Watts & Westminster Abbey

As we look forward to the coronation of King Charles III, all eyes are turning towards Westminster Abbey for the historic day. Seeing as the abbey is closed in preparation, though, we thought we would take our own tour of Watts in Westminster Abbey. 

Watts & Co. has a historic connection with Westminster Abbey - even from before our company’s founding in 1874. Our first and foremost connection to Westminster Abbey is Sir George Gilbert Scott - father to one of our company’s founders, George Gilbert Scott Jr., and great-great-great-grandfather of our current managing director. Sir George Gilbert Scott was a pioneer of Gothic Revivalist architecture, and was assigned architect and Surveyor of the Fabric to Westminster Abbey in 1849.

Scott’s role included repairs and restorations of the abbey’s interiors and general structure. His work re-opened and reimagined parts of the abbey, including the Chapter-house and what would become the library. 


Sketches from Gleanings From Westminster Abbey (1861), contributed by Sir George Gilbert Scott.

Looking at Scott’s texts Gleanings (1861) and Recollections (1879), his dedication to the abbey was clear - even to the most minute details. Scott wrote of the abbey’s centuries of history, and seemed always keen to preserve as much of its original character as possible. He wrote in Recollections - his account of his life - that

The Abbey to me has been a never-failing source of interest, though sometimes of annoyance, owing to the little appreciation which exists of the value of the remains of the ancient monastic buildings.

It would be fair to say that there is a great appreciation of such buildings now - owing to the efforts of the conservation and research devoted to the Abbey over the last 200 years.

Scott’s impressions on the abbey also included his work with J.R. Clayton & Alfred Bell on stained glass windows, after adopting the two designers into his firm; this includes a window commemorating the HMS Captain in the north transept. 

He held the position until his death in 1878, which is when he was given a grand funeral in the abbey itself on April 6th of that year. A significant procession of mourning coaches followed the funeral car from Scott’s house in West Brompton to the Abbey, with a quite notable attendance of Queen Victoria’s private, and empty, carriage. In fact, no other architect has been buried in Westminster Abbey, the honour bestowed on account of Queen Victoria’s high regard for his design of the Prince Albert Memorial.



Scott was then buried in the nave of the abbey at this service. His grave includes allegorical figures picturing a painter, sculptor, smith, and carpenter, with Scott himself at the base of a cross in his study. In Latin, the grave quite rightly reads: “a man of honour, architect of extraordinary skill.”


Our doors had been open for four years when the elder Scott died, with his son Gilbert Scott Jr., and his associates Thomas Garner and G. F. Bodley, at the helm. After 13 years of ecclesiastical and secular design, Watts secured its first major commission for Westminster Abbey: producing the copes for a Thanksgiving Service in honour of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887. 


Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee Service, Westminster Abbey, 21 June 1887 (1887–1890) by William Ewart Lockhart. Watts & Co. supplied the cream copes pictured on the left.


Watts & Co. copes have been visible at every coronation since Edward VII’s in 1902 - and many of these vestments can still be found in the Abbey either at services or on display.

We also supplied vestments for Westminster Abbey’s 900th anniversary celebration in 1966 - famously dubbed the ‘angina-inducing copes’ on account of their weight. At the wedding of the current Prince and Princess of Wales, William and Catherine, in 2011, the Archbishop of Canterbury wore a Watts cope made in ‘Pugin Tapestry’ with an embroidered hood. 


Our 'Bellini' silk damask in Comper Rose is also used on the kneeler.


Elizabeth Hoare, the director of the company from 1958, wrote in her diary on the 30th May, 1993: “I watched Westminster Abbey on television again, lovely to see all our stuff.” Still, today, we get to see beautiful Watts vestments in use at the Abbey. Most recently, this included the altar frontal we made for Queen Elizabeth II as a gift for the Abbey on the occasion of her coronation - used at the 2023 Commonwealth Day service. 


Newspaper clippings showing the copes Watts made for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in use at Westminster Abbey. From The Church Times, 1994.


Additionally, a stunning set of five hand-embroidered copes was made for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 2012. Created for St George's, Windsor Castle, these feature a custom fabric named our 'Windsor, Cloth of Gold'. The fabric includes the Royal Cypher of the late Queen Elizabeth II.

Watts & Co. has also made a series of St Edward the Confessor-related vestments over our 150 years for Westminster Abbey. These include exclusive copes and chasubles made with the St Edward the Confessor cross - his coat of arms being a cross in between five doves: 


2 images of a Westminster style cope with an St Edward the Confessor cross


Sir George Gilbert Scott was particularly interested in the king’s influence on the original monastery that became Westminster Abbey under King Henry III. The first chapter of Gleanings is dedicated to the abbey under St Edward, going into incredible detail on the structural elements of the original building, forming a picture of the church that St Edward knew from accounts and remnants of the past.

It seems fitting that this interest in St Edward and Westminster Abbey is maintained all these years later by Scott’s legacies. At the coronation of Edward VII - for which we also supplied vestments - we made a pall to cover the shrine of St Edward the Confessor in the abbey. This pall matched the copes made with our Rose & Crown patterned velvet - and similarly embroidered with goldwork. 

It matches an altar frontal made for the abbey, pictured here in front of the reredos that Scott refaced in 1867 while the surveyor of Westminster: 

At Watts & Co. we have a deep affinity with Westminster Abbey; not only is our showroom only a stone’s throw away, but we share this rich history of over 150 years. We continue to supply the abbey with vestments, fabrics, and clergy wear - and we certainly appreciate working with our neighbours.


If you'd like to learn more about our connection to Westminster Abbey, or the Scott family's ecclesiastical architecture, head over to gilbertscott.org.

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