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St Margaret's, Westminster

Coordinates: 51°30′00″N 00°07′37″W / 51.50000°N 0.12694°W / 51.50000; -0.12694
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St Margaret's, Westminster Abbey
St Margaret's Church, Westminster Abbey, with the Elizabeth Tower ('Big Ben') of the Palace of Westminster in the background
LocationCity of Westminster, London, UK
Coordinates51°30′00″N 00°07′37″W / 51.50000°N 0.12694°W / 51.50000; -0.12694
Founded12th Century
Rebuilt1486 to 1523
Official namePalace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey and Saint Margaret's Church
Criteriai, ii, iv
Designated1987 (11th session)
Reference no.426
CountryUnited Kingdom
RegionEurope and North America
St Margaret's, Westminster is located in Central London
St Margaret's, Westminster
Location of St. Margaret, Westminster Abbey in central London

The Church of St Margaret, Westminster Abbey is in the grounds of Westminster Abbey on Parliament Square, London, England.[1] It is dedicated to Margaret of Antioch,[2] and forms part of a single World Heritage Site with the Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey.

History and description[edit]

The church was founded in the twelfth century by Benedictine monks, so that local people who lived in the area around the Abbey[3] could worship separately at their own simpler parish church, and historically it was within the hundred of Ossulstone in the county of Middlesex.[4] In 1914, in a preface to Memorials of St. Margaret's Church, Westminster, a former Rector of St Margaret's, Hensley Henson, reported a mediaeval tradition that the church was as old as Westminster Abbey, owing its origins to the same royal saint, and that "The two churches, conventual and parochial, have stood side by side for more than eight centuries – not, of course, the existing fabrics, but older churches of which the existing fabrics are successors on the same site."[5]

St Margaret's was rebuilt from 1486 to 1523, at the instigation of King Henry VII, and the new church, which largely still stands today, was consecrated on 9 April 1523. It has been called "the last church in London decorated in the Catholic tradition before the Reformation", and on each side of a large rood there stood richly painted statues of St Mary and St John, while the building had several internal chapels. In the 1540s, the new church came near to demolition, when Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, planned to take it down to provide good-quality materials for Somerset House, his own new palace in the Strand. He was only kept from carrying out his plan by the resistance of armed parishioners.[6]

In 1614, St Margaret's became the parish church of the Palace of Westminster, when the Puritans of the seventeenth century, unhappy with the highly liturgical Abbey, chose to hold their Parliamentary services in a church they found more suitable:[7] a practice that has continued since that time. An additional detached burial ground was added in 1625 at what is now Christchurch Gardens.

Between 1734 and 1738, the north-west tower was rebuilt to designs by John James; at the same time, the whole structure was encased in Portland stone. Both the eastern and the western porch were added later, with J. L. Pearson as architect. In 1878, the church's interior was greatly restored and altered to its current appearance by Sir George Gilbert Scott, although many Tudor features were retained.[8]

In 1863, during preliminary explorations preparing for this restoration, Scott found several doors overlaid with what was believed to be human skin. After doctors had examined this skin, Victorian historians theorized that the skin might have been that of William the Sacrist, who organized a gang that, in 1303, robbed the King of the equivalent of, in modern currency, $100 million (see Richard of Pudlicott). It was a complex scheme, involving several gang members disguised as monks planting bushes on the palace. After the stealthy burglary 6 months later, the loot was concealed in these bushes. The historians believed that William the Sacrist was flayed alive as punishment and his skin was used to make these royal doors, perhaps situated initially at nearby Westminster Palace.[9] Subsequent study revealed the skins were bovine in origin, not human.

By the 1970s, the number of people living nearby was in the hundreds. Ecclesiastical responsibility for the parish was reallocated to neighbouring parishes by the Westminster Abbey and Saint Margaret Westminster Act 1972, and the church was brought under the authority of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey.[1]

An annual new year service for the Coptic Orthodox Church in Britain takes place in the church in October, and in 2016 Bishop Angaelos gave the sermon.[10]

The Rector of St Margaret's is often a canon of Westminster Abbey.[11]

Commemorative windows[edit]

St Margaret's, Westminster interior, 2016

Notable windows include the east window of 1509 of Flemish stained glass, created to commemorate the betrothal of Catherine of Aragon to Henry VIII.[12] This has had a chequered history. It was given by Henry VII to Waltham Abbey in Essex, and at the Dissolution of the Monasteries the last Abbot sent it to a private chapel at New Hall, Essex. That came into the possession of Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire, the father of Anne Boleyn, then Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex, next George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, after him Oliver Cromwell, from whom it reverted to the second Duke of Buckingham, next General Monk, Duke of Albemarle, and after him John Olmius, then Mr Conyers of Copt Hall, Essex, whose son sold the window to the parish of St Margaret's in 1758, for four hundred guineas. The money came from a grant of £4,000 which parliament had made to the parish that year for the renovation of the church and the rebuilding of the chancel.[13]

Other windows commemorate William Caxton, England's first printer, who was buried at the church in 1491, Sir Walter Raleigh, executed in Old Palace Yard[14] and then also buried in the church in 1618, the poet John Milton, a parishioner of the church, and Admiral Robert Blake.


