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Thomas and Matthew Arnold

A memorial to Dr Thomas Arnold, famous head master, is now on a ledge in the north west tower chapel in the nave of Westminster Abbey. It consists of a half length bust in white marble on a square plinth and the sculptor was Sir Alfred Gilbert. It was unveiled on 15th July 1896 and originally stood against the west wall of the south west tower chapel (now St George's chapel), with memorials to John Keble and William Wordsworth. All were moved to other locations in the Abbey in 1932 when this chapel was designated as the Warriors Chapel. The inscription reads:

Thomas Arnold D.D. Head Master of Rugby School 1828-1842. Born 13 June 1795. Died 12 June 1842".

Thomas was born at Cowes on the Isle of Wight, a son of William Arnold, postmaster of the island, and his wife Martha (Delafield). He was educated at Warminster in Wiltshire, Winchester College, and Corpus Christi college Oxford. At university he met John Keble and other intellectuals. On 11th August 1820 he married Mary Penrose and 9 of their children reached maturity: Jane married W.E. Forster, Matthew became the famous poet, Thomas, Mary, Edward, William, Susanna, Frances and Walter. After teaching for some years at a private school he was appointed to Rugby School, then in a rather declining state but he brought the school up to higher academic and moral standards. He had a house in the Lake District where he became a friend of the poet Wordsworth. In 1841 he was appointed regius professor of modern history at Oxford but died suddenly of angina the following year and is buried in Rugby school chapel.

Matthew Arnold

His son Matthew, poet and writer, is the only person to have two memorials in Westminster Abbey. A bust by Alfred Bruce-Joy was unveiled by Lord Coleridge on 31st October 1891 in the south west tower chapel, where his father's bust was also placed. His name is inscribed on the bust. It was moved to its present position on the window ledge in Poets' Corner in 1967. The second memorial was unveiled on 28th February 1989 and consists of a mural tablet of Lepine limestone and green Westmorland slate with a motif of gilded flames, designed by Donald Buttress. The reason for the second memorial was possibly that the bust was not easy to see. The inscription reads:

Remember Matthew Arnold 1822-1888 Poet and Critic. Let but the light appear and thy transfigured walls be touch'd with flame.

The quotation is taken from Arnold's memorial poem to A.P. Stanley, Dean of Westminster.

Matthew was born at Laleham on Thames on 24th December 1822 and educated at Winchester, Rugby school and Balliol college Oxford. In 1843 he won a prize for poetry and became a fellow of Oriel college. After travelling in France he was appointed secretary to Lord Lansdowne and was a school inspector for many years. In 1849 he published his first book of poems. He married Frances Wightman in 1851 and they had six children: Thomas, Trevenen William, Richard, Lucy, Eleanor and Basil but three of the sons died young. His two most celebrated verses were 'Dover Beach' and 'Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse'. In 1857 he became professor of poetry at Oxford and was a literary and religious critic. On 15th April 1888 he died of a heart attack and was buried at All Saints church, Laleham with his young children.

Further reading

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography - Matthew Arnold

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography - Thomas Arnold


Writer; poet; historian


Nave; South Transept; Poets' Corner

Memorial Type

Bust; tablet

Material Type


Thomas and Matthew Arnold
Thomas Arnold memorial

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2020 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

Thomas and Matthew Arnold
Matthew Arnold bust

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2020 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

Thomas and Matthew Arnold
Matthew Arnold memorial

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2020 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

It’s a privilege to live and work here – the Abbey really is the heart of the country and its history.

Martin - The Dean’s Verger

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