Delving into the Archive: Ironbridge Archive and Westminster Abbey

An item from the Maw & Co. Collection in the Museum Library & Archives assisted conservators and researchers at Westminster Abbey in piecing together the history of one of their most celebrated treasures.

In front of the altar in Westminster Abbey is something known as the Cosmati pavement, laid down by marblers from Italy, and completed in 1268. Throughout most of the 20th century the pavement lay hidden beneath carpets, and it was not until 1989 that these were removed, and the public were able to marvel once again at what had been described in 1802 as ‘the most glorious work in England’.

It is not surprising that local tile manufacturer George Maw was aware of the significance of this pavement, and in 1862 he spent many days or weeks on his hands and knees in the Abbey completing the most detailed, coloured sketches of the pavement, which fortunately survive in the Museum’s archives.

These sketches were done prior to some late Victorian alterations to the altar rail, hence their great interest to researchers at the Abbey, who discovered them by putting “Cosmati” into Google, which directed them to the Museum’s Maw & Co. Catalogue on the “Access to Archives” webpage. In 2010 the sketchbook was loaned to Westminster Abbey to help them piece together the history of this treasured pavement.

There is a fine view to be had of the Cosmati pavement from the Muniment Room, which is high up in the South Transept, but no photography is allowed inside the Abbey. A couple of days after the sketchbook was delivered, the pavement featured on television world-wide during the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Service of Evening Prayer with Pope Benedict XVI, the first Pope to visit the Abbey.