Houses of Parliament, London
The Houses of Parliament are officially known as the Palace of Westminster, recalling the fact that they occupy the site of a former royal palace, originally built by Edward the Confessor and enlarged by William the Conqueror and William Rufus. Westminster Hall was built by William Rufus (1097-99). The whole palace was destroyed by a catastrophic fire in 1512, with the exception of Westminster Hall, the 14th century St Stephen's Chapel and the Crypt.
Houses of Parliament Map
Official site: www.parliament.uk
Useful tips: Admission times for the House of Lords are: Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 2:30 p.m. (Thursday also from 3 p.m.); Friday from 11am. Admission times for the House of Commons are: Monday-Thursday from 4:30 p.m.; Friday from 9:30am. Visitors obtain a permit for admission at the Admission Order Office in St Stephen's Hall and wait there to be conducted to the Strangers' Gallery of the respective House. The Palace of Westminster may be viewed only by prior appointment. United Kingdom residents should contact their local Member of Parliament; visitors from overseas should apply in writing to the Public Information Office.
Transit: Underground: Westminster; Buses: 3, 11, 12, 24, 29, 53, 70, 77, 77a.
House of Lords
The House of Lords is a sumptuously decorated chamber, with red leather benches for the peers, the traditional "Woolsack" (recalling the importance of the English wool trade from the 14th century onwards) on which the Lord Chancellor sits, and the throne occupied by the monarch when opening Parliament. Above the throne are galleries for distinguished visitors, above the north entrance the galleries for the press and the public. In the recesses behind the galleries are frescoes depicting scenes from British history (south end) and symbolizing Justice, Religion and Chivalry (north end). In the window niches are statues of the barons who compelled King John to sign Magna Carta in 1215.The Peers' Lobby, beyond the House of Lords, is a square chamber with a fine pavement of encaustic tiles. The Peers' Corridor leads into the Central Lobby.The Central Lobby, lying halfway between the Lords and Commons, is an elaborately decorated octagonal vestibule with a vaulted ceiling 23m/75ft high.
The Jewel Tower, now a museum, is one of the few surviving remnants of the medieval Palace of Westminster, the royal residences from the time of Edward the Confessor (1003-66) to that of Henry VIII (1491-1547). It was built by Henry Yvele in 1366 as a repository for the king's private wealth (as distinct from the Crown Jewels and the public treasury), and was used for that purpose until the death of Henry VIII. From the beginning of the 17th century it was used to store the records of the House of Lords, and from 1869 to 1938 it was occupied by the Weights and Measures Department of the Board of Trade. Severely damaged during World War II, it was rebuilt in its original style between 1948 and 1956. The small vaulted rooms now house an exhibition of Parliament past and present.
Address: Abingdon Street, London SW1P 3JY, England
Opening hours: Apr 1 to Sep 30: 10am-1pm, 2pm-6pm
Oct 1 to Oct 31: 10am-1pm, 2pm-5pm
Nov 1 to Mar 31: 10am-1pm, 2pm-4pm
Oct 1 to Oct 31: 10am-1pm, 2pm-5pm
Nov 1 to Mar 31: 10am-1pm, 2pm-4pm
Always closed on: New Year's Day (Jan 1), Christmas Eve - Christian (Dec 24), Christmas - Christian (Dec 25), Day after Christmas, St Stephen's Day, Boxing Day (Dec 26)
Entrance fee in GBP: Adult £2.00, Concession or reduced rate £1.50, Child £1.00, Group discounts FREE, Child 5 & under FREE
Facilities: Gift shop
Transit: Underground: Westminster; Bus: 3, 11, 12, 24, 53, 77A, 88, 109, 159, 211.
St Margaret's Church
St Margaret's, the parish church of the House of Commons and the scene of many fashionable weddings, was founded in the 11th or 12th century, rebuilt in 1523 by Robert Stowell, master-mason of Westminster Abbey, refaced in 1735 and restored by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1878. The church is notable particularly for the Flemish stained glass in the east window, presented by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain on the occasion of the marriage of Prince Arthur, Henry VIII's elder brother, to Catherine of Aragon. Before the glass arrived in London Arthur had died and Henry had married his widow: whereupon the glass was sent to Waltham Abbey, coming to St Margaret's only in 1758. Other features of interest are the altarpiece, the center panel of which is a carving of the Supper at Emmaus, copied from Titian's picture; 16th and 17th century memorial brasses (including one to Sir Walter Raleigh, the founder of Virginia); and Elizabethan and Jacobean monuments.
Houses of Parliament-Royal Chambers
The Royal Staircase leads to the Norman Porch, with statues and frescoes of the Norman period.Adjoining is the Robing Room, used by the monarch, 16m/54ft long, decorated in the style of the early Victorian period. Notable features are the wall frescoes, the carved oak panels, with the badges of successive sovereigns, the fireplace made of a variety of marbles and a chair of state of the Victorian period.The Royal Gallery, 34m/110ft long, has an elaborate ceiling and a frieze with the arms of English and Scottish monarchs. On the walls are two monumental frescoes by Daniel Maclise, "The Death of Nelson" and "The Meeting of Wellington and Blücher after Waterloo".The adjoining Prince's Chamber is the anteroom to the House of Lords. On the paneled walls are portraits of the Tudor monarchs and members of their families, and below these are bas reliefs of scenes from their reigns. Opposite the entrance is a white marble statue of Queen Victoria, flanked by figures of Justice and Mercy.
Westminster Hall was spared by the fire which destroyed the old Palace of Westminster. The 79m/250ft long and 30m/90ft high hall was rebuilt by Henry Yvele during Richard II's reign. Its most impressive feature is the oak hammerbeam roof (late 14th century), restored after damage during the last war. Westminster Hall has been the scene of great historical events. From 1224 to 1882 it was the meeting place of the highest courts in the land and witnessed many famous trials, including those of Richard II (1399), Sir Thomas More (1535) and Charles I (1649). Here, too, Cromwell was installed as Lord Protector in 1653.From Westminster Hall a staircase leads down to St Stephen's Crypt (officially the church of St Mary Undercroft), the crypt of the old St Stephen's Chapel (1327).
At the north end of the Houses of Parliament is the Clock Tower, which ranks with Trafalgar Square and Tower Bridge as one of the most celebrated London landmarks. The tower is 98m/320ft high, with a flight of 334 steps leading up to the clock, which has dials 7m/23ft in diameter and minute hands 4m/14ft long. The bell, "Big Ben" said to be named after Sir Benjamin Hall, which strikes the hours, weighs 13 tons. The sound of Big Ben has become known throughout the world as the time signal of BBC radio.
St Stephen's Hall
The door on the west side of the Central Lobby leads into St Stephen's Hall, on the site of the old St Stephen's Chapel, in which the House of Commons met from 1547 to 1834. This is a vaulted hall, 29m/95ft long, with mosaics depicting the founding of the chapel by King Stephen. It contains statues of Norman and Plantagenet kings and queens and British statesmen of the 17th-19th centuries.From St Stephen's Porch, adjoining on the west, there is a view of Westminster Hall.
State Opening of Parliament
The State Opening of Parliament takes place annually in November. The Queen rides from Buckingham Palace to Parliament in the Irish State Coach; in the House of Lords she declares the new session of Parliament open. A gun salute is fired in Hyde Park and at the Tower of London.
London Parliament - Victoria Tower
The Royal Entrance, a doorway 15m/50ft high, is used by the monarch at the annual state opening of the Parliamentary session, usually in November.
More Houses of Parliament Pictures