St Margaret's, Westminster

The Church of St Margaret, Westminster Abbey, in the grounds of Westminster Abbey on Parliament Square, London, England, was, until 1972, the Anglican parish church of the House of Commons.[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.

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

History and description

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, Dr 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.

The north-west tower was rebuilt by John James from 1734 to 1738; at the same time, the whole structure was encased in Portland stone. Both the eastern and the western porch were added later by J. L. Pearson. The church's interior was greatly restored and altered to its current appearance by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1877,[8] although many of the Tudor features were retained.

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.[9]

The Rector of St Margaret's is often a canon of Westminster Abbey.[10]

Commemorative windows

Notable windows include the east window of 1509 of Flemish stained glass, created to commemorate the betrothal of Catherine of Aragon to Henry VIII.[11] 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.[12]

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[13] 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.[19]



Other notable events

On Easter day in 1555 a former Benedictine monk, William Flower entered the church and attacked a priest who was administering the sacrament. Although he repented for the injury he caused the priest, Flower would not repent his motive which was based on a rejection of the doctrine of transubstantiation. He was thus sentenced for heresy 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.[29]


The treble choristers for St Margaret's are supplied by Westminster Under School.[30] 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.[31]


Mackenzie Walcott lists the following as officiating clergymen:[32]

  • 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[33])
  • 1679–1683 Thomas Sprat
  • 1683–1724† Nicholas Onley[34]
  • 1724–1730† Edward Gee
  • 1730–1734 James Hargrave
  • 1734–1753† Scawen Kenrick
  • 1753–1784† Thomas Wilson
  • 1784–1788† John Taylor[35]
  • 1788–1796† Charles Wake
  • 1796–1827† Charles Fynes-Clinton
  • 1828–1835 James Webber

Under the Ecclesiastical Commissioners Act 1840, the rectory of St Margaret's was annexed to the canonry of Westminster Abbey held by Henry Hart Milman, such that Milman and his successors as Canon would be Rector ex officio.[36] 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.[37]


Organists who have played at St Margaret's include:

See also


  1. 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). 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. Messages from Prince of Wales, politicians, church leaders at Coptic New Year Service, Westminster Abbey dated 24 October 2016, at, accessed 12 January 2018
  10. "Interview: Robert Wright, Sub-dean of Westminster Abbey, Rector of St Margaret's". Church Times. 26 May 2009. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  11. Dean and Chapter, Westminster Abbey. "St Margaret's Church – The east window". St Margaret's Church. Retrieved 21 October 2010.
  12. H. B. Wheatley, Peter Cunningham, London Past and Present: Its History, Associations, and Traditions, p. 467
  13. Smith, Christopher. "Sir Walter Raleigh – Execution". Britannia Biographies. Retrieved 3 May 2008.
  14. R. E. C. Waters, Genealogical memoirs of the extinct family of Chester of Chicheley p. 91
  15. Pepys, Samuel (1987). Samuel Pepys (ed.). The Illustrated Pepys: extracts from the Diary. Harmondsworth: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-139016-6.
  16. 'Milton, John', in Journal of the Society of Arts dated 8 November 1867, p. 755
  17. Gilbert, Martin (1991). Churchill: a life. London: Heinemann. ISBN 0-434-29183-8.
  18. Taylor, D. J. (2007). Bright Young Things: the lost generation of London's Jazz Age. London: Chatto & Windus. ISBN 0-7011-7754-3. (American ed.: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York, 2009)
  19. Robert Edmond Chester Waters, Genealogical memoirs of the extinct family of Chester of Chicheley (1878), p. 105
  20. Maurice Petherick, Restoration Rogues (1951), p. 327
  21. The Gentleman's Magazine, Volume 189 (1850), pp. 367, 368
  22. William Coxe, Memoirs of the Administration of the Right Honourable Henry Pelham Volume 1 (London: Longman, Brown, Rees, Orme & Green, 1829), p. xxx
  23. Felicity Nussbaum, ed., The Global Eighteenth Century (2005), p. 232
  25. Oliver Cromwell Westminster Abbey
  26. John Chambers, Biographical Illustrations of Worcestershire (1820), p. 347
  27. E. Angelicoussis, "Jennings, Henry Constantine (1731–1819)" in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-19-861411-X
  28. Alan Wilkinson, The Church of England and the First World War (London, SCM Press, 1996), p. 221
  29. Westminster Under School. Accessed 12 January 2013
  30. National Pipe Organ Register website.
  31. 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.
  32. 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
  33. "Onley, Nicholas (ONLY671N)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  34. Courtney, William Prideaux (1898). "Taylor, John (1711-1788)" . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. 55. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  35. "Ecclesiastical Commissioners Act 1840: Section 29",, The National Archives, 1840 c. 113 (s. 29)
  36. "Speaker's Chaplain". The Church in Parliament. Church of England. Retrieved 5 September 2014.
  37. "Farrar, Frederic William (FRR849FW)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  38. "No. 26686". The London Gazette. 6 December 1895. p. 7063.
  39. "The Deanery of Westminster". The Times (36897). London. 13 October 1902. p. 9.
  40. "Bishop Hensley Henson – Master of Dialectic", obituary in The Times, 29 September 1947, p. 27
  41. "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. ...
  42. Westminster Abbey — Sinclair appointed Rector of St Margaret's (Accessed 23 February 2016)
  43. Dwight's Journal of Music, p. 331
  44. William Charles Pearce,A Biographical Sketch of Edmund Hart Turpin, 1911
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