The Palace of Westminster

Old Palace Y ard, once the enclosed courtyard of Edward the Confessor's palace, is now part of a busy thoroughfare separating the Houses of Parliament from Westminster Abbey. The West Front of the House of Lords is here seen from the grass plot surrounding the statue of King George V, by Sir William Reid Dick. On the left, the Clock Tower is visible above the roof of Westminster Hall. To the left of the statue, the reconstructed South Window of Westminster Hall shows the skill with which Barry brought the new building into harmony with the old

Old Palace Yard, once the enclosed courtyard of Edward the Confessor’s palace, is now part of a busy thoroughfare separating the Houses of Parliament from Westminster Abbey. The West Front of the House of Lords is here seen from the grass plot surrounding the statue of King George V, by Sir William Reid Dick. On the left, the Clock Tower is visible above the roof of Westminster Hall. To the left of the statue, the reconstructed South Window of Westminster Hall shows the skill with which Barry brought the new building into harmony with the old

For nine centuries there has been a Royal Palace at Westminster, and the building which the Houses of Parliament occupy is still a Royal Palace, which is partly under the control of the Lord Great Chamberlain, a Great Officer of State whose ancestors have held this office since Robert Malet in 1100, as representative of the Queen. The last king to live in the Palace was Henry VIII, who acquired York Place in 1529 and renamed it the Palace of Whitehall.

Edward the Confessor built the first Palace, and the Painted Chamber in which he is reputed to have died survived until the last century, when it was pulled down to make way for the present Houses of Parliament.

The oldest surviving part of the Palace is Westminster Hall, which was founded by William Rufus as the great hall of his ‘New Palace’, a name which still clings to the Yard outside the main door where Members of Parliament park their cars. Richard II reconstructed the Hall and gave it the magnificent hammer-beam roof.

As the king’s principal residence the Palace became the normal meeting-place of Parliament. Parliaments were usually opened in the Painted Chamber, and the Lords deliberated in a Chamber at the south end of the building. When the Commons first began to deliberate apart, they were usually ordered to withdraw to the Chapter House or the Refectory of Westminster Abbey. It was only after 1547, when the Royal Chapel of St Stephen had been handed over to them, that they found a permanent home within the Palace.

In 1834 a fire which broke out in the heating apparatus destroyed a large part of the ancient buildings, including the old House of Lords and St Stephen’s Chapel. The new Houses of Parliament, the first great building of the Gothic revival, were built to the plans of Sir Charles Barry; the beautiful detail of the building, the fittings and the furniture were designed by Augustus Welby Pugin. The Lords first sat in their Chamber in 1847, and the Commons moved into theirs in 1852. The clock tower (the Albert Tower) was also finished in 1852, but the construction of the clock was the subject of so much controversy and the casting of Big Ben proved so difficult that it was not until 1859 that the clock, the hour-bell and the chimes came into use.

In the last war, the Palace was damaged in at least fourteen different air raids, and on the night of 10 May 1941, the House of Commons was gutted by incendiary bombs.

The new House of Commons, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, was opened on 26 October 1950.

The Peers' Entrance in Old Palace Yard

The Peers’ Entrance in Old Palace Yard

The Peers'’ Staircase, a fine example of Pugin’s mo-Gothic design

The Peers’ Staircase, a fine example of Pugin’s neo-Gothic design

Throne in the Queens Robing Room

Throne in the Queens Robing Room

The Royal Gallery

The Royal Gallery

The Prince's Chamber, showing the statue of Queen Victoria by J. Gibson

The Prince’s Chamber, showing the statue of Queen Victoria by J. Gibson

 

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