Information for Teachers of Self-Guided Groups
Your self-guided school visit 3
How to Book
Before you visit 4
Planning the education element of your visit Briefing your adults
Briefing your students
On the day of your visit 5
Arrival and departure Access
Health and safety
Directions and opening hours 7
Frequently Asked Questions 8
For nearly twelve hundred years - perhaps for longer - it is believed that a religious community has existed in the area we think of today as ‘Westminster Abbey’ and its precincts. Divine service has been celebrated within the walls of the Abbey church on its present site for over nine hundred years, and Westminster School, which had its origin in the monastic school, remained even when the Chapter had been expelled during the Commonwealth. There are other centuries-old links: the Benedictine tradition of welcome to visitors; the coronation church of all the crowned sovereigns of England since William I in 1066, the burial place of royalty, of the great in peace and war, of the lesser men and women who have served the Abbey, and of those who have been benefactors or who simply lived near by. The Abbey has evolved as a building, having been enlarged several times over the centuries, but always at its heart has been the daily rhythm of prayer and worship. Because of this it is a superb educational resource and we welcome those who wish to learn from this most remarkable building.
This document is designed to support teachers as they plan a visit to Westminster Abbey. We hope it will provide sufficient information to help teachers guide children on a visit. It is also to be used as an information document for health and safety guidance and other aspects, to help ensure that the visit will not only be educational and informative but above all memorable and safe.
Teachers will know that because the building contains so much that will be new to the children, careful planning, forethought and information will make your visit a success.
Your self-guided school visit
Whilst we hope that teachers will be able to take advantage of our newly-opened Education Centre, those who wish to are able to come on self-guided tours between September and June. July and August are exceptionally busy months and we do not permit school groups to come at these times as pupils may not have a satisfactory experience.
It is important to book your visit in advance in order to ensure that the Abbey is open and in order for us to keep a record of the number of school visitors. We can also advise you of any special events that may affect your visit.
Schools just wishing to visit the Museum, Cloisters and Gardens are also asked to book. Although no charge is made to visit these areas you will need a ticket. How to book
Once you have an idea of a date for your visit please contact the Education Department. The number of self-guided groups per day is limited so if we are full on your chosen day please have another in mind.
We are usually teaching between 10am and 2.30pm so the best way to contact us is via email. email@example.com. If you need to call us, our bookings number is 020 7654 4965. Once a date and time have been agreed, we will then email you a booking form which we ask you to complete and return to us. What to do during your visit
During your visit if you need help or answers to questions from the children you cannot answer, please ask one of the Abbey Marshals (in red gowns) or
an Abbey Volunteer (in green gowns) and they will be very happy to provide the information.
Before your visit
Teachers are welcome to come on a pre-visit and a member of the Education team will meet them if at all possible. Please email in advance to arrange a time and access to the building. Teachers on pre-arranged visits are admitted free of charge but others accompanying them are asked to pay.
Planning the education element of your visit
A School visit to Westminster Abbey is often an awe-inspiring event for children. The Education Department recommends that pupils focus on a specific theme during their visit to avoid being overwhelmed! A number of self-guided trails are available either to download from the website or to collect on arrival at the Abbey. These are constantly being added to as we develop the Education service so do check back regularly.
Briefing your adults
It is important that all the adults with your group are fully briefed about what is expected of them. Please impress upon them that this is not just a ‘day out’ but that they are expected to look after their groups and should be prepared to discipline children if necessary. Abbey staff are not able to distinguish between teachers and parent helpers so all should be aware that they are ‘teachers’ for the day and are expected to behave appropriately. Groups may well get separated when it is busy so adults must be responsible. Please remind them that they should not use mobile phones or cameras in the Abbey.
Briefing your students
Make sure your students know where they are going and have an idea of the importance of Westminster Abbey to the history of the nation and the Christian faith. Select a small number of key things that you want the pupils to look out for and make sure they know what they are. Make sure you know where to find them! Better still, download a trail from the website and go through it with the children before you come.
It might be worth explaining that there will be tombs there and ensure that the pupils are comfortable with the idea of visiting a place which has dead people.
