Case Study of Westminster Abbey


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History and Theory

Historical Building Assignment


Westminster Abbey (also known as ‘The Collegiate Church of St Peter’) located in the City of Westminster, London is the chosen building for this assignment. The Westminster Abbey is a cathedral in the Gothic architecture form and has series of rebuilt a number of times since 624. The reference books utilised for this purpose are (1) Project Gutenberg’s Historical Description of Westminster Abbey (by Jas. Truscott and Son), (2) The History and Treasures of Westminster Abbey (by Lawrence E. Tanner) and (3) The Rough Guide to London (by Rob Humphreys).

Source 1: Project Gutenberg’s Historical Description of Westminster Abbey

The Project Gutenberg’s Historical Description of Westminster Abbey was written by anonymous writers from the company called Jas. Truscott and Son and was published on 27th October 2012. Seeing that the book was published in 21st century while the building was built centuries ago, the information might be tainted by the architects in the 21st century. The prologue of the book called Project Gutenberg’s Historical Description of Westminster Abbey precisely describes the history dating back to the first construction of the Westminster Abbey which held in 624 (as shown in the photograph above) until the present construction (as shown in the photograph below).

From the death of Henry VII till the reign of William and Mary, no care was taken to repair or preserve the ancient church. By the robberies made upon it by Henry VIII, and the ravages it sustained during the unhappy civil commotions, its ancient beauty was in a great measure destroyed; nor did their Majesties go about to restore it, till it became an object of parliamentary attention, and till a considerable sum was voted for that purpose only. This vote being passed, Sir Christopher Wren was employed to decorate it and give it a thorough repair, which that able architect so skilfully and faithfully executed, that the building is thought at this day to want none of its original strength, and to have even acquired additional majesty by two new towers

[figure 1]

The quote, above, is the example of the archives in the book that records people who were responsible for the well-being of the Abbey, the designs and the events. The book is very descriptive about the way it was built and the architectural designs of the Abbey such as vaulting, buttresses, clerestory windows etc.

Every chapter in the book explains the history of the chapels in the Abbey and lists every part along with the mention of specific masons, sculptors and the tomb makers. A list of the people who are buried in every chapel also shows the plan of the chapel representing their tombs/sculptures. It is interesting to see the description of each tomb explaining the specific appearance, how the tombs were designed and for what reason.

“GRACE SCOTT.- Affixed to the adjoining pillar is a neat tablet, on which is this inscription:- ‘Grace, eldest daughter of Sir Thomas Mauleverer, of Alterton Mauleverer, in Yorkshire, Bart., born 1622, married to Colonel Scott, a member of the Honourable House of Commons, 1644, and died February 24, 1645: “He that will give my Grace but what is hers, must say her death has not made only her dear Scott, but Virtue, Worth, and Sweetness, widowers.””

[figure 2]

I believe that the book of “Project Gutenberg’s Historical Description of Westminster Abbey” is aimed at the people who want to know the meaning of the building and possibly aimed at the historians who want to know the names of the people who are buried in this magnificent building. Although there are not enough photographs for the reader to create an imagination from the book, illustrations of the plans in the Abbey convinces the reader to visit the building and then use the plans to direct the reader to the tombs.

Source 2: The History & Treasures of Westminster Abbey

On the other hand, The History and Treasures of Westminster Abbey written by Lawrence E. Tanner and published almost 60 years ago in 1953. The author was appointed as the Keeper of the Monuments in Westminster Abbey allowing him to tour the Abbey at will and base his research from the documents on the grounds. He also had access to the Dean of the Westminster Abbey who helped Tanner in the compilation of the book. As there was a tradition of the outgoing Deans to enlighten and pass valuable information to their successors, this hierarchy allowed Tanner to benefit from the information dating back to the first appointed Dean of Westminster Abbey. For these reasons, the information about the history of Westminster Abbey may be more reliable.

“As Keeper of the Muniments, Mr Tanner has had access to a collection of documents that surpasses in range and interest that of any other great church in this country. The fruits of his research have been skilfully used to enrich and enliven his narrative, and the result is a book which will be with pleasure and profit by all who wish to learn something of the story of the Collegiate Church of St. Peter in Westminster, commonly called The Abbey.”

