Sir John Betjeman
Born: 28 Aug, 1906
Died: 19 May, 1984
Field: Writer; poet; broadcaster
Location in the Abbey: South transept, poets corner
Type of memorial: Tablet
Type of material: Marble

On a pillar in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey is a memorial to Sir John Betjeman, Poet Laureate. The early 18th century marble cartouche was found unused in the Abbey triforium and it was decided to use this as the basis for Sir John's memorial. A new urn at the top was designed by Donald Buttress and the shield was filled with a low relief of a bell hanging in a gothic frame (as Betjeman did not have a coat of arms). This is an allusion to his book Summoned by bells (although the original design featured a Metropolitan railway engine).The inscription was designed by Sir John's friend David Peace and new elements at the base show books, representing the Book of Common Prayer 1662 and the Authorized Version of the Bible, carved by Dick Reid. The memorial was unveiled by Lady Wilson on 11 November 1996. The inscription reads:

"JOHN BETJEMAN 1906-1984 Poet Laureate"

He was born in London on 28 August 1906, the only child of Ernest Betjemann and his wife Mabel (Dawson). His name was of Dutch or German origin but he dropped the last letter in his name. At Highgate school he was taught by T.S.Eliot and went on to Marlborough College and Oxford university. He developed a passion for architecture and used his popularity as a broadcaster to champion the cause of neglected buildings. Many of his TV documentaries concerned railways. He served on the Abbey's Architectural Advisory Panel. In 1933 he married Penelope Chetwode and their children were Paul and Candida. During the war he worked at the Ministry of Information and in a secret department of the Admiralty. His Collected Poems came out in 1958 and he was knighted in 1969 and made Poet Laureate in 1972. He died at his home in Trebetherick in Cornwall on 19 May 1984 and is buried at St Enodoc's church.

A photo of the memorial can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.

Further reading:

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004.


For text of the Book of Common Prayer 1662 see

For 1611 Bible see

Order of Service for Memorial Service - 29 June 1984

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