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London Town Sampler: Westminster Abbey & The Tower

Over the next few weeks I'll be introducing my new Petit FOUR sampler patterns, the London Town blocks. For the past nine months Andrea from the Willow Cottage Quilt Company and I have been posting out parcels of Tilda-filled loveliness to our Block of the Month participants and taking them on a wonderful, whistle-stop tour of the British capital as they created their sampler quilt together. And now it's time to share the block patterns with you.

We're starting our tour with two of London's oldest landmarks, which have graced the banks of the Thames for almost a thousand years...


Westminster Abbey

Most recently the venue for the King's coronation, Westminster Abbey has been at the heart of national life for a millennium. And it's hosted every coronation since William The Conqueror’s in 1066, along with many a royal wedding and service of remembrance and is also the final resting place of seventeen monarchs and thirteen royal consorts.

Founded by Edward the Confessor in 1065, it became known as the west minster to distinguish it from St Paul's Cathedral - the east minster - in the City. Unfortunately, when his new church was consecrated on 28th December 1065, Edward was too ill to attend. He died a few days later and was buried in front of the High Altar.

His 13th century successor, Henry III, was particularly devoted to Edward - adopting him as his patron saint - and demonstrated his devotion by… demolishing the Abbey. He rebuilt it in the splendidly fashionable Gothic style, giving it the highest nave in England. Traces of Edward's abbey can still be seen in the round arches and massive supporting columns of the under croft and Pyx Chamber, but the only remaining depiction is, ironically, in the Bayeux Tapestry.

Two centuries later King Henry VII added the Lady Chapel, with its gravity-defying, fan-vaulted ceiling. But then his son Henry VIII closed all of the monasteries, so Westminster Abbey has not, in fact, been an abbey since 1539. Henry granted it cathedral status - sparing it from destruction - and his daughter Elizabeth I made it a royal peculiar: a church responsible directly to the monarch, which it has been ever since.

Buried alongside the great and the good in the Abbey is a humble Shropshire farm labourer called Thomas Parr, who won Royal patronage by claiming to be 152 years and 9 months old. Invited to London to meet King Charles I, Thomas left Shropshire never to return: rich food and a lack of good clean, country air caused his demise within weeks of arriving and the King decreed that he be buried in the Abbey.

Our quilt block shows the Abbey’s magnificent West Entrance. Its flanking towers were left unfinished in the medieval period - with one slightly taller than the other - and they weren't actually completed until 1745. And just inside the West Door is the Abbey’s most poignant memorial, the grave of the Unknown Warrior, buried on Armistice Day 1920 to represent all of the men and women who never returned home from the First World War.

A PDF Pattern for the Westminster Abbey block is available here.


Tower of London

In days of yore a visit to the Tower would have been very bad news indeed, because the Tower of London has spent half of its 900-year history serving as a the most fearsome prison in the land. It was founded by William the Conqueror in 1067 and strategically sited on the river Thames next to the old city walls, dominating London as a symbol of Royal power. His 13th century successors - and enthusiastic builders - Henry III (yes, him again) and his son, Edward I, created the Tower complex we see today, enlarging the moat and adding the outer defensive walls along with a new water gate onto the river, which later became known as Traitor's Gate. Henry is credited with establishing a Royal menagerie at the Tower after being gifted three leopards. They were swiftly joined by a polar bear and an African elephant (the polar bear was apparently allowed to fish in the river). But by the 19th century there were 150 animals squeezed into the Tower precinct, so they were built more suitable lodgings at the newly created Regents Park. More prosaically, Edward installed the Royal Mint within the safety of its walls, where it stayed nearly as long, and the Tower also acted as the safe repository for documents, armaments, the crown jewels - which are still there - and, most famously of all, Royal prisoners. The 'Princes in the Tower', the two teenage sons of Edward IV, were sent there for their 'protection' by Richard II in 1483 and were never seen again. And Henry VIII's unlucky wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, were both imprisoned and executed within its walls. One happy legacy of those days are the Yeoman Warders, resplendent in their tudor uniform, who were part of the monarch's personal bodyguard and allowed to eat as much beef as they pleased from the Royal table, hence their nickname: the Beefeaters. They and their families still live within the Tower - they even have a pub! - along with the its most eccentric residents, the Ravens. When the Tower briefly served as the Royal Observatory in the late 17th century, the royal astronomer complained to Charles II that the birds were a nuisance, but was informed of the old legend that if the ravens left, the Tower would fall and a great disaster befall the Kingdom. Charles wisely moved the observatory to Greenwich.

A PDF Pattern for the Tower of London block is available here.


You can find all of the London Town PDF blocks patterns collected together, along with the setting directions, here. If you'd prefer a Pattern Book, they'll be heading to the shop - and Amazon - in a couple of weeks!

In my next London Town post we'll be joining excited crowds outside two sights that are at the centre of our national life: Buckingham Palace and Parliament square. Get your flags ready,

Nicola xx


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