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Our blog has now moved to a new home within our own website. Click here to read the latest posts being added.
British Science Week is in full swing at the moment and is aimed at celebrating science, engineering, technology and maths. To help them with their aim, we have focused today’s post on the scientists buried and memorialised within the Abbey’s walls.
One of the most famous scientists buried within Westminster Abbey is Sir Isaac Newton. Most people know Newton for the famous (and probably false) story of an apple falling on his head, which led to him conceiving the universal law of gravitation. However he contributed so much more to the world of science, mathematics and astronomy which has led to his well-deserved reputation as one of the greatest scientists of all time. His grave and accompanying monument are found in the Nave of Westminster Abbey, and are suitably impressive for this great man
His study and understanding of light, the invention of the reflecting telescope (1668), and his revelation in his Principia of the mathematical ordering of the universe are all represented on this elaborate monument.
Another well-known scientist laid to rest in the Abbey is Charles Darwin. A naturalist and geologist, he is best known for his contributions to evolutionary theory with his famous work The Origin of Species. Although raised as a Christian and planning to become a vicar, his work left him with many questions about his faith and by the end of his life he was an agnostic who believed it was impossible for us to truly know anything of the nature of God. This did not diminish the respect he received from his contemporaries and the Dean of Westminster, George Granville Bradley, was in no doubt that the Abbey should be Darwin’s final resting place.
He was buried in the north aisle of the Nave in Westminster Abbey, not far from Isaac Newton, with a simple grave stone which does not list his great achievements. His family also erected a bronze memorial to him, with a life sized relief bust, in the north choir aisle.
The area in the Nave where Darwin and Newton are laid to rest has become a popular site for the graves and memorials of many eminent scientists, much like Poet’s Corner has for writers. Among those with grave stones and memorial plaques are Paul Dirac, Michael Faraday, Lord Kelvin and James Clerk Maxwell. To find out more about these memorials, you can purchase the book Treasures of Westminster Abbey by visiting our online shop.
Shops have become an integral part of the visitor experience across museums and heritage sites, but it has been a long journey to reach the formats they exist in today. Having recently attended a lecture by Jamie Larkin, a research student from University College London, I have had my eyes opened to the long history of the shops that we take so much for granted.
The beginnings of trading as part of the visitor experience can be traced back to medieval times, when badges and relics were sold at pilgrimage sites. However, it was not until the late 1700s and early 1800s that the concept really originated, with the production of catalogues for museums and galleries. Once we reached the early twentieth century the government pushed for museums to become more accessible to the general public with proper guidebooks to educate them. Following this, institutions such as the British Museum started catalogue stalls within their walls to sell guide books and postcards.
Over the next few decades many of the museums and heritage sites began to expand their offerings as a result of financial struggles. Whilst this change received some criticism, it was welcomed by the public at large and the idea spread due to this public demand. By the mid to late 1970s the gift shop had become a staple part of the visitor experience in places such as the British Museum, the V&A and the National Gallery.
The Westminster Abbey Shop fits into this timeline with its own unique history. By the 1950s there had been various bookstalls selling postcards and guidebooks around the Abbey for many years, but now it was decided that a dedicated shop was needed. The Westminster Abbey Bookshop opened on 26th March 1956 in its current location, originally built as the Chapter Clerk’s office in the 1830s by Edward Blore, the Abbey Surveyor.
Shop interior in the 1950s
In the 1970s the shop expanded its product selection beyond books and postcards and began to stock a wider range of souvenirs.
Shop interior in the 1970s
The shop has had many refits over the years, changing to accommodate a more varied product selection and increased visitor numbers.
Shop interior in the 1980s
Shop interior in the 1990s
The biggest change was in 2004 with the extension of the shop into the basement space of the building next door. This created additional selling space, perfect for cabinets to display a growing range of bespoke jewellery and textiles inspired by the Abbey.
Shop basement extension
In 2006 the shop changed its name from the Westminster Abbey Bookshop to the Westminster Abbey Shop to reflect the changed nature of the range of products on sale. The shop as it is today looks very different to how it began but still serves its original purpose: to support the ministry of the Abbey and to help maintain its fabric through generating profit, and to enhance the experience of the Abbey visitor.
Shop interior from 2009 onwards
Yesterday was the 19th annual World Book Day which is a worldwide celebration of authors, illustrators, books and reading. We celebrated with our staff making their own book recommendations; here is a selection of them:
In light of Her Majesty the Queen’s 90th birthday next month, Shushila has recommended The Queen at 90: A Royal Birthday Souvenir. She feels this book gives an excellent overview of the key events in the Queen’s life alongside some beautiful photographs. The book gives some insight to the highlights of a monarch’s life but also draws attention to the more personal milestones the Queen has achieved, such as her marriage, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Emma has recommended The Crown Jewels: The Official Illustrated History. This book has personal significance for Emma as she used this to research royal jewellery for her art history masters, based on royal portraits. This book provides a comprehensive guide to the Crown Jewels and their transformation through history alongside many stunning photographs. Although it is the result of academic research, the book is accessible to all who wish to learn more about these treasures.
