Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Vestments for the Recent Coronation by Watts & Co.

Our thanks to Mr Robert Hoare, managing director of Watts & Co., London-based makers of ecclesiastical vestments and furnishings, for this account of some vestments which his firm contributed to the recent coronation of King Charles III.

Watts & Co. and the Coronation of King Charles III
With the eyes of the world on the recent coronation of King Charles III, Watts & Co. once again was proud to play its part and reinforce its special connection with Westminster Abbey. As the coronation procession advanced up the central aisle from the main doors, it passed over the tomb of one who was deeply involved in the restoration not only of the fabric of the building itself, but also in the richness of its ceremonial and liturgical life.
The tomb in question is that of the renowned Victorian architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott, who became father to one of the company’s founders, George Gilbert Scott Jr, and great-great-great-grandfather of the current managing director (and present author). Sir George Gilbert Scott was assigned as architect and Surveyor of the Fabric to Westminster Abbey in 1849, a role which included responsibility for repairs and restorations of the abbey’s interiors and general structure.
The tomb of Sir George Gilbert Scott. (Image copyright of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey, reproduced by permission.)
A portrait sketch of him from the abbey library. (Image copyright of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey, reproduced by permission.)
As the choir filled the abbey with the magnificent strains of Handel, Byrd and Parry among others, Gilbert Scott’s work could be seen in the choir stalls; the original medieval ones were replaced in the 18th century, and then by the present ones in 1848.
Scott’s son founded Watts & Co. in 1874 as an ecclesiastical furnishing company, and it went from strength to strength, designing and creating fabrics, furnishings and vestments of the highest quality. The high altar frontal and copes used by the Abbey Chapter at the coronation were designed by Watts’ previous creative director, David Gazeley. The main fabric in these was inspired by the background of the famous Wilton Diptych in white silk and gold thread.
Among the magnificent gowns in the procession, two were designed and created by Watts & Co. especially for the coronation. The High Bailiff of Westminster Abbey and Searcher of the Sanctuary (a role evolved from responsibilities and jurisdictions originally exercised by the medieval abbot and convent), wore a splendid robe of blue silk velvet, with Watts Blue Bellini silk sleeves, front contrast and yoke, trimmed with Diamond and Lay and gold braids.
The other robe in crimson silk velvet, Watts Sarum Red Gothic silk sleeves, front contrast and yoke, trimmed with Diamond and Lay and gold braids, was worn by the High Steward of Westminster Abbey. It was he who carried the sceptre with cross, a Christian symbol of the king’s temporal power.
Watts’ first commission in the 19th century was the creation of vestments for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887, the first to be worn in the Westminster Abbey since the Reformation. Since then, the family business has accompanied the Abbey and royal family in the major ceremonial and liturgical milestones of their life: a fitting continuation and development of the work of Sir Gilbert Scott through his descendants.

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