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Eric Symes Abbott

Priest and Dean

The ashes of former Dean of Westminster Eric Symes Abbott are buried in the centre aisle of the nave of Westminster Abbey near the altar there. The Portland stone tablet was designed and cut by Michael Harvey and unveiled in 1984. The inscription, in dark brown mastic lettering, reads:

Eric Symes Abbott K.C.V.O 1906-1983. Dean of Westminster 1959-1974. Friend and counsellor of many he loved the Church of England striving to make this House of Kings a place of pilgrimage and prayer for all peoples. Pastor Pastorum

The Latin means "shepherd of shepherds".

He was born on 26th May 1906, the son of William Henry Abbott and Mary (Symes). His brother Wilfred died of TB in 1936 and he had a sister. He was educated at Nottingham High School and Jesus College, Cambridge. In 1930 he was ordained and served as curate at St John's, Smith Square, near the Abbey, and then as chaplain of King's College, London where he was to return as Dean from 1945-1955. At Lincoln cathedral he was canon and prebendary of Sanctae Crucis 1940-1960 and was Warden of Lincoln Theological College 1936-1945. He was a chaplain to both George VI and Elizabeth II and was Doctor of Divinity (Lambeth) in 1959. Before taking up the Deanery of Westminster he was Warden of Keble College, Oxford from 1956. As well as conducting many memorial and special services at the Abbey he also helped officiate at three royal weddings (those of Princesses Margaret, Alexandra and Anne) and worked hard to promote the theme of "One People" in the Abbey's 900th anniversary year 1965-1966. In 1966 he was made Knight Commander of the Victorian Order. He was a pastoral Dean and one of the great priests of the 20th century. On resigning the Deanery in 1974 he lived in Vincent Square and died in a hospital in Guildford on 6th June 1983. 

The first annual Eric Abbott Memorial Lecture was held at the Abbey in 1986.

His stall plate, as Dean of the Order of the Bath, can be seen on the south stalls in the Lady Chapel. Also in the west window of this chapel is his coat of arms, one of many associated with those concerned in the Westminster Abbey Appeal for the restoration of the fabric.

Some of his papers and sermons are kept in the Abbey archives.

Further reading

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004

Eric Symes Abbott: a portrait by Eric James with recollections by Edward Carpenter and memorial service address, 1983 (printed for the Dean and Chapter)


26th May 1906


6th June 1983


Priest; dean



Memorial Type

Grave; stone

Material Type


Eric Symes Abbott
Eric Symes Abbott

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2018 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

Eric Symes Abbott
Eric Abbott grave

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2018 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

Eric Symes Abbott
Eric Abbott stall plate

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2018 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

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The biggest challenge we face is actually time – getting all our work done alongside the daily routine of the Abbey as a working church, visitor attraction and home to 1,000 years of history.


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