On the day of your visit
Arrival and departure
The coach set down point is in the Sanctuary, at the front of the Abbey. The School teacher must arrange the collection point with the coach driver. This is normally Tothill Street where coaches may park a short distance from the Abbey. See www.westminster.gov.uk for details of this coach parking.
The maximum number of people (including adults) per booking is 30. (see ‘Group Sizes’ below)
On arrival, groups should go through the archway into Dean’s Yard, turn left and report the marshal in the corner of the yard. The group leader should then go to the Chapter Office, Number 20 to pay. They will be given coloured badges which all students should wear during their visit. They may keep these as a souvenir.
The marshal will then direct the group to enter via the Cloisters. The entrance time you have booked is only a guide and you may have to wait for other groups to enter ahead of you.
People with restricted mobility can enjoy visiting the Abbey and its environs but need to be aware that there are a number of steps and uneven floors. There may be some difficulty for those using wheelchairs in some of the chapels. Please make sure that you let us know on the booking form if you have pupils or staff who have such difficulties.
Space is limited in the Abbey so the maximum number of people, including adults, who can tour together, is 26. A class of 30 children is best split into two groups of 15.
There are limited public lavatories in the Abbey near Poets’ Corner. Please note that these are NOT near the entrance but are more than half-way round. There are also toilet facilities provided by the Westminster City Council in front of the QE II Conference Centre in Broad Sanctuary, a charge is made for their use.
This is situated at the West Door, and there is a small stall in the Cloisters. The children are welcome to visit our shop, with adequate supervision.
On the day of your visit
Health and safety
Please ensure that pupils are aware that the Abbey is an ancient building and that they need to bear certain things in mind in order to keep safe during their visit: • Remind children to look where they are walking. Some areas of the Abbey might be dimly lit and the floors and steps are uneven in most areas. There are also a number of low doors and steps that may not be immediately obvious and care should be taken.
• It can be very busy. Keep children together and count them regularly! • Should there be a need for First Aid there are Abbey staff trained in this.
Please refer to a member of staff in red or green gowns or staff on the Information Desk if you need any help.
• An announcement over the public address system will be made if an evacuation of the Abbey needs to take place. Please follow the instructions and directions given by the Abbey Marshals (red gowns).
• If a member of the party gets separated advise them to go to the Abbey Information desk and report to a member of staff.
• Teachers are responsible for the supervision and safety of the children in their charge at all times.
• A ratio of 1 teacher to every 10 pupils is required.
• Do not enter any part of the Abbey that is marked Private or which has been roped or cordoned off to prevent access for safety reasons.
• An announcement over the public address system will be made if an evacuation of the Abbey needs to take place. Please follow the instructions and directions given by the Abbey Marshals (red gowns). If in any other part of the Abbey precinct, including the Education Centre, please follow Abbey Staff instructions. • During a visit your class may be in small groups; not all groups will be evacuated to the same muster point. Each group leader must have a copy of the list of children in their group in case of an evacuation.
We regret that no photography or filming is allowed within the Abbey. Please ensure mobile phones are switched off.
Directions and opening hours
How do I get to Westminster Abbey? Tube
Nearest station is St. James’ Park (Circle and District lines) – Broadway exit. Turn right. 5 minutes walk. There are two roads to cross, one with a zebra crossing and another with pelican crossing.
Westminster (Jubilee Line, Circle and District lines)
– Exit 6 is the least congested. Cross Parliament Square. There are two roads to cross, both with two pelican crossings.
Routes 3, 11, 12, 24, 53, 87, 88, 148, 159, 214, 453 stop near Westminster Abbey.
Coaches can drop school groups off at the West End of the Abbey and groups can then walk safely to the Education Centre in Dean’s Yard. Please note that if you wish to drop students off at the west end of the Abbey, you must let us know in advance so that we can alert the Yard Beadles (security guards). Coaches will need to park elsewhere and return only at the end of the visit. The closest coach parking is in Tothill Street (1 minute’s walk from the Abbey) and is a Pay-by-Phone service. See www.westminster.gov.uk for details of this coach parking.
