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Westminster Palace, Westminster Abbey and Saint Margaret's Church*
UNESCO World Heritage Site

Looking down from some height, a large stone building in the Gothic style lies by a river with its long side parallel to it. It is internally organised around a number of courtyards, and its various wings feature grey roofs and multiple turrets. A large square tower with a flagstaff stands at the back, a smaller one with a spire in the middle, and a square clock tower with two faces visible is at the front-right corner. A green road bridge of several arches crosses the river next to it.
The Palace of Westminster, here viewed from the London Eye, sits on the north bank of the River Thames, near Westminster Bridge. Its principal towers are, from left to right, the Victoria Tower, the Central Tower and the Clock Tower, also known as "Big Ben".
State Party United Kingdom
Type Cultural
Criteria i, ii, iv
Reference 426
Region** Europe and North America
Inscription history
Inscription 1987  (11th Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.

The Palace of Westminster, also known as the Houses of Parliament or Westminster Palace, is the seat of the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom—the House of Lords and the House of Commons. It lies on the north bank of the River Thames[note 1] in the heart of the London borough of the City of Westminster, close to the historic Westminster Abbey and the government buildings of Whitehall and Downing Street. The name may refer to either of two structures: the Old Palace, a medieval building complex most of which was destroyed in 1834, and its replacement New Palace that stands today; it has retained the style and status of a royal residence, despite its actual use.

The first royal palace was built on the site in the eleventh century, and Westminster was the primary London residence of the Kings of England until a fire destroyed much of the complex in 1512. After that, it served as the home of Parliament, which had been meeting there since the thirteenth century, and the seat of the Royal Courts of Justice, based in and around Westminster Hall. In 1834, an even greater fire ravaged the heavily rebuilt Houses of Parliament, and the only structures of significance to survive were Westminster Hall, the Cloisters and Chapter House of St Stephen's, the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft and the Jewel Tower.

The subsequent competition for the reconstruction of the Palace was won by architect Charles Barry and his design for a building in the Perpendicular Gothic style. The remains of the Old Palace (with the exception of the detached Jewel Tower) were incorporated in its much larger replacement, which contains over 1,100 rooms organised symmetrically around two series of courtyards. Part of the New Palace's area of 3.24 hectares (8 acres) was reclaimed from the Thames, which is the setting of its principal façade, the 265.8-metre (872 ft) river front. Barry was assisted by Augustus W. N. Pugin, a leading authority on Gothic architecture and style, who provided designs for the decoration and furnishings of the Palace. Construction started in 1840 and lasted for thirty years, suffering great delays and cost overruns, as well as the death of both leading architects; works for the interior decoration continued intermittently well into the twentieth century. Major conservation work has been carried out since, due to the effects of London's pollution, and extensive repairs took place after the Second World War, including the reconstruction of the Commons Chamber following its bombing in 1941.

The Palace is one of the centres of political life in the United Kingdom; "Westminster" has become a metonym for the UK Parliament, and the Westminster system of government has taken its name after it. Its Clock Tower, in particular, which has become known as "Big Ben" after its main bell, is an iconic landmark of London and the United Kingdom in general, one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city and an emblem of parliamentary democracy. The Palace of Westminster has been a Grade I listed building since 1970 and part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987.



The Old Palace

The Palace of Westminster site was strategically important during the Middle Ages, as it was located on the banks of the River Thames. Known in medieval times as Thorney Island, the site may have been first-used for a royal residence by Canute the Great during his reign from 1016 to 1035. St Edward the Confessor, the penultimate Saxon monarch of England, built a royal palace on Thorney Island just west of the City of London at about the same time as he built Westminster Abbey (1045–50). Thorney Island and the surrounding area soon became known as Westminster (a contraction of the words West Minster). Neither the buildings used by the Saxons nor those used by William I survive. The oldest existing part of the Palace (Westminster Hall) dates from the reign of William I's successor, King William II.

The Old Palace of Westminster was a complex of buildings, separated from the River Thames in the east by a series of gardens. The largest and northernmost building is Westminster Hall, which lies parallel to the river. Several buildings adjoin it on the east side, south of those and perpendicular to the Hall is the mediaeval House of Commons, further south and parallel to the river is the Court of Requests, with an eastwards extension at its south end, and at the south end of the complex lie the House of Lords and another chamber. The Palace was bounded by St Margaret's Street to the west and Old Palace Yard to the south-west; another street, New Palace Yard, is just visible to the north.
A detail from John Rocque's 1746 map of London. St Stephen's Chapel, labelled "H of Comm" (House of Commons), is adjacent to Westminster Hall; the Parliament Chamber—labelled "H of L" (House of Lords)—and the Prince's Chamber are to the far south. The Court of Requests, between the two Houses, became the new home of the Lords in 1801. At the north-east, by the river, stands Speaker's House.