[figure 3]

Each chapter in the book represents the era of the Westminster Abbey dating from Henry III to Elizabeth II and also the book contains 80 exclusives photographs by Harold White, 50 studies of detail R.P. Howgrave-Graham, and more than 40 other illustrations. Those photographs dedicate the interiors of the Westminster Abbey at each era during from Henry III to Elizabeth II and also the plans of how the building was built.

I believe that the book “The History and Treasures of Westminster Abbey” is aimed at people who are studying Westminster Abbey as a reference of the history as well as an illustration of Gothic architecture. The historical photographs of previous construction of the Abbey in such eras also provide a glimpse of how certain aspects of the Abbey have evolved over time.

Source 3: The Rough Guide to London

With two historical references, I chose The Rough Guide to London written by Rob Humphreys in the courtesy of Rough Guides and was published as the ninth edition on January 2012 as the third reference book to highlight what areas of the Abbey are worth visiting and why. The book is written as a guide to tour visitors around London as it contains all of the historical buildings including Westminster Abbey. Although it doesn’t describes as much as the other books listed on this essay but for its purpose of the book is to interest the tourist/reader with the short descriptions around the city of London and draw the attention to them so they can visit the historic buildings.

In addition to a description of the history and sections of The Westminster Abbey, the book also contains information about the guided tours, services, opening times, ticket prices, the website, the nearest station, the location, and short description about the history, written statement about the each part of the Westminster Abbey, photographs and the museum. The paragraph below is an excellent representation of the way the book attracts the reader’s attention and forces him to visit this exceptional architectural monument.

“The House of Parliament dwarfs their much older neighbour, Westminster Abbey, which squats awkwardly on the western edge of Parliament Square. Yet this single building embodies much of the history of England: it has been the venue for every coronation since the time of William the Conqueror, and the site of just about every royal burial for some five hundred years between the reigns of Henry III and George II. Scores of the nation’s most famous citizens are honoured here, too – though many of the stones commemorate people buried elsewhere – and the interior is cluttered with literally hundreds of monuments, reliefs and statues.”

[figure 4]


As the internet appears to have become the first location for people interested in history as well as architecture, it is slightly disappointing that the one of the key sources on the internet while providing very accurate information, lacked the visual aspect of the building. As there were no pictures, it is difficult for the reader to create a mental image of the Abbey especially if he cannot visit the building itself. This also leaves the reader wondering if the facts are true or not.

The paperback book which is found in few libraries mainly in the city of London, The History and Treasures of Westminster Abbey appears to provide much more evidence through pictures. However, there’s another disadvantage as the people cannot access this book if they are far away from the city of London. Also the reader gets a feeling that the number of photographs and the size seems to over-take the amount of the writing in the book.

Finally for the last book, the Rough Guide to London is obviously targeted at the tourist who wants to visit the historical buildings such as Westminster Abbey so the information is limited only for the tourist’s interest.


I have chosen the book from each source (internet, book and a journal) to analyse the difference in the literature written by those authors. The Project Gutenberg’s Historical Description of Westminster Abbey was found from the internet ( The History and Treasures of Westminster Abbey was found in the library of University of Westminster School of Architecture, while the Rough Guide to London was found in Waterstones and used as the journal.


Page 1: photograph, hjjanisch, (2010), Westminster Abbey [ONLINE]. Available at: [Accessed 09 November 13].

Page 2: photograph, Jas. Truscott and Son, (2012), Westminster Abbey [ONLINE]. Available at: [Accessed 09 November 13].

Page 2: figure 1, Jas. Truscott and Son. (October 27, 2012). Project Gutenberg’s Historical Description of Westminster Abbey. Available: Page 4, Paragraph 2, [Accessed 9th November 2013].

Page 3: figure 2, Jas. Truscott and Son. (October 27, 2012). Project Gutenberg’s Historical Description of Westminster Abbey. Available: Page48, Paragraph 2, [Accessed 9th November 2013].

Page 3: photograph, David Levene, (2013), Westminster Abbey [ONLINE]. Available at: [Accessed 09 November 13].

Page 4: figure 3, Lawrence E. Tanner (January 1953). The History and Treasures of Westminster Abbey. 1st ed. Westminster: Pitkin. Page 7, Paragraph 3, Line 6-16.

Page 5: figure 4, Rob Humphreys (1995). The Rough Guide to London. 9th ed. London: Rough Guides Limited. Page 53, Paragraph 2.


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