What are the opening hours?
It is a good idea to check our website before calling us to arrange your visit out as the Abbey sometimes closes for special services and events.
General Opening hours
Please note the weekend opening hours if you are planning to make a pre-visit.
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday 9.30am - 4.30pm last admission 3.30pm Wednesday 9.30am - 7.00pm last admission 6.00pm Saturday (October – April) 9.30am - 2.30pm last admission 1.30pm Saturday (May – September) 9.30am - 3.30pm last admission 2.30pm Sunday Worship only. No tourist visiting
Frequently Asked Questions
What is on offer?
UK schools can book the following:
• A themed event - see Education Department programme for further details and dates. Events change every term.
• A guided tour led by a member of the Education Department team on Mondays and Fridays (subject to availability).
• Self-guided tours - Weekdays throughout the year EXCEPT in July and August. No groups can self-guide during these busy months.
All UK school groups should book via the Education Department. We can notify you of any closure or other factors which might affect your visit. Your school will be invoiced so you can pay by cheque in advance or by cash or credit card on the day. Is there a risk assessment available?
Yes. Let us know if you require one and we will email it to you. If you would like to visit the Abbey prior to bringing your group, we can arrange a complimentary visit for you.
Will there be services during out visit?
12.30pm Holy Communion in the Nave. You are still welcome to take your group round, just be aware that the service is taking place. Prayers are also said in the Shrine. Should you wish your group to take part in a short act of worship as part of your visit, please indicate this on your booking form and we will try to arrange something.
Where can we eat lunch?
Packed lunches can be eaten in College Garden on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays or any day in the Cloisters (suitable if it is wet). Please do not leave any rubbish, there are bins provided. There is a coffee stall in the Cloisters.
Is there somewhere to leave bags during our visit?
Schools attending events led by the Education team can leave their bags in the Education Centre. Unfortunately, we do not have the facilities for self-guided groups to leave belongings.
Are there toilet facilities at the Abbey?
Frequently Asked Questions
Where should we come when we arrive?
School groups having a guided tour or attending an event should come to the Education Centre, 1 Dean’s Yard and ring the doorbell (for themed events and guided tours)
Self-guided groups should bring their confirmation letter to the main Reception at 20 Dean’s Yard where they will be given passes for admission.
Please note that payment will be due at this point.
What facilities do you have for those with Special Needs?
The Cloisters and College garden all have level access, but there are steps to enter the Chapter House and Museum. There are steps to the Henry VII chapel in the Abbey itself, but the rest of the building is accessible. Touch Tours are available for the visually impaired and a hearing loop is available during services.
Can we borrow clipboards?
Clipboards are available to borrow by groups by prior arrangement. Please contact the Education Department to book these.
Can we take photographs inside the Abbey?
Photographs are not permitted inside the Abbey under any circumstances. Please help us by explaining this to your students before the visit. Photographs may be taken in the Cloisters and Abbey garden.
How much does it cost to visit? Self-Guided Tours
Self-Guided Primary £2.00
Self-Guided Secondary £6.00
Self-Guided Secondary (Westminster) £4.00 Adults
One adult per 10 students free of charge.
Additional adults (accompanying primary students) £4.00 Additional adults (accompanying secondary students) £8.00
The total ratio of adults accompanying should be no greater than 1:5 for KS1 students and 1:10 for all other students. If any adults attend beyond these ratios, they will be charged at the individual price of £15.
Questions asked by pupils
Pupils often ask these questions so it is useful to know the answers! Is the Abbey still used for worship?
Worship takes place every day in the Abbey, usually four services daily at 7.30am, 8am, 12.30pm, 5pm. On Sundays there are six services at 8am, 10am, 11.15am, 3pm, 5.45pm, 6.30pm. Prayers are said from the pulpit every hour which helps to remind visitors of the Abbey’s primary purpose as a church. Please ask the children to keep still and quiet at these times and invite them to pray if they wish to. What special services take place here?
Special services take place here, including those for schools.
