Save The Houses Of Parliament!
After surviving fires, bombs and gunpowder plots, the famous building is once again under threat. Dianne Boardman finds out more.
The Palace of Westminster, otherwise known as the Houses of Parliament, is one of the most recognisable buildings in the world. Its origins date back to the 11th century and it’s been under threat many times since then, most famously by the Gunpowder Plot of November 5, 1605, when a plot to assassinate King James I (& VI of Scotland) was foiled when the conspirators were discovered in a cellar under the House of Lords with 36 barrels of gunpowder.
The building became home to Parliament after a major fire in 1512, having previously been a palace for King Henry VIII and his various wives. Following the fierce blaze, Henry took over the adjoining Palace of Whitehall, leaving the building and its repair to his administrative and legal staff.
Over 200 years later, in October 1834, another terrible fire swept through the building, destroying most of the Palace of Westminster.
The Palace we recognise today was designed by Charles Barry in 1836, and sits at the heart of UK government, housing both the House of Commons and House of Lords, a trove of artworks and treasures and a depository of history.
However, this beautiful building is under threat once again – this time by attacks from woodworm, asbestos, collapsing pipes, rotting beams and more. I decided to visit the Houses of Parliament and find out what the rescue options are.
Vicky Wood is my guide on the tour of the Palace, which she aptly calls “A walk through history”. From the moment of entering Westminster Hall, I feel history, from the towering oak ceiling to the plaques on the old stone floor marking the spots where Thomas More, William Wallace, Guy Fawkes and Charles I, along with many others, were tried and sentenced.
Westminster Hall is the oldest part of the Palace of Westminster, dating from 1090, and, amazingly, it survived the huge fire of 1834 and, later, the bombs that destroyed much of the building in 1941.
It’s still used for state occasions and is dominated by a huge stained-glass window containing the monograms of MPs, peers and staff who died in World War II. It’s here that state occasions are held, monarchs lie in state and coronation feasts are enjoyed.
Vicky moves us on through to St Stephen’s Hall, originally built on the site of the royal chapel where the House of Commons sat from the mid-16th century until the 1834 fire destroyed it.
Vicky has many stories of debates that have taken place here, from arguments against the slave trade by William Wilberforce to speeches by other famous orators such as Walpole and Pitt, and Charles I’s attempt to arrest five members of the House of Commons.
Statues depict these figures from history, including the first Prime Minister Robert Walpole, but even they show the passage of time: 17th-century Lord Falkland’s boot is missing a spur after a suffragette chained herself to him in 1909.
The Central Lobby joins the House of Lords with the House of Commons and is where you often see newscasters standing on television.
This octagonal room has eight arches decorated with statues of kings and queens standing vertically one on top of the other.
The ornate ceiling is equally spectacular and Vicky points out the