According to BuzzFeed, September 24, 2014, if it was ever hard to spot a Segestria florentina spider, it isn’t now: http://www.buzzfeed.com/alanwhite/britain-is-being-invaded-by-green-fanged-spiders-of-death-bu#17uhqsb
In Search of Westminster Abbey’s Spider
During my visit to the crypt of Westminster Abbey years ago, a nice member of the staff mentioned to me that they had their own unique spider. Did they indeed? That was fascinating. Oh yes, she said, scientists had come from various places especially to observe it. The spiders were quite large, but they hid in the cracks between the ancient stones of the wall behind her. She would try to find one and get it to come out so that I could have a look.
I could imagine some species of spider evolving within Westminster Abbey over the centuries. At least it might evolve in the limited sense that the Peppered Moth did when going from light to dark wings helped the species survive amid the smoke and soot of the Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century, and then it gradually reverted to light as the air got cleaner. By 2019 so many will again have light-colored wings that the dark moths are only expected to make up 1% of the Peppered Moth population in Britain. And that’s all within less than two hundred years. (http://www.truthinscience.org.uk/tis2/index.php/evidence-for-evolution-mainmenu-65/127-the-peppered-moth.html) Westminster Abbey is over a thousand years old. – http://www.westminster-abbey.org/our-history/abbey-history
Rebuilt by King, later Saint, Edward the Confessor on the site of an earlier church, the Abbey was consecrated just in time to receive his body upon his death in January, 1066. (Here’s a link to a site that provides a good look at the shrine of St. Edward the Confessor as it appears today: (http://modernmedievalism.blogspot.com/2013/08/photo-tour-of-famous-dead-folks-at.html)
No spider was willing to show itself to me that day in the crypt. I continued to wonder about it, inquiring on subsequent visits without success. When, however, I eventually queried the Abbey via email, Miss Christine Reynolds, Assistant Keeper of Muniments, The Library, promptly replied, “Your message has been passed on to us in the Library. I am afraid there will not be many guides at the Abbey who know about the spider.
“But I am afraid it is not unique to us. It has also been found in the gardens of Buckingham Palace as well as here at Westminster Abbey Garden and Westminster School. It is the little known Segestria florentina (a huge green jawed spider). After bomb damage during the war in the Westminster area it thrived but I don’t know how many colonies are now around here. I don’t know if its webs would be visible as early as April but I am no expert. This information comes from an article by W.S.Bristowe in The World of Spiders.
“Our Gardener, Miss Jan Pancheri, could direct you to some likely spots in the Abbey Garden. If you would like to e-mail her direct about setting a date to meet her . . . I hope you are lucky.”
This turned out to be pay dirt. My husband Jerry and I were about to visit London again (we agree with Dr. Johnson about London; see www.samueljohnson.com for a bit more on the subject than the familiar tired of London = tired of life). Ms Jan Pancheri, Westminster Abbey’s Head Gardener, kindly agreed to give me an interview. She thought she knew the spider I was looking for.
We visited in April, too early in the year for the adult spiders to be about, but Ms Pancheri showed us many of their characteristic tube webs, both in her office and in the crevices in the stone walls. The spider in question, it appears, was indeed Segestria florentina, an impressively large, flamboyantly fanged Mediterranean species that had presumably arrived in England through its ports, and by the time of our conversation with Ms Pancheri had extended its range to include, among other places, the gardens of Buckingham Palace. (Jokes about the Queen’s being “not amused” omitted here. Her Majesty has been described as not moving a muscle when a horse galloped straight at her; she would certainly not leap into the air at the sight of a spider.) There’s plenty of information about S. florentina available on the Internet, where the Wikipedia article, which includes the impressive picture of one reproduced here, is a good place to start: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Segestria_florentina
Jan Pancheri gave us a guided tour of the garden, which is the oldest part of the Abbey and was once where a community of about eighty Benedictine monks raised their vegetables, fruits and herbs. In addition to the fruits and herbs there are now extensive plantings of a great variety of flowers. Jan told us she’d offered lily leaf beetles, which wreak devastation on lilies, as prey to the spiders, but the spiders were no help; they chucked the beetles out. On looking up the lily leaf beetles later, I found the likely reason for the spiders’ distaste: as a defensive measure, the beetles coat themselves with their own fecal matter.
We paused at the climbing rose vines that billowed over one high wall. These Rosa banksiae var. banksiae, a cultigen developed in Chinese gardens, would be covered in masses of white blooms in time for the then-approaching wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. They could only grow as they did in this spot, Jan said, because their roots tapped down into an underground stream. Here’s a one-minute clip from our video of the interview in which she surprises us with her account of how she found that underground stream: