Thursday, 3 October 2013

The Mother of Parliaments

The Ship of State
Forever teatime
Today (3rd October) I went on a tour of the Houses of Parliament,  also known as The Palace of Westminster* (see below, 2nd paragraph).  I found it a strangely moving experience, simply being in the space where so much history has been made.  And felt a particularly strong  surge of emotion on being reminded by the guide of Charles I’s  attempted unconstitutional arrest of five Members of Parliament here in 1642 - essentially the last in the series of events that led to the Civil War.  One of the said “Five  Members” was my distant relative John Hampden, who went on to fight on the Parliamentarian side in the War, and was mortally wounded at the Battle of Chalgrove Field. 

The Old Palace was purportedly originally built for Cnut in around 1016, and subsequently rebuilt by Edward, “the Confessor” in 1042-65, and extended by succeeding kings, with Westminster Hall eventually becoming the seat of Parliament, to be succeeded, in 1548, by the then-secularised Royal Chapel of St. Stephen. 
Westminster Hall exterior

Westminster Hall interior
Some of  the palace complex was  destroyed in a fire in 1512; and most of what remained, in another, in 1834, with essentially only Westminster Hall and the Jewel Tower surviving to this day, together with parts of the Royal Chapel of St. Stephen, including the St Mary Undercroft (see Caroline Shenton’s book, “The Day Parliament Burned Down”, published by Oxford University Press in 2012).   

Jewel Tower exterior

Jewel Tower interior
Westminster Hall was originally built as a royal residence cum banqueting house by William II, Rufus,  in 1097-9; and rebuilt, with a spectacular hammerbeam roof, by Henry Yevele, for Richard II, in 1394-1401.  The Jewel Tower was originally built by Henry Yevele, for Edward III, in 1365-6.

The New Palace was built by Charles Barry and Augustus Welby Pugin, in the Victorian Gothic style, in 1837-58.

Victoran Gothic extravagance

Victorian Gothic aspiration

The Palace of Westminster is visited, although not entered, on our “St Paul’s to Westminster Abbey – Priories, Palaces and Parliament” walk.

Please note that this or indeed any of our other walks can be booked by e-mail ( or phone (020-8998-3051).

*For those wanting to see inside the Palace of Westminster - here is a link to the official website with details of how to book

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