The Angels

From the Palace of Whitehall
to the church of Burnham-on-Sea
via Westminster Abbey

The Palace of Whitehall c. 1675. As viewed from St. James's Park.
Painting by Hendrick Danckerts

Westminster Abbey

In 1698 Sir Christopher Wren was was appointed Surveyor of Westminster Abbey. In 1706 he suggested that the altar piece “might be placed with advantage” in the choir of the Abbey. With the agreement of Queen Anne the altar piece was reassembled in front of the medieval altar at Westminster Abbey.

The altar piece remained in place at Westminster Abbey until the Dean and Chapter removed them during 1820 in preparation for the approaching coronation of George IV in 1821 as they were thought to be out of place.

It was at this time the scupltures were offererd to Walker King who was at the time both the Bishop of Rochester and the vicar here at St. Andrew's Burnham-on-Sea.

The £230,000 coronation of George IV on 19 July 1821 for which the angels were removed from Westminster Abbey.

The Palace of Whitehall

During his reign from 1685 to 1688 James II commissioned various changes to the Palace of Whitehall by Sir Christopher Wren. Among these changes was the building of a chapel which was finished in 1687. In pride of place in the chapel was an ornate altarpiece which stood some 12m tall, designed by Inigo Jones and carved by Grinling Gibbons and his assistant Arnold Quellin the younger, an Antwerp artist.

The commission which is understood to have cost the sum of £1875.1s 8d was thought by many to be too Catholic and an affront to Protestant sensibilities. After James II left the throne the incoming William of Orange ordered the chapel and altarpiece be dismantled. The altarpiece was not however destroyed, being placed instead at Hampton Court where it was kept in storage.

This is purported to be the set up of the whole piece as used at Westminster Abbey.
Image from the British Museum

Original Installation

When the altar piece first arrived in Burnham and up until the late 1830s the altar piece was installed behind the high altar, blocking the East window. The altar piece was later broken up, and what is displayed today is only the remains of the grand altar piece.
Image taken from Survey of London: Volume 13, Part II

The Angels today


The two large Angels have moved around the church a number of times over the years, the most recent being in 2010 where several pews were removed to create a more versatile space and allowing the angels to be displayed within the chancel.

The Cherubs

The Cherubs in their current form were designed to appear to be descending from Heaven with the Holy Bible. Originally the uppermost part of the altarpiece when it was installed in Westminster Abbey it appears the cherubs are not in their original form. It is thought that this part of the altarpiece was altered by Sir Christopher Wren when he installed the alterpiece in `Westminster Abbey.

The cherubs were found in an attic and have been restored and installed in the North gallery by the Wynn family along with a plaque in memory of William John and Louisa Wynn and their daughters who worshipped here 1900-1975.

Read More

For those interested in reading more a book is available for purchase from the church during any church watch session.