The Palace of Westminster was the monarch's principal residence in the late Medieval period. The predecessor of Parliament, the Curia Regis (Royal Council), met in Westminster Hall (although it followed the King when he moved to other palaces). The Model Parliament, the first official Parliament of England, met in the Palace in 1295;[1] almost all subsequent Parliaments have met there.

The Jewel Tower was built around 1365 to house the treasures of King Edward III.[2]

In 1530, King Henry VIII acquired York Palace from Thomas Cardinal Wolsey,[3] a powerful minister who had lost the King's favour. Renaming it the Palace of Whitehall, Henry used it as his principal residence. Although Westminster officially remained a royal palace, it was used by the two Houses of Parliament and by the various royal law courts.

Because it was originally a royal residence, the Palace included no purpose-built chambers for the two Houses. Important state ceremonies were held in the Painted Chamber. The House of Lords originally met in the Queen's Chamber, a modest Medieval hall at the south end of the complex. In 1801 the Upper House moved into the larger White Chamber, which had formerly housed the Court of Requests; the expansion of the Peerage by King George III during the 18th century, along with the imminent Act of Union with Ireland, necessitated the move as the original chamber could not accommodate the increased number of peers.

The House of Commons, which did not have a chamber of its own, sometimes held its debates in the Chapter House of Westminster Abbey. The Commons acquired a permanent home at the Palace in the form of St Stephen's Chapel, the former chapel of the royal palace, during the reign of Edward VI. In 1547 the building became available for the Commons' use following the disbanding of St Stephen's College. Alterations were made to St Stephen's Chapel over the following three centuries for the convenience of the lower House, gradually destroying its original mediaeval appearance.

The Palace of Westminster as a whole began to see significant alterations from the 18th century onwards, as Parliament struggled to carry out its business in the limited available space and ageing buildings. Calls for an entirely new palace went unheeded as instead more buildings were added. A new west facade facing onto St. Margaret's Street was built in the Palladian style between 1755 and 1770, providing more space for document storage and committee rooms. A new official residence for the Speaker of the House of Commons was built adjoining St. Stephen's Chapel and completed in 1795. The neo-Gothic architect James Wyatt also carried out works on both the House of Lords and Commons between 1799 and 1801.

The palace complex was substantially remodelled once again, this time by Sir John Soane, between 1824 and 1827. The mediaeval House of Lords chamber, which had been the target of the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605, was demolished as part of this work in order to create a new Royal Gallery and ceremonial entrance at the southern end of the palace. Soane's work at the palace also included new library facilities for both Houses of Parliament and new law courts for the Chancery and King's Bench. Soane's alterations caused controversy due to his use of neo-classical architectural styles, which conflicted with the Gothic style of the original buildings.

Fire and reconstruction

On the right, a white stone bridge arches over a wide river. On the far side and to the left, a gabled building is outlined in front of huge flames rising up to the night sky; they are reflected in the water and illuminate part of the bridge and a building with two towers in the background. There are several boats full of people in the river, and large crowds are assembled on the near bank and on the bridge.
J. M. W. Turner watched the fire of 1834 and painted several canvases depicting it, including The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons (1835).

On 16 October 1834, a fire broke out in the Palace[1] after an overheated stove used to destroy the Exchequer's stockpile of tally sticks set fire to the House of Lords Chamber. In the resulting conflagration both houses of Parliament were destroyed along with most of the other buildings in the palace complex. Westminster Hall was saved largely due to heroic firefighting efforts. The Jewel Tower, the crypt of St Stephen's Chapel and the cloisters were the only other parts of the palace to survive.

Immediately after the fire, King William IV considered converting Buckingham Palace, which was almost completed at the time but disliked by the King, into the new Houses of Parliament.[4] The King proposed the idea to the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, who dismissed it as he believed the political and historical character of Parliament could only be preserved if it remained at Westminster. To that end, the Painted Chamber and White Chamber were hastily repaired for temporary use by the Houses of Lords and Commons respectively, until a design for a replacement palace could be decided upon and built.

