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Visit to the Houses of Parliament

By 18 June 2024No Comments

Last Updated on 18 June 2024

The Houses of Parliament in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland serve as the seat of our Parliament, comprising the House of Commons and the House of Lords. On Monday 17th June, Wimbledon Society members entered its hallowed halls for an official  guided tour to learn about its fascinating history and to gaze at the empty seats in the Commons knowing that in a few weeks time many new MPs and a lot of seasoned ones would refill the green leather benches, and if the polls are to be believed, swap sides.

Wimbledon Society members at the Houses of Parliament

Westminster Hall is the oldest building in Parliament and almost the only part of the ancient Palace of Westminster which survives in almost its original form. The Hall was built in 1097 under William II (Rufus), the son of William the Conqueror, and was completed two years later. He conceived the project to impress his new subjects with his power and the majesty of his authority.

The palace was heavily damaged by fire in 1512, ceasing to function as a royal residence thereafter. By 1550, St. Stephen’s Chapel had become the meeting place for the House of Commons, which had previously convened in the chapter house of Westminster Abbey, while the Lords met in another part of the palace.

The devastating fire of 1834 destroyed almost the entire palace, sparing only Westminster Hall, the Jewel Tower, the cloisters, and the crypt of St. Stephen’s Chapel.

The current buildings, designed by Sir Charles Barry with assistance from A.W.N. Pugin in the Gothic Revival style, were constructed between 1837 and 1860. The cornerstone was laid in 1840. Although the Commons Chamber was gutted during World War II air raids, it was restored and reopened in 1950. Alongside Westminster Abbey and St. Margaret’s Church, the Houses of Parliament were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987.

Fascinating fact: The clock in the Elizabeth Tower (‘Big Ben’) and all the other original Pugin timepieces in the building with Roman numerals have no ‘X’ markings. These are replaced with an ‘f’-styled symbol from Pugin’s Gothic Revival alphabet, which substitutes this symbol for the letter ‘X’.