Westminster Abbey

Down in our showroom at 7 Tufton Street, we often hear the iconic bells of our neighbour chime. This historic sound, heard across London in varying forms since 1250, under King Henry III, reminds us of our historic relationship with Westminster Abbey, dating from before our company’s founding in 1874. 

 Westminster Abbey choir, 1886.


Sir George Gilbert Scott - 'Architect of Extraordinary Skill'

Our first and foremost connection to Westminster Abbey is Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-78) - father to one of our company’s founders, George Gilbert Scott Jr., and great-great-great-grandfather of our current CEO. 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 under Dean Stanley. 

Scott was the perfect choice, given his leading role in the Gothic Revival and his adoration of Medieval architecture. His technical prowess aside, his character lent itself acutely to the revitalising of the Abbey for future generations; he was recognised for his considerable achievements in church buildings nationwide and was revered for his efforts. In a lecture delivered by Edward M. Barry, the chair of architecture at the Royal Academy after Scott himself, 

The Gothic revival was not, however, only, or even chiefly, an architectural movement, being warmly supported by the clergy, who rejoiced to see the national interest awakened in its sacred buildings. Atonement was demanded for past days of ecclesiastical carelessness.

For Scott, being assigned the role of Surveyor was a momentous moment in his career. In his Recollections (1879), he wrote that ‘This is an appointment that has afforded me more pleasure than any other I have held.’ His son, George Jr, also remarked that 

Of all the great churches of England with which he had been connected, this was the one which he best loved. The works upon which he was from time to time engaged about the Abbey, and the investigation of its antiquities in their minutest detail, was to him a source of unfailing delight.


The nave of Westminster Abbey, c. 1890.



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. He took great care to preserve the Abbey’s internal surfaces, and its various bronze effigies of Kings and Queens, discovering various remnants and artefacts around the Abbey and ensuring their proper place for decades to come.


The interior of the Chapter House was transformed from ‘little more than a ruin’ in 1866 into the functional building that stands today. One of Scott’s sons, John Oldrid Scott, assisted with the restoration project which would encompass the North Transept and the vault. This ‘labour of love’, as Scott termed it, included reconstructing the octagonal stone roof, as well as re-glazing and restoring the stained glass. These windows, designed by J. R. Clayton & Alfred Bell, were damaged in the Second World War, but some panels have been reincorporated into the post-war reconstruction.

 Interior of the Chapter House at Westminster Abbey.


Looking at Scott’s texts Gleanings (1861) and Recollections, 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 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.


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


In his own time, though, Scott faced opposition to his restoration efforts from other figures like William Morris and William Lethaby, who disapproved of restoration - although the latter would admit Scott’s efforts to be accurate in his recreation of original designs. Morris was far more extreme, suggesting that any and all restoration attempts were wrong, echoing the contemporary sentiment that architects had no right to impede on historic buildings whose workmanship should be left alone.


Yet, Scott's passion for the Abbey was not deterred. J. T. Micklethwaite, once a student of Scott, said

He could restore a design from a few remains with a skill that ensured a very close resemblance to the original work [...] those restorations he treated as he did would, in all probability, have been done much worse if he had not done them, or if they had been done by men who did not possess his skill.

Scott’s unbounding respect for the historical foundations of the Abbey ensured that his restorations were accurate, competent, and effective, lasting into the modern day so that we may continue to appreciate this Gothic icon.

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. 

In the sanctuary of the Abbey, the reredos was also refaced and a new altar installed, to the image we know today; he wrote that ‘the Reredos which I found in plaster has been restored in alabaster & marble with great care & precision.’ Scott installed a mosaic made by Salviati of Venice along with a sculpture by Armstead.


Reredos featuring mosaic of the Last Supper in the sanctuary at Westminster Abbey.


Scott also designed numerous other pieces for the Abbey which would eventually be conferred elsewhere - a sign of his worldwide legacy as an architect. These included a marble pulpit designed in 1850, moved to New South Wales in Australia in the 1990s; railings made for the Sacrarium were given to a cathedral in Victoria, Canada.  


Large limestone and marble pulpit for the nave, designed by Scott, 1862. Moved out in 1902 and given to St Anne's cathedral in Belfast (later destroyed by fire). 










Scott had once supposedly told his valet that, "When I get old and past work, I shall take a house near the Abbey, so as to be able to attend the daily service there, and to wander about the dear old place," adding "I think that I shall be very happy." This, however, never came to pass. Scott unfortunately died of heart failure at the age of 66, with his work on the Abbey unfinished and left to his son John Oldrid (1841 - 1913). In death, though, he would be forever united with the building that had defined his life for so many years and had been an absolute source of joy for him in both life and work.

He was given a grand funeral in the abbey itself on April 6th of 1878. 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, 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.

Funeral procession for Sir George Gilbert Scott at Westminster Abbey. From the Illustrated London News of 6 April 1878.


Scott was buried in the nave of the abbey at this service, just next to the great nave pulpit that he had designed. 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.” 



On the Sunday following Scott’s internment in the Abbey, the Dean of Westminster, Arthur Stanley, said that ‘no name within the last thirty years has been so widely impressed on the edifices of Great Britain, past and present, as that of Gilbert Scott.’ He continued,

In nearly all the cathedrals of England there must have been a shock of grief when the tidings came of the sudden stroke which had parted them from him, who was to them as their own familiar friend and foster-father.

He also spoke of Scott’s incredible character as both architect and man, of "his indefatigable industry, his child-like humility, his unvarying courtesy, his noble candour."

The loss of such a significant and influential figure was felt deeply within the Abbey and beyond. Scott’s son, George Gilbert Scott Jr. (1839 - 1897), one of the founders of Watts, wrote that his father was “taken from us in the fulness of his powers, which years had ripened to maturity, and age had not commenced to wither.” 