A Royal Commission was appointed to study the rebuilding of the Palace and a heated public debate over the proposed styles ensued. The neo-Classical approach, similar to that of the White House and the federal Capitol in the United States, was popular at the time and had already been used by Soane in his additions to the old palace, but had connotations of revolution and republicanism, whereas Gothic design embodied conservative values. The Commission announced in June 1835 that "the style of the buildings would be either Gothic or Elizabethan".[5] The Royal Commission decided to allow architects to submit proposals following these basic criteria. It is said that they took this approach in order to prevent Sir Robert Smirke, the only architect appointed to the Office of Works at that time, from landing the commission to design a new palace as his classical designs were unpopular during that period.

In 1836, after studying 97 rival proposals, the Royal Commission chose Charles Barry's plan for a Gothic-style palace. The foundation stone was laid in 1840;[6] the Lords Chamber was completed in 1847, and the Commons Chamber in 1852 (at which point Barry received a knighthood). Although most of the work had been carried out by 1860, construction was not finished until a decade afterwards. Barry, whose own architectural style was more classical than Gothic, built the new palace upon the neo-classical principle of symmetry. He relied heavily on Augustus Pugin for the sumptuous and distinctive Gothic interiors, including wallpapers, carvings, stained glass and furnishings, like the royal thrones and canopies.

Recent history

In the course of the German bombing of London during the Second World War (see The Blitz), the Palace of Westminster was hit by bombs on fourteen separate occasions. One bomb fell into Old Palace Yard on 26 September 1940 and severely damaged the south wall of St Stephen's Porch and the west front.[7] The statue of Richard the Lionheart was lifted from its pedestal by the force of the blast, and its upheld sword bent, an image that was used as a symbol of the strength of democracy, "which would bend but not break under attack".[8] Another bomb destroyed much of the Cloisters on 8 December.[7]

The worst raid took place in the night of 10/11 May 1941, when the Palace took at least twelve hits and three people were killed.[9] An incendiary bomb hit the chamber of the House of Commons and set it on fire; another set the roof of Westminster Hall alight. The firefighters could not save both, and a decision was taken to try and rescue the Hall.[10] In this they were successful; the abandoned Commons Chamber, on the other hand, was completely gutted.[11] A bomb also struck the Lords Chamber, but went through the floor without exploding.[7] The Clock Tower took a hit by a small bomb or anti-aircraft shell at the eaves of the roof in the south side, suffering much damage there. All the glass on the south dial was blown out, but the hands and bells were not affected, and the Great Clock continued to keep time accurately.[12]

The Commons Chamber was re-built after the war under the architect Giles Gilbert Scott, in a simplified version of the old chamber's style; the work was completed in 1950.[1]

As the need for office space in the Palace increased, Parliament acquired office space in the nearby Norman Shaw Building in 1975,[13] and more recently in the custom-built Portcullis House, completed in 2000. This increase has now allowed all MPs to have their own office facilities.[1]


The river front of the Palace of Westminster
View from across the Thames in the morning...
...and at dusk.

Sir Charles Barry's collaborative design for the Palace of Westminster uses the Perpendicular Gothic style, which was popular during the 15th century and returned during the Gothic revival of the 19th century. Barry was a classical architect, but he was aided by the Gothic architect Augustus Pugin. Westminster Hall, which was built in the 11th century and survived the fire of 1834, was incorporated in Barry's design. Pugin was displeased with the result of the work, especially with the symmetrical layout designed by Barry; he famously remarked, "All Grecian, sir; Tudor details on a classic body".[14]


The stonework of the building was originally Anston, a sand-coloured magnesian limestone quarried in the village of Anston in South Yorkshire.[15] The stone, however, soon began to decay due to pollution and the poor quality of some of the stone used. Although such defects were clear as early as 1849, nothing was done for the remainder of the 19th century. During the 1910s, however, it became clear that some of the stonework had to be replaced.

