As you ascend the 108 steps look for the 17 bands of stone used in its construction, which includes Purbeck marble, Reigate stone, Kentish ragstone and Caen stone - different building material used throughout the Abbey’s history. When you finally reach the top you’re in for a treat, for here the Abbey has on display some of its finest treasures. The galleries are divided into 4 sections: the Abbey and National Memory, Building Westminster Abbey, Worship and Daily Life, and Westminster Abbey and the Monarchy. Mind your head as you study the objects: the gallery is reinforced with oak beams installed by Sir Christopher Wren.
Highlights include the funeral effigy of Viscount Nelson (St Paul’s Cathedral, where he’s buried, wasn’t too happy); the mortuary roll of Abbot Islip, which gives us a glimpse of what the Abbey looked like before the Reformation, the medieval Westminster Retable altarpiece and corbel heads from the 1200s. There’s even the marriage certificate of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. On the north side are the royals: funeral effigies of previous kings and queens, dating back to Edward III. His wooden effigy shows evidence of the stroke he had just before he died, aged 64.
Mary I displays a prominent belly, perhaps the effect of the ovarian cancer that killed her. More chillingly is the head of Henry VII, an unpopular king whose death in 1509 was cheered by the people. Further on are wax effigies of the Stuart kings: a tall Charles II, wearing the oldest example of the Order of the Garter, and a diminutive William III beside his more stately wife Mary II.
But it’s not the wonderful exhibits that steal the show, it’s the view. As you walk around there are the most wonderful sights to see: you can gaze down onto the 13th century Cosmati pavement, the shrine of Edward the Confessor and the many memorials in Poets’ Corner. Best of all, is the vista of the gothic nave, described by the Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman as “the finest view in Europe.” I couldn’t disagree.