Skip to main content

Sir John Betjeman

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 11th November 1996. The inscription reads:

"JOHN BETJEMAN 1906-1984 Poet Laureate"

He was born in London on 28th 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 19th May 1984 and is buried at St Enodoc's church.

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 - 29th June 1984


28th August 1906


19th May 1984


11th November 1996


Writer; poet; broadcaster


South Transept; Poets' Corner

Memorial Type


Material Type


Sir John Betjeman
Sir John Betjeman memorial

© The Dean and Chapter of Westminster

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Related Commemorations


Dame Peggy Ashcroft


Wystan Hugh Auden

Writer and Poet

Laurence Olivier


Edward Carpenter

Writer, Priest and Dean

Richard Dimbleby


Clive Staples Lewis

Writer, Poet and Novelist

The work can be tough, but even the cold and rain don’t bother me as I enjoy it so much. I love every day that I spend at the Abbey – just being here makes me smile.


Tim - Gardener

Twitter logo Tweet this