The Palace of Westminster serves as the meeting place for both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Informally known as the Houses of Parliament after its occupants, the Palace lies on the north bank of the River Thames in the City of Westminster, in central London, England. Its name, which derives from the neighboring Westminster Abbey, may refer to several historic structures but most often: the Old Palace, a medieval building complex largely destroyed by fire in 1834, or its replacement, the New Palace of Westminster that stands today. The palace is owned by the monarch in right of the Crown and, for ceremonial purposes, retains its original status as a royal residence. Committees appointed by both houses manage the building and report to the House of Commons Speaker and the Lord Speaker. A visit to the Houses of Parliament is a journey to the very heart of British democracy.
The Palace's structure
the Palace of Westminster was rebuilt after being devastated by the Great Fire of 1834. The newly formed Palace had structures like:
The new Palace of Westminster was custom-built by the Victorian architect Charles Barry for Parliamentary use. The design and layout of the building were thus carefully designed to serve the needs and workings of Parliament. In particular, Barry placed the location of the Sovereign's throne, the Lords Chamber, and the Commons Chamber in a straight line, thus linking the three elements of Parliament in continuous form.
The Victoria Tower is the tallest in the Palace of Westminster. Named after Queen Victoria, it was for many years the tallest and largest stone square tower in the world, with a height of 98.5 meters (325 feet). The tower was originally designed as a royal entrance and a repository for the records of Parliament and is now home to the Parliamentary Archives. On top of the tower is an iron flagstaff. From here either the Royal Standard (if the Sovereign is present in the Palace) or the Union flag is flown.
The Palace of Westminster was built with sand-colored limestone from the Anston Quarry in Yorkshire. Anston stone was chosen because it was cheaper and could be supplied in blocks up to four feet thick and lent itself to elaborate carving.
Apart from the Victoria Tower, the Palace contains two other striking towers.
Over the middle of the Palace, immediately above the Central Lobby, stands the octagonal Central Tower (91.4m, 300ft). the Central Tower has a spire and contains the largest known octagonal Gothic vault without a central pillar.
Big Ben Tower
Big Ben is probably the world's most famous clock. That iconic silhouette is instantly recognizable and is one of the most Instagrammed landmarks on the planet, but it was renamed Elizabeth Tower in 2012, to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II. The tower was designed by Augustus Pugin in a neo-Gothic style. When completed in 1859, its clock was the largest and most accurate four-faced striking and chiming clock in the world. Big Ben is the largest of the tower's five bells and weighs 13.5 long tons
Westminster Hall is the oldest building on the Parliamentary estate. What makes it such an astonishing building is not simply its great size and the magnificence of its roof, but its central role in British history. In and around the Hall, grew up the major institutions of the British state: Parliament, the law courts, and various government offices.
Closely involved in the life of the nation since the 11th century, a journey through Hall's past is a journey through 900 fascinating years of our history. The Architecture of Westminster Hall includes:
St Stephen's Chapel is the forgotten heart of the Palace of Westminster. For seven centuries St Stephen's was at the centre of the political and religious life of the nation, and its influence may still be detected today.
As the palace chapel of the most important royal residence of medieval England, St Stephen's witnessed the worship of kings and queens and their households. Its college of canons combined their religious duties with service to the crown as diplomats and administrators.
St Mary Undercroft was almost completely rebuilt as part of Charles Barry's New Palace of Westminster, on the same footprint as the old St Mary's, with St Stephen's Hall above it.
With Winston Churchill's approval, they agreed to retain its adversarial rectangular pattern instead of changing to a semi-circular or horse-shoe design favored by some legislative assemblies. Churchill insisted that the shape of the old Chamber was responsible for the two-party system which is the essence of British parliamentary democracy: 'We shape our buildings and afterward our buildings shape us.'
The Robing Room is principally used by the Sovereign for the State Opening of Parliament. This room is where the Queen puts on the Imperial State Crown and her ceremonial robes before making her way to the House of Lords. The Robing Room is located at the southern end of the Palace of Westminster. The 19th-century Chair of State is provided for her use, beneath a canopy carved with the rose of England, the thistle of Scotland, the shamrock of Ireland, and Queen Victoria's monogram.
The Lords Chamber is the most lavishly decorated room in the Palace of Westminster.
It has the grandest interior because it is where the three elements of Parliament (the Sovereign, the Lords, and the Commons) come together. The furnishings in the Chamber are predominantly decorated in red, while green is the colour of the Commons' end. The Chamber's ceiling is divided into eighteen paneled compartments, each showing ancient emblems such as the white hart of Richard II.
Many fittings and furnishings in the Chamber were designed by Pugin - including the solid brass gates at the entrance of the Chamber, each weighing some three-quarters of a ton. At the far end of the Chamber on a dais is the Royal Throne. This ornate gilded piece is based on the early 14th-century Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey.
The Royal Gallery is used for important occasions including state receptions, dinners, and parliamentary ceremonies, often with members of both Houses of Parliament present. Originally called the Victoria Gallery, this is the largest room in the Palace of Westminster and was designed to be imposing. Almost every part of the Gallery is highly decorated, including the ceiling, wallpaper, wood paneling, and floor tiles.
Central Lobby is the core of the Palace of Westminster and was designed by Charles Barry as a meeting place for Members of both Houses, and where MPs can meet their constituents. It is a lofty stone octagon with an intricately tiled floor and a rich mosaic-covered vault. The very distinctive Central Tower is built over the Central Lobby, which forms the crossroads of the Palace: the spot where corridors from the Lords, Commons, and Westminster Hall meet.
Statues in the Palace
Some three hundred statues were also commissioned to decorate the main facades of the building, representing saints and sovereigns from the Norman conquest to Queen Victoria.
Works of art in the Palace
The Palace of Westminster was designed not just to be a working building for the Lords and Commons but also to offer a striking panorama of British history. Everywhere in the building, there are statues, frescoes, murals, and pictures connected with parliamentary history and famous politicians.
The paintings by William Dyce in the Robing Room illustrate the chivalric virtues of hospitality, generosity, mercy, religion, and courtesy, as represented through scenes from the legend of King Arthur and his court.
The Peer's Corridor, on the other hand, is decorated with scenes from the reign of the Stuart kings.
House of Parliament Shop
A variety of gifts are available to bring back memories of this wonderful place in the form of:
Overall, a fun place and a unique learning experience to see how history is being made firsthand with a tour of the Houses of Parliament. To discover the magnificent rooms in this historic building and find out what happens in the House of Commons and House of Lords at the Parliament of one of the biggest democracies in the world, is a rare opportunity!!