The Palace of Westminster

a talk by Kevin Gordon

Wednesday, 11th April

Kevin Gordon is a retired Transport Police Officer and is now a guide at the Houses of Parliament.   He began by outlining the history and origins or Parliament.   It was followed by a ‘tour’ of the Palace including anecdotes about the people who worked there.

Parliaments originated as a method of raising taxes for the King.   In 1264 the Battle of Lewes, a rebellion led by Simon de Montfort, defeated Henry III’s army.   This led to the curbing of the absolute power of the monarch by Magna Carta.   Our speaker detailed the process that led to the formation of the House of Commons and a separate House of Lords.   [ has an extensive history of the Palace of Westminster.]

On 16th October 1834 the palace burnt down.   Ninety architects were invited to submit designs.   Augustus Pugin was not invited as he was a Roman Catholic.   The exterior of the palace was designed by Charles Barry.   However, the interior vaulted rooms, fittings and wallpaper were Pugin’s.   Our tour started at the Victoria Tower, which was the tallest tower in the world until New York skyscrapers were built.   This is where the Queen arrives for the State Opening of Parliament.   Her Majesty is prepared in the Royal Robing Room before walking along the blue carpet which leads to the red carpet of the House of Lords.   The throne from which the Queen reads has the Rose, the Thistle, the Shamrock but no symbol for Wales as it is a Principality.   The Members of the Commons are summoned to attend the Queen by Black Rod as no Monarch is allowed to enter the Commons since the time of Charles I.

The Royal Gallery is all Pugin’s work.   He was not invited to the opening of the new Palace as he was Catholic.   The gallery is where visiting dignitaries sit.   The Princes Chamber has a picture of Elizabeth of York, wife of Henry VII, who is depicted on playing cards as the Queen of Hearts.   Beneath are the cellars hired by the Gunpowder Plotters in 1605.

Emily Davidson is the only person ever registered as resident in the Houses of Parliament after hiding away overnight during the 1911 Census!   The Voting Lobby is where Members cast their votes when a division is called, signalled by a bell.   Members have eight minutes to cast their vote.   Neil Kinnock just got his foot in the door as it closed and claimed that his vote counted!   The Speaker, Betty Boothroyd, ruled that as his brain, which decided his vote, was outside the Lobby his vote did not count.

The talk included many more parts of the Houses of Parliament including the Central Lobby, St. Stephens Hall and Westminster Hall.   If you get the chance to visit the Houses of Parliament, do include a guided tour.

John Preston/PH