Wednesday 24 November 2010

On 20th November 1947, the then Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) was married to Prince Philip of Greece (later Duke of Edinburgh) in the Abbey. She was the tenth royal bride to do so, her own parents having being married there, on 26th April, 1923.

Just a couple of years after the end of World War Two, for austerity reasons, very little extra seating was provided at the wedding of Princess Elizabeth, and about 2,000 guests attended.

The Abbey welcomes more than one million visitors a year, as well as thousands more who come to worship at daily service there. Kings, queens, statesmen and soldiers; poets, priests, heroes and villains - the Abbey is a must-see living pageant of British history.

But the connections are not just to Britain – the abbey has been described as “the parish church of the world” because of links with so many countries.

The present building dates back over 700 years, having been begun by Henry III in 1245, and is one of the most important Gothic buildings in the country, but Benedictine monks first came to this site in the middle of the tenth century.

It has been the coronation church since 1066, when William the Conqueror was crowned there, and is the final resting place of 17 monarchs.

Over 3,000 people are buried in the Church and Cloisters and there are over 600 monuments and memorials, including the Grave of the Unknown Warrior, a tribute not just to the fallen of the First World War but to the millions who have died since in international military conflict.

One of the best known parts of Westminster Abbey is Poets' Corner, in the South Transept. It was not originally designated as the burial place of writers, playwrights and poets - the first poet to be buried here, Geoffrey Chaucer, was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey because he had been Clerk of Works to the palace of Westminster, not because he had written the Canterbury Tales. And burial or commemoration didn’t always follow soon after death: Lord Byron, for example, whose lifestyle caused a scandal although his poetry was much admired, died in 1824 but was finally given a memorial only in 1969. Even Shakespeare, buried at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1616, had to wait until 1740 before a monument appeared in Poets' Corner.

Some of the most famous buried here include the poets John Dryden, Tennyson, Robert Browning and John Masefield. Many writers, including Dr Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Rudyard Kipling and Thomas Hardy are also buried here - Dickens's grave attracts particular interest.

Those who have memorials here, although they are buried elsewhere, include the poets John Milton, William Wordsworth, Thomas Gray, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Robert Burns, William Blake, T.S. Eliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Writers such as Samuel Butler, Jane Austen, Oliver Goldsmith, Sir Walter Scott, John Ruskin, Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte, Henry James and Sir John Betjeman have also been given memorials here.

Visiting: The abbey offers visitors audioguides in German, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Portugese, Polish, Hungarian, Mandarin Chinese, and Japanese. The English-language tour is narrated by the Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons. There are also special tours led by vergers, in English, for individuals or family groups only. They start at the North Door, last for approximately 90 minutes and include a tour of the Shrine (containing the tomb of Saint Edward the Confessor), the Royal Tombs, Poets' Corner, the Cloisters and the Nave. Price: £3.00 per person (in addition to the entrance charge).

Note that on Sundays the Abbey is open for worship only– full details on opening hours on

Charges: an adult ticket costs £15; concessions £12, schoolchildren from 11-18 £6, children under 11, accompanied by an adult are free, and family tickets cost from £30. All prices include use of an audioguide.

Those who love music should make a point of attending Evensong – listen to the outstanding choristers of the Westminster Abbey choir for free - an oasis of calm considering its location in the centre of London.

For more information contact:

VisitBritain Media Team

Assets to download

Download images in this article

Visit website

Download DOC version of this article

Prince William and Kate Middleton
An architectural masterpiece of the 13th to 16th centuries, Westminster Abbey also presents a unique pageant of British history.