In 1928 it was deemed necessary to use Clipsham Stone, a honey-coloured limestone from Rutland, to replace the decayed Anston. The project began in the 1930s but was halted due to the Second World War, and completed only during the 1950s. By the 1960s pollution had once again begun to take its toll. A stone conservation and restoration programme to the external elevations and towers began in 1981, and ended in 1994.[16] The House Authorities have since been undertaking the external restoration of the many inner courtyards, a task due to continue until approximately 2011


View from below of a large square tower, connected at the left to a lower building. It features an arched portal at its base, and two rows of three high windows on each side. The corners are formed by round turrets, which rise above the main roof-line. A flag flies from a pole at the top of the tower.
At the time of its completion, the Victoria Tower was the tallest and largest square tower in the world.[17]

Sir Charles Barry's Palace of Westminster includes several towers. The tallest is the 98.5-metre (323 ft)[15] Victoria Tower, a square tower at the south-western end of the Palace. It was named after the reigning monarch at the time of the reconstruction of the Palace, Queen Victoria; today, it is home to the Parliamentary Archives. Atop the Victoria Tower is an iron flagstaff, from which flies either the Union Flag (when either House is sitting and on royal or other special days) or the Royal Standard (if the Sovereign is present in the Palace). At the base of the tower is the Sovereign's Entrance, used by the monarch whenever entering the Palace of Westminster for the State Opening of Parliament or for any other official ceremony.

Over the middle of the Palace, immediately above the Central Lobby, stands the octagonal Central Tower. At 91.4 metres (300 ft),[15] it is the shortest of the Palace's three principal towers. Unlike the other towers, the Central Tower culminates in a spire, and was designed as a high-level air intake.

At the north end of the Palace is the most famous of the towers, the Clock Tower, commonly known as Big Ben after its main bell. The Clock Tower is 96.3 metres (316 ft)[15] tall. Pugin's drawings for the tower were the last work he did for Barry. The Clock Tower houses a large, four-faced clock—the Great Clock of Westminster—also designed by Pugin. The tower also houses five bells, which strike the Westminster Chimes every quarter hour. The largest and most famous of the bells is Big Ben (officially The Great Bell of Westminster), which strikes the hour. This is the third-heaviest bell in England, weighing 13.8 tonnes (13.6 long tons).[15] Although Big Ben properly refers only to the bell, it is colloquially applied to the whole tower. A light, called the Ayrton Light, is located at the top of the Clock Tower. The Ayrton Light is lit when either the House of Commons or the House of Lords is sitting after dark. The light takes its name from Thomas Ayrton, the first Commissioner of Works who installed a gas lamp in the tower soon after it was built in 1885. It was installed at the request of Queen Victoria, so she could see from Buckingham Palace whether the members were "at work".

A small tower, St. Stephen's Tower, is positioned at the front of the Palace, between Westminster Hall and Old Palace Yard, and contains the main entrance to the House of Commons at its base, known as St. Stephen's Entrance.[18] Other towers include Speaker's and Chancellor's Towers, at the north and south ends of the building's river front respectively.[16] They are named after the presiding officers of the two Houses of Parliament at the time of the Palace's reconstruction, the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Lord High Chancellor.


Hamo Thornycroft's statue of Oliver Cromwell outside Westminster Hall, with the Victoria Tower visible in the background.
An ornate clock tower stands over a garden with trees, enclosed by ornamental railings. At the left and behind the garden is a large modern building with a series of short chimneys on the roof. An observation wheel can be discerned between the tower and the building, and in the foreground lies a busy road.
The Clock Tower, here viewed from Parliament Square, overlooks New Palace Yard and Portcullis House. The London Eye can be seen in the background.

There are a number of small gardens surrounding the Palace of Westminster. Victoria Tower Gardens is open as a public park along the side of the river south of the palace. Black Rod's Garden (named after the office of Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod) is closed to the public and is used as a private entrance. Old Palace Yard, in front of the Palace, is paved over and covered in concrete security blocks (see security below). Cromwell Green (also on the frontage, and in 2006 enclosed by hoardings for the construction of a new visitor centre), New Palace Yard (on the north side) and Speaker's Green (directly north of the Palace) are all private and closed to the public. College Green, opposite the House of Lords, is a small triangular green commonly used for television interviews with politicians.


The Palace of Westminster contains over 1,100 rooms, 100 staircases and 4.8 kilometres (3 mi) of passageways,[15] which are spread over four floors. The ground floor is occupied by offices, dining rooms and bars; the first floor (known as the principal floor) houses the main rooms of the Palace, including the debating chambers, the lobbies and the libraries. The top-two floors are used for committee rooms and offices.


Layout of the principal floor (north is to the right). The two debating chambers and their ante-rooms lie on opposite sides of the Central Lobby and are part of a ceremonial axis which extends to the south end of the Palace. The Victoria Tower occupies the south-west corner and the Clock Tower is at the far north; Westminster Hall protrudes to the west.

