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St Margarets Church
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St Margarets Church

The parish church of the House of Commons, St Margarets stands between Westminster Abbey and the House of Parliament, and owes its prominence to both. For centuries it has been run in tandem with the abbey; indeed, it was founded to serve the layfolk who lived around the great monastery. As for its other great neighbour, St Margarets became the church of the House of Commons in 1614, and ever since there have been parliamentary services within its walls. The 17th-century Puritans disliked the abbeys ceremonial, and thought St Margarets would be more palatable. Cromwell himself worshipped here, but after Hamo Thornycrofts statue of him appeared across the road outside Westminster Hall in 1899, a riposte was eventually arranged in the form of a lead bust of King Charles I in a niche at the churchs east end.

St Margarets Church

The interior is a late mediaeval example which is undivided from west to east. It was much rearranged by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1877.

The building we see today was consecrated in 1523. Robert Stowell, the abbeys master mason, was its first architect, and he was followed by Thomas and Henry Redman. John Islip, the last great Abbot of Westminster, paid for the chancel. John James partly rebuilt the north-west tower in 1734-8 and encased the church in Portland stone. J.L. Pearson added the stately west and south-east porches.

St Margarets Church

he east window has 16th-century stained glass which was made to commemorate either King Henry VIIIs marriage to Catherine of Aragon, or the earlier betrothal to her of his elder brother, Arthur.

Inside, the arcades and the clerestory windows form an unbroken procession to the east end. Sir George Gilbert Scotts restoration of 1877 was largely responsible for the appearance of the interior, for he replaced most of the furnishings. The east end, however, has much earlier elements. The stained glass in the prominent east window was made either for King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, or for his brother, Arthur, who had previously been due to marry her. It is pictorial, Renaissance glass forming a picture across the lights and has a marked blue background. The reredos, a triptych, has a central panel carved in limewood by Siffron Alken, 1758, of the Supper at Emmaus. The north aisles west window, by Clayton & Bell, is a memorial to John Milton, the blind poet who was a parishioner here. He is shown in the second light from the left, dictating Paradise Lost to his daughter.

St Margarets Church

J.L. Pearson added a Victorian west porch to the 15th-century fabric.

A popular monument is a frontal bust in the north aisle to Cornelius Vandun (died 1577), a Yeoman of the Guard. Another commemorates Wenceslaus Hollar (died 1677), who drew the famous panorama of London c. 1636-42. In the south aisle is a recumbent effigy of Mary, Lady Dudley (died 1600), sister of Lord Howard of Effingham, the commander against the Spanish Armada. Among those buried here are William Caxton, the first English printer (died 1491); Sir Walter Raleigh (died 1618), the explorer and commander, who was executed nearby in Old Palace Yard; and Admiral Blake (died 1657), Cromwells admiral.

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