Dickens at Westminster, a ceremony in tweets

Dickens’ 200th birthday, the ceremony at Westminster Abbey. (Live tweeting taking place under cover of the Order of Service, so as to be as unobtrusive as possible: all spelling/typos sic.)

Dickens' most recent biographer arrives.

Archbishop of Canterbury arrives.

A Victorian Puzzle: Westminster Abbey for whom?

A puzzle for untangling, suggestions extremely welcome.

On 2 January 1858, the Illustrated London News reported that ‘Great exertions have been made’ at Westminster Abbey, ‘to adapt the nave…to the purpose of popular worship’.

As the Abbey had been a place of worship for 1,000 years, this at first (and second and third) seems startling.

I wondered if it meant simply improving access, but the article continued:  ‘Within the gates a kind of lobby has been constructed, with double doors, in order to exclude draughts. Gas pipes are laid on both sides of the nave — the burners being supported on standards of iron and brass…The stone floor is covered with cocoanut matting…’ So the suggestion is that standards have changed, and without lighting, and attempts to warm the interior, it was no longer considered suitable.

But then, the following week, it continued, ‘In accordance with previous announcement, Westminster Abbey was opened on Sunday evening last for evening service’; half an hour before the service began, nearly 2,000 people were waiting, and the congregation ultimately numbered 3,000.  The following week these arrangements are specifically described as ‘special services for the working classes’.

I am left with questions. 1) Does this mean that previously all seating in the Abbey was by subscription, or paid for on the day? or 2) were the working-classes just tacitly banned from the services beforehand? And, whatever the answers to 1) and 2) I find it difficult to believe that 3) without draught-excluders, matting and gas-lighting, the middle- and upper-classes attended, but the working classes wouldn’t come.

So what is going on here (she cries, throwing up her hands)?

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