Westminster Abbey is a beacon of the Gothic aesthetics adored by its revivalists in the 19th Century. Indeed, Scott considered the Abbey to represent a significant change in the architecture of England at the time to what we now recognise as the Gothic: ‘The period of the erection of Westminster Abbey was one of the greatest transitional epochs of our architecture.’ Seeing the Abbey from our doorstep serves to remind ourselves of our Gothic Revivalist roots, as we share inspiration with our founders: G. F. Bodley, George Gilbert Scott Jr., and Thomas Garner. Like the elder Scott, these three architects held the Gothic deep within their design sensibilities, and it would continue to inform their work for decades.


Watts in Westminster Abbey

Our doors had been open for four years when the elder Sir George Gilbert 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.’s copes have since been visible at every coronation following King Edward VII’s as examples of some of our most impressive work. One such design was our ‘Rose & Crown’ cope of 1902, made of stamped velvet and fully hand-embroidered in swathes of gold. These were made for the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York, featuring an elegant IHS of Japanese Gold thread.



Anointing of Queen Alexandra at the coronation of King Edward VII. John Byam Liston Shaw. 



Additional copes were made for the Bishop of Bath & Wells and the Dean of Westminster at this coronation. These copes would reappear at the later coronations of George V and George VI, as well as Elizabeth II’s. These gloriously embroidered designs are now principally reserved for posterity, being over 100 years old, but still grace their home cathedral’s to be admired and very occasionally worn.


For the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, creative designer Keith Murray produced a modern set of copes, embroidered with the Lion and Unicorn. These were worn by the Dean and Chapter of Westminster. They have since been used at major royal services at Westminster Abbey, including the funeral of Princess Diana.


Further coronation commissions include the hangings used as a backdrop to the Coronation Chair housed at the Abbey. Our 'Comper Cathedral' silk damask now surrounds this historic artefact, which has been used at almost every coronation since Edward I, including HM Charles III's in 2023.




Elizabeth Hoare (née Scott; 1915 - 2001), the director of the company from 1958 and the great-granddaughter of Sir George Gilbert Scott, 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. It was Mrs Hoare, in fact, who moved the company to our current showroom at Tufton Street, gravitating towards the Abbey and its historical significance for the company and her family.




One of our most beautiful and memorable creations, the altar frontal we made for Queen Elizabeth II as a gift for the Abbey on the occasion of her coronation, is regularly used at the Commonwealth Services held at the Abbey. The piece took over a year to complete, featuring intricately hand-embroidered orphreys on our ‘Gothic’ silk damask in blue.

Dean of Westminster Abbey, Rev'd Dr David Hoyle, in front of our embroidered altar frontal at the Commonwealth Service in 2024.


Hand-embroidered details from the altar frontal.


Under Elizabeth Hoare, we worked with Westminster Abbey regularly. She wrote, in her account of her history with Watts, of an especially enjoyable project in the 1980s:

One of my more amusing recollections was of a day with Christopher Hilliard. Having spent a pleasant holiday on a remote Greek island, he saw in a local shop a splendid heavily embroidered garment. On making inquiries, he found that it was a Turkish diplomat's gown, which they were selling for the princely sum of six pounds. 

He bought it and on his return said that he intended the embroidery to be used on a new blue cope for Dean Eric Abbott to use with the blue and embroidered coronation copes. Our workroom had cut out all the embroidery [...] These were then sewn onto the new blue cope and the result I thought was pretty good. I was pleased that the first cope Michael Mayne wore as the new Dean of Westminster was this very one.

This cope, along with many of the blue vestments Watts have made for Westminster Abbey to use at royal occasions, are still in use today.


Elizabeth Hoare also supplied the black and gold requiem cope, originally worn on the occasion of the memorial service for the President of the United States, held at the Abbey in 1963. The fabric had been specially woven for the chapel at Jesus College, Cambridge. This cope was also used at the funerals of Prince Philip in 2021, and of HM Queen Elizabeth in 2022.


At the wedding of the Prince and Princess of Wales held at the Abbey, William and Catherine, in 2011, the then Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams wore a Watts cope handmade in our ‘Pugin Tapestry’ with a hand-embroidered hood. 


St Edward the Confessor

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: 

Westminster style cope in our 'Stag' Cloth of Gold.


Sir George Gilbert Scott was particularly interested in the king’s influence on the original monastery that became Westminster Abbey under 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 a pall was made 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. 







The design was also used for an altar frontal, pictured here in front of the reredos that Scott refaced in 1867 while the surveyor of Westminster Abbey: 



Watts and Westminster Today

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, clergy wear, and choir robes - and we are always thrilled to work with our esteemed neighbours.

Indeed, as 2024 is our 150th anniversary as a company, we are keen to take time to reflect on the hard work and expertise that has characterised our designs. Westminster Abbey is a significant part of this, meaning so much to our architectural roots in the Scott dynasty, as well as our heritage as suppliers of the finest vestments and ecclesiastical furnishings.


Our CEO, Robert Hoare, stood in front of Westminster Abbey alongside a Cathedral cope made in our 'Pentecost' brocade. Image courtesy of Point de Vue. 



Gilbert Scott blog: Westminster Abbey, Sir George Gilbert Scott

Personal and Professional Recollections (1879) by Sir George Gilbert Scott; Scott, George Gilbert.

Gleanings from Westminster Abbey (1863) by Sir George Gilbert Scott.

‘SIR GILBERT SCOTT and the 'Restoration' of Mediaeval Buildings’ (1891-92) by Gavin Stamp

Westminster Abbey: https://www.westminster-abbey.org/abbey-commemorations/commemorations/sir-george-gilbert-scott#i12424

Victorian Web: https://victorianweb.org/art/architecture/scott/funeral.html 

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