Battlefield History Tours

Battlefield History Tours
Incorporating History and Heritage tours

Cathedrals and Abbeys of England on 18 September 2019


This was a very big day for us with the visits to both Westminster Abbey and then to St Paul's Cathedral, but, all went well and we finished the day with a final dinner together before we head off on our various ways in the morning.

But first, today. We caught 2 cabs from our hotel to Westminster Abbey and while chatting to Gary, the driver, our conversation drifted to the Bomber Command Tour and after a while he said, "I have a book in the boot about aircrew coming down in the water and being rescued, I would like you to have it". So, I now have a new book to read in the plane on the way home!!

Westminster Abbey, the burial place of Kings and where the Monarch is crowned. It is difficult to exaggerate the significance of its place in National life. There was a church on the site in 310 but it was a community of Benedictine Monks who first settled here by S Dunstan in 960 but the abbey and collegiate church of Westminster owes much to the re-foundation by King Edward the Confessor, even though none of his church is now visible above the ground. St Edward (as he later became) rebuilt the abbey in Romanesque style, completing in 1065. He himself died a few weeks later, his shrine is still at the heart of the Abbey.

The church as we know it is largely the work of King Henry III, who began the demolition of the eastern part of the Norman Church in 1245 and set about rebuilding in the Early English style. Work went on through the decades with many parts designed and built by famous architects such as Christopher Wren. One cannot begin to catalogue the tombs and memorials which find their place in this remarkable building. The Western Nave was the last part of the mediaeval building to be completed in 1403. Immediately inside the west door are the Grave of the Unknown Warrior, placed there after the First World War, and a memorial to Winston Churchill. He of course is buried in St Martin's Church, Bladon alongside other members of the Churchill family, just outside Blenheim Palace grounds. Alongside Kings stand memorials to countless literary figures in Poet's Corner; Sir Isaac Newton and other great scientists are remembered in the naïve and then politicians and soldiers complete the catalogue of the makers of English history.

After a remarkable visit to Westminster Abbey we jumped the Tube and alighted near St Paul's Cathedral. The first Church of St Paul was established in 604, was wooden and destroyed and rebuilt many times before a Norman church was constructed on the same site 500 years later in 1087. Called now, Old St Paul's, it was the largest church in the British Isles and 3rd largest in Medieval Europe. The Great Fire of London finally put paid to the decaying building.

This church eventually evolved into the great Gothic building that preceded Wren's masterpiece. Christopher Wren's sublime new cathedral reflected the contemporary interest in classical architecture, constructed between 1675 and 1710, it is dominated by the magnificent dome and Andrew climbed the hundreds of steps to be able to take a photo from the walkway around the top cupola.

There are many memorials to the heroes of England and who have saved this island from invasion and more. Wellington and Nelson are buried here, and memorials include the Field Marshalls and Admirals of England. All this was saved as the German bombers were devastating London, when the volunteers were up on the roof of the cathedral putting out the incendiary bombs, the cathedral only suffered minimal damage but stood proud in a field of devastation as a symbol of the strength of the English people.

With such a full and draining day behind us, we returned to the precinct of our hotel for a final drink together to go over some of the many special moments we shared on this memorable tour. Dinner followed and we then to bed for tomorrow we go our separate ways.

Graham Fleeton


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