As well as marrying its own parishioners, the church has long been a popular venue for society weddings, as Members of Parliament, peers, and officers of the House of Lords and House of Commons can choose to be married in it. Notable weddings include:

Other notable weddings include some of the Bright Young People.[21]



Funerals and memorial services[edit]

Other notable events[edit]

On Easter day 1555 in the reign of Mary I a Protestant ex-Benedictine monk, William Flower inflicted wounds to the administerer of the sacrament. He repented for the injuries but would not repent his motive which was rejection of the doctrine of transubstantiation. He was thus sentenced for heresy and a week later severed of his hand and burned at the stake outside the church.

During the First World War, Edward Lyttelton, headmaster of Eton, gave a sermon in the church on the theme of "loving your enemies", promoting the view that any post-war treaty with Germany should be a just one and not vindictive. He had to leave the church after the service by a back door, while a number of demonstrators sang Rule Britannia! in protest at his attitude.[32]


The treble choristers for St Margaret's are supplied by Westminster Under School. The church also hosted the first performance by the UK Parliament Choir under Simon Over in 2000.


An organ was installed in 1806 by John Avery. The current organ is largely built by J. W. Walker & Sons Ltd. A specification of the organ can be found on the National Pipe Organ Register.[33]


Mackenzie Walcott lists the following as officiating clergymen:[34]

  • c. 1503 Sir John Conyers, curate
  • c. 1509 Sir John Symes, curate
  • c. 1519 Mr. Hall, curate
  • c. 1521 Sir Robert Danby, curate
  • c. 1530 William Tenant, curate
  • 1594 William Drap
  • c. 1610 William Murrey
  • c. 1621 Prosper Styles, curate
  • c. 1622 Isaac Bargrave, minister
  • c. 1638 Gilbert Wymberly, minister
  • 1640 Stephen Marshall, lecturer
  • 1642 Samuel Gibson
  • 1644 Mr. Eaton, minister
  • 1649 John Binns
  • 1657 Mr. Wyner / Mr. Warmstree, lecturer
  • 1661 William Tucker, curate
  • c. 1670 William Owtram (also minister in 1664[35])
  • 1679–1683 Thomas Sprat
  • 1683–1724† Nicholas Onley[36]
  • 1724–1730† Edward Gee
  • 1730–1734 James Hargrave
  • 1734–1753† Scawen Kenrick
  • 1753–1784† Thomas Wilson
  • 1784–1788† John Taylor[37]
  • 1788–1796† Charles Wake
  • 1796–1827† Charles Fynes-Clinton
  • 1828–1835 James Webber

Under the Ecclesiastical Commissioners Act 1840, this rectory was annexed to the canonry of Westminster Abbey then held by Henry Hart Milman, such that he and his successors as Canon would be Rector ex officio.[38] This arrangement continued until 1978. The Rector was often (and continuously from 1972 to 2010) also the Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons.[39]

Rector died in post


Organists who have played at St Margaret's include:


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Westminster Abbey. "St. Margaret's, Westminster Parish details". Archived from the original on 5 March 2008. Retrieved 3 May 2008.
  2. ^ Pevsner, N.; Bradley, Simon (2003). The Buildings of England: London 6 – Westminster. Uxbridge: Penguin. ISBN 0-300-09595-3.
  3. ^ McManus, Mark. "St. Margaret's, Westminster". Archived from the original on 11 June 2008. Retrieved 3 May 2008.
  4. ^ Hawgood, David. "St. Margaret's, Westminster". Genuki (Genealogy UK & Ireland). Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 3 May 2008.
  5. ^ From "Memorials of St. Margaret's church, Westminister, comprising the parish registers, 1539-1660, and other churchwardens' accounts, 1460-1603", reported in Notes and Queries (1914), p. 518
  6. ^ John Richardson, The Annals of London: a Year-by-year Record of a Thousand Years of History (University of California Press, 2000), p. 81
  7. ^ Wright, A.; Smith, P. (1868). Parliament Past and Present. London: Hutchinson & Co.
  8. ^ Scott, George Gilbert (1995) [1879]. Stamp, Gavin (ed.). Personal and Professional Recollections. [London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington] Stamford: Paul Watkins Publishing. ISBN 1-871615-26-7.
  9. ^ Catharine Arnold, Underworld London, Crime and Punishment in the Capital City , Simon & Schuster 2012, page 15
  10. ^ Messages from Prince of Wales, politicians, church leaders at Coptic New Year Service, Westminster Abbey dated 24 October 2016, at indcatholicnews.com, accessed 12 January 2018
  11. ^ "Interview: Robert Wright, Sub-dean of Westminster Abbey, Rector of St Margaret's". Church Times. 26 May 2009. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  12. ^ Dean and Chapter, Westminster Abbey. "St Margaret's Church – The east window". St Margaret's Church. Retrieved 21 October 2010.
  13. ^ a b H. B. Wheatley, Peter Cunningham, London Past and Present: Its History, Associations, and Traditions, p. 467
  14. ^ Smith, Christopher. "Sir Walter Raleigh – Execution". Britannia Biographies. Retrieved 3 May 2008.
  15. ^ R. E. C. Waters, Genealogical memoirs of the extinct family of Chester of Chicheley p. 91
  16. ^ Hodgkin, Lucy Violet (1947). Gulielma: Wife of William Penn (1st ed.). London: Longmans, Green and Co. p. 28.
  17. ^ Pepys, Samuel (1987). Samuel Pepys (ed.). The Illustrated Pepys: extracts from the Diary. Harmondsworth: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-139016-6.
  18. ^ 'Milton, John', in Journal of the Society of Arts dated 8 November 1867, p. 755
  19. ^ Gilbert, Martin (1991). Churchill: a life. London: Heinemann. ISBN 0-434-29183-8.
  20. ^ Matthew, H. C. G. "Macmillan, (Maurice) Harold". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/40185. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  21. ^ Taylor, D. J. (2007). Bright Young Things: the lost generation of London's Jazz Age. London: Chatto & Windus. ISBN 978-0-7011-7754-6. (American ed.: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York, 2009)
  22. ^ Robert Edmond Chester Waters, Genealogical memoirs of the extinct family of Chester of Chicheley (1878), p. 105
  23. ^ Maurice Petherick, Restoration Rogues (1951), p. 327
  24. ^ a b The Gentleman's Magazine, Volume 189 (1850), pp. 367, 368
  25. ^ William Coxe, Memoirs of the Administration of the Right Honourable Henry Pelham Volume 1 (London: Longman, Brown, Rees, Orme & Green, 1829), p. xxx
  26. ^ Felicity Nussbaum, ed., The Global Eighteenth Century (2005), p. 232
  27. ^ "Nicholas Boscawen". Westminster Abbey. Retrieved 15 October 2021.
  28. ^ Oliver Cromwell Westminster Abbey
  29. ^ John Chambers, Biographical Illustrations of Worcestershire (1820), p. 347
  30. ^ Westminster Abbey. "Ignatius Sancho". Westminster Abbey. Retrieved 3 July 2020.
  31. ^ E. Angelicoussis, "Jennings, Henry Constantine (1731–1819)" in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-19-861411-X
  32. ^ Alan Wilkinson, The Church of England and the First World War (London, SCM Press, 1996), p. 221
  33. ^ "NPOR [D01260]". National Pipe Organ Register. British Institute of Organ Studies. Retrieved 7 July 2020.
  34. ^ Walcott, Mackenzie Edward Charles (1847). The History of the Parish Church of Saint Margaret, in Westminster. Westminster: W. Blanchard & Sons. p. 84. Retrieved 11 September 2019.
  35. ^ J. L. Chester, The Marriage, Baptismal, and Burial Registers of the Collegiate Church or Abbey of St. Peter, Westminster, Volume 10 (Harleian Society, 1876), p. 197
  36. ^ "Onley, Nicholas (ONLY671N)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  37. ^ Courtney, William Prideaux (1898). "Taylor, John (1711-1788)" . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 55. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  38. ^ "Ecclesiastical Commissioners Act 1840: Section 29", legislation.gov.uk, The National Archives, 1840 c. 113 (s. 29)
  39. ^ "Speaker's Chaplain". The Church in Parliament. Church of England. Retrieved 5 September 2014.
  40. ^ "Farrar, Frederic William (FRR849FW)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  41. ^ "No. 26686". The London Gazette. 6 December 1895. p. 7063.
  42. ^ "The Deanery of Westminster". The Times. No. 36897. London. 13 October 1902. p. 9.
  43. ^ "Bishop Hensley Henson – Master of Dialectic", obituary in The Times, 29 September 1947, p. 27
  44. ^ "William and Mary Carnegie". Westminster Abbey. Retrieved 8 August 2014. William Hartley Carnegie Canon of Westminster and Rector of St Margaret's 1913–1936. Sub Dean 1919–1936. Born 27 February 1859. Died 18 October 1936. ...
  45. ^ Westminster Abbey – Sinclair appointed Rector of St Margaret's (Accessed 23 February 2016)
  46. ^ Dwight's Journal of Music, p. 331
  47. ^ William Charles Pearce,A Biographical Sketch of Edmund Hart Turpin, 1911
  48. ^ pixeltocode.uk, PixelToCode. "Thomas Trotter". Westminster Abbey. Retrieved 4 March 2023.

External links[edit]