Kings and queens are crowned here and other services, royal occasions, memorial services and funerals, occur throughout the year. Princess Anne and Prince Andrew were both married here, and more recently the funerals of the Queen Mother and Princess Diana were held here. They are not buried here, though. Special events also take place including concerts, lectures and poetry readings.
Are people really buried here?
Yes. Over three and a half thousand people are buried here that we know about. There are many more whose names are now lost to us. There is not really any more room to bury bodies but ashes are sometimes interred (buried) here now.
Not every person with a memorial stone is actually buried here, though. Who are the most famous people buried here?
30 kings and queens, including Henry III, Henry V and Elizabeth I are buried here. St. Edward the Confessor’s shrine is also his tomb. Other famous people include Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton and Geoffrey Chaucer.
It is also the resting place of the Unknown Warrior, who represents all people killed in armed conflicts.
Who is the most important person buried here?
This is a matter of personal belief. One answer might be the Unknown Warrior, an anonymous soldier from World War I, representing all those who have died in conflict. The other could be St. Edward the Confessor, without whom the Abbey would not have been so important.
Questions asked by pupils
What is an Abbey?
An abbey is a church built for the use of monks. In 960, St. Dunstan founded a monastery following the Rule of St. Benedict and the first Westminster (literally, ‘church in the West’) Abbey was built. In 1540, Henry VIII closed the monastery and the monks were forced to leave. In 1560, Elizabeth I re-founded the church as the Collegiate Church of St. Peter, Westminster.
Who is in charge of the Abbey?
The Queen. The Abbey is directly responsible to her as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. The day to day running of the building and services is done by the Dean and Chapter.
Who are the people in coloured gowns? Red Marshals – paid staff who look after visitors.
Green Volunteers – people on hand to help out with questions about the building. Blue Audio-guide administrators
Who else wears special clothes? Black cassocks
Vergers – give guided tours and ensure that the services happen at the correct time. They support the priests.
Black cassocks with a red sash
Duty Chaplains – priests who volunteer to spend a week at the Abbey helping out with prayers and services and talking to anyone who needs help.
Lay Vicars and Chorister - men and boys who form the Choir who sing at services. They wear a white surplice during services.
Red cassocks with black gown
Members of College – the traditional body of people who oversee the Abbey What is Poets’ Corner?
This is a part of the South Transept where many famous poets and authors are buried or remembered. The first poet to be buried there was Geoffrey Chaucer who died in 1400. Other people with memorials or graves include William
Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, TS Eliot and Oscar Wilde. More recent poets’ names are recorded in a window on the east side of the Transept.
Questions asked by pupils
How big is the Abbey?
The Nave roof is 31m (101ft) high. The whole building is 161.5m (530ft) long. That’s slightly more than one and a half football pitches!
What is the Abbey made from?
Mainly limestone from France and sandstone from Surrey. Purbeck marble from Dorset was used for pillars and much of the floor, although the gravestones are of many different marbles. The West Towers are cased in Portland stone form Dorset. How old is the Abbey?
The Abbey’s exact origins are a matter of legend, some even saying that there was a church here in the late Roman times. What is known is that in 960AD, St. Dunstan brought a group of Benedictine monks from Glastonbury and founded an abbey here. It was re-founded y Edward the Confessor who built a church here, completing it in 1066, fulfilling a vow to the Pope.
How much is the Abbey worth?
The only answer to this question is priceless! There is so much here that is unique that it is impossible to say how much it is worth because it could never be replaced. How old is the Coronation Chair?
The chair was made by King Edward 1, in 1296. it was bult to house the Stone of Scone, the coronation stone of Scotland which Edward captured. The first king to be crowned on it was Edward11 in 1308.
Where do Coronations take place in the Abbey?
All coronations take place on the Cosmati Pavement, facing the High Altar. A more comfortable chair is used for the service, but the actual crowning takes place on the Coronation Chair.
Has anyone married here?
Many royal marriages have taken place here, including Henry VIII’s to Catherine of Aragon. More recently, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips, and Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson have all got married at the Abbey. In 2011, Prince William married Catherine Middleton here.