Carly’s recommendation is The Kings and Queens of England: The Biography. Starting from the very origins of the English monarchy this book takes you through every ruler, giving insight into the triumphs and failures they endured during their reigns. Carly recommends it as great book to help you understand the monarchs within the context of their predecessors and successors.
Celebrate your love of reading and explore the rest of our wide selection of books online by clicking here.
In the UK, Mothering Sunday traditionally falls on the fourth Sunday of Lent; this year it is the 6th March. The day has evolved over the years but it is thought it started with the tradition of people travelling to their ‘mother’ church (the main cathedral or church in the area) in the middle of Lent. This was a time when families were reunited as they were often spread far and wide due to children having to work away from home. By the twentieth century the day was no longer widely observed but it was revived, and somewhat re-purposed, by Constance Smith in the 1920s. The daughter of a High Church Anglican priest , she was inspired by the work of Anna Jarvis in the USA who, following the death of her mother, campaigned to get a national day to commemorate and appreciate mothers and all that they do. She was successful, and in 1914 the second Sunday in May was declared to be Mother’s Day. Constance Smith brought this same sentiment to the UK, and combined it with the traditions previously observed during Lent to create Mothering Sunday. Although his has now become more of a secular holiday, and is often referred to as Mother’s Day much like its American counterpart, the message is still the same: this is a time to give thanks and appreciation to our mothers.
Showing your gratitude for all the help they have given you in life is an important part of this day, and to help you we have a lovely range of cards online and in store.
To make the card more personal, it is nice to take some time to create a special message detailing the things about your mother that you are most grateful for.
If you would also like to buy a gift for your mother, try to find something she would really like or enjoy: something she would not normally buy for herself, which feels like a real treat. This could be as simple as some luxury biscuits, or more elaborate like a piece of beautiful jewellery.
For more inspiration please visit our collection of mother’s day gift ideas online.
Today marks the 500th anniversary of the consecration of Henry VII’s Lady Chapel in 1516. Henry had started the process of building this magnificent building back in 1503 but sadly, as he died in 1509, he never lived to see its completion.
The chapel’s intricate style stands in contrast to the rest of the Abbey’s earlier plain Gothic style. One of the great architectural triumphs of the Lady Chapel is its spectacular fan vaulted ceiling with hanging pendants. Not only are they are pieces of structural brilliance, they are also a thing of beauty due to their intricate carvings. The chapel serves as a monument to the Tudor dynasty as the heraldic badges of the Tudor Rose and Beaufort Portcullis are found throughout the decorative details of the building.
Henry VII’s Lady Chapel is touched on in many of the books that we sell, but it is only in our publication written by James Wilkinson that the full history of the building is explored. His book covers the building’s journey right through to its modern restoration work, and provides a comprehensive guide for those left in awe by a visit to the Lady Chapel.
An architectural treasure such as the Lady Chapel provides plenty of inspiration for products: we are spoilt for choice when it comes to bringing the intricate details of the building to life within our product range. The most recognisable feature of the chapel is the ornate ceiling design, the inspiration for our satin devoré scarf . The devoré technique uses a chemical process to create a semi-transparent pattern against more solidly woven fabric, the pattern here the ornate fan design of the ceiling.
We have also taken inspiration from the heraldic decorations that are so prominent in the chapel, such as the Tudor Rose. The motif was used heavily by Henry VII to show the importance of the Tudor dynasty and reiterate the legitimacy of his claim to the throne (which had been debated throughout the War of the Roses). We have replicated this heraldry in our Tudor Rose Necklace and Charm in sterling silver.
With love in the air, choose the perfect present for your special someone from our gift collection. Be inspired by our Shakespearean themed gifts, elegant accessories and exclusive jewellery.
For the literature lover in your life we have a wonderful selection of gifts centred around the “Immortal Bard’s” words on love.
For the traditionalist, we have wonderful hardback editions of William Shakespeare’s sonnets. These beautiful verses have provided some of the best known love poetry in the English language; for example Sonnet 116 which features the line “love is not love, which alters when it alteration finds… Oh no it is an ever fixéd mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken.”
For a more quirky gift, we have kiss cut magnet sets or earthenware mugs illustrated with some of Shakespeare’s famous love quotes from both his sonnets and his plays.
If you are looking for a more personal gift, we have a wide range of elegant accessories to suit both ladies and gentlemen.
Our selection of silk scarves are all made in the UK, with designs taken from Westminster Abbey’s beautiful architectural features including the High Altar and the Henry VII Lady Chapel ceiling. Within our tie collection we have a range of designs to suit any gentleman; with something for the music lover to the king of the castle, you will be sure to find the perfect gift.
Jewellery is considered the most romantic gift, and is sure to show someone how much they mean to you.
We have an extensive collection of jewellery, from beautiful designs that bring to life the colours of stained glass to exclusive pieces inspired by the Abbey’s many treasures.
For gentlemen, we have cufflinks based on motifs such as St Edward’s patonce cross, alongside complementary items including a tie clip and tie pin. For ladies, we have beautiful necklaces, earrings and bracelets inspired by designs such as the High Altar mosaic, which can be worn separately or as a lovely set.
We are in no doubt that a visit to our online shop will provide you with the perfect gift idea for your special someone.