there was a swap, as Tony Blair, the new PM, who had three children moved into the larger, No 11 and Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, who was unmarried at that time, moved into the much smaller No 10. Officially No 10 was still the official residence and workplace of the Prime Minister.

 It was almost 30 years ago that the black gates were erected at the end of Downing Street. Before then it was possible for members of the public to walk past the Prime Minister's home on their way to St James's Park. The gates were installed as protection for the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher against terrorist attacks from the Provisional IRA

Continue along Whitehall and the next building of interest is Horse Guards. This is the official entrance to St James's and Buckingham Palace.

The building is guarded by two mounted cavalry troopers of the Queen's Life Guard.

My favourite place on Whitehall has to be the Banqueting Hall which is just across the road from the Horseguards. Although preceeded by another building it was James I of England and VI of Scotland (1602-25) who decided to replace it with a permanent building. Built of brick and stone and completed in 1609, the new banqueting house had a large hall above  a ground floor basement. It was built to provide a setting for a new and elaborate type of court entertainment - the masque. 

From the outside the Banqueting Hall doesn't look that special but once you enter the large hall and look up  you will see the most magnificent ceiling painted by Peter Paul Rubens in about 1636.

Beneath the great hall is the Undercroft used by James 1 as a drinking den.

On 30 January 1649, Charles I was executed just outside the Banqueting House, on a scaffold especially erected in Whitehall.  He had lost the Civil War, and his enemies decided that he must be executed.
It is said that on the day of his execution it was bitterly cold.  He wore a second shirt, so as not to shiver from the cold, in case it was thought that he was trembling from fear. He was also persuaded to drink a glass of wine so that he would not faint before he reached the block. 
In later years it was used as a chapel but nowadays it is used for concerts and the occasional banquet.

I turned right at Banqueting House down Horse Guards Avenue. This road is dominated by the building on the right.
This eight storey building is home to the Ministry of Defence. The two statues at the front are by Sir Charles Wheeler entitled  'Earth' and 'Water', 'Fire' and 'Air' were to be added later but that never happened. at the end of the road there is a garden separating the building from Victoria Embankment
The green area was once occupied the Whitehall Palace. Walk through the gardens to Victoria Embankment and you will see the New Scotland Yard,. headquarters of the Metropolitan  Police

In November 2016 the Police moved from their headquarters in Broadway, St James's after 49 years. The site was sold for £370 million to be redeveloped into luxury apartments, offices and shops.

The revolving sign was moved to these new smaller premises on Victoria Embankment.

On the riverside of the Embankment is Westminster Millennium Pier. The development of the Pier was funded by the Millennium Commission as part of the Thames 2000 project. It was one of five new piers that opened in 2000.

Next to the Pier is Westminster Bridge. Opened in 1862 this version is the oldest surviving road bridge across the Thames in Central London. It also has the most spans of any bridge over the Thames. In 1970 the bridge was painted green to match the seats in the House of Commons, the part of the Palace of Westminster closest to the bridge. Lambeth Bridge further upstream is painted red to match the seats in the House of Lords. Westminster Bridge was proposed in 1664 but there was much opposition especially from the ferrymen who ferried people all day across the river.George II finally agreed to  the building of a  bridge in 1736.

These ornate octagonal lamps, grouped in threes, were designed by Charles Barry who also designed the Houses of Parliament

On 22nd March 2017, a man drove a car into pedestrians on the pavement injuring more than 50 people killing five. Following the attack concrete and metal security barriers were installed overnight on  June 7th between the road and pavement on three London bridges - Waterloo, Lambeth and Westminster.

I didn't cross the bridge but turned right back to the station. I have hardly walked any distance from the station but have travelled back hundreds of years researching this fascinating area.