There are two main ways to examine the basic layout of the Palace. The public entrance is St Stephen's Entrance, in the middle of the western front. Visitors pass through two porches, St Margaret's and St Stephen's, which bring them to the level of the principal floor; the latter porch is also connected to Westminster Hall. Continuing eastwards, one traverses St Stephen's Hall and reaches the Central Lobby, the hub of the Palace. This is symmetrically flanked by corridors, which lead to lobbies and chambers of the two Houses: the Members' Lobby and Commons Chamber to the north, and the Peers' Lobby and Lords Chamber to the south. The latter is also the end of the royal procession route, the suite of ceremonial rooms used by the monarch at State Openings of Parliament. This includes the Robing Room, the Royal Gallery and the Prince's Chamber, all on the same line as the Chambers.

Norman Porch

The grandest entrance to the Palace of Westminster is the Sovereign's Entrance beneath the Victoria Tower. It is designed for the use of the monarch, who travels from Buckingham Palace by carriage every year for the State Opening of Parliament.[19] The Imperial State Crown, which is worn by the sovereign for the ceremony, as well as the Cap of Maintenance and the Sword of State, which are symbols of royal authority and are borne before the monarch during the procession, also travel to the Palace by coach, accompanied by members of the Royal Household; the regalia, as they are collectively known, arrive some time before the monarch and are exhibited in the Royal Gallery. The Sovereign's Entrance is also the formal entrance used by visiting dignitaries,[20][21] as well as the starting point of public tours of the Palace.[22][23]

From there, the Royal Staircase leads up to the principal floor with low, wide steps.[24] It is lined on State Openings by sword-wielding troopers of the two regiments of the Household Cavalry, the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals; they are the only troops allowed to bear arms inside the Palace of Westminster, which officially remains a royal residence.[25]

The staircase is followed by the Norman Porch, a square landing distinguished by its central cluster of columns and the intricate ceiling it supports, which is made up of four groin vaults. The Porch was named for its proposed decorative scheme, based on Norman history.[26] In the event, neither the planned statues of Norman kings nor the frescoes were executed, and only the stained-glass window portraying William the Conqueror hints at this theme. Queen Victoria is depicted twice in the room: as a young woman in the other stained-glass window,[27] and near the end of her life, sitting on the throne of the House of Lords, in a copy of a 1900 painting by Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant[28] which hangs on the eastern wall. The sixteen plinths intended for the statues now house busts of prime ministers who have sat in the House of Lords, such as the Earl Grey and the Marquess of Salisbury. A double door opposite the stairs leads to the Royal Gallery, and another to the right opens to the Robing Room.[19]

Queen's Robing Room

See adjacent text.
The Sovereign prepares for the State Opening of Parliament on the Robing Room's Chair of State.

The Queen's Robing Room lies at the southern end of the ceremonial axis of the Palace and occupies the centre of the building's south front, overlooking the Victoria Tower Gardens.[29] As its name indicates, it is where the Sovereign prepares for the State Opening of Parliament by donning official robes and wearing the Imperial State Crown.[30] The focus of this richly decorated room is the Chair of State used by the monarch; it sits on a dais of three steps, under a canopy adorned with the arms and floral emblems of England, Scotland and Ireland. A panel of purple velvet forms the backdrop to the chair, embroidered by the Royal School of Needlework with the royal arms, surrounded by stars and VR monograms.[19] Edward Barry designed both the chair—the cushion and back of which are also embroidered—and the ornate marble fireplace across the room, which features gilded statuettes of St George and St Michael.[29]

The decorative theme of the room is the legend of King Arthur, considered by many Victorians the source of their nationhood.[31] Five frescos painted by William Dyce between 1848 and 1864 cover the walls, depicting allegorical scenes from the legend. Each scene represents a chivalric virtue; the largest, between the two doors, is entitled Admission of Sir Tristram to the Round Table and illustrates the virtue of Hospitality.[19] Seven were originally commissioned but the remaining two paintings were not carried out due to the artist's death, and on the wallpapered panels flanking the Chair of State hang oil portraits of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert by Franz Xaver Winterhalter.[29][note 2] Other decorations in the room are also inspired by the Arthurian legend, namely a series of 18 bas-reliefs beneath the paintings, carved in oak by Henry Hugh Armstead,[19] and the frieze running below the ceiling, which displays the attributed coats of arms of the Knights of the Round Table.[32] The ceiling itself is decorated with heraldic badges, as is the border of the wooden floor[34]—which, as can be seen in the image to the right, is left exposed by the carpeting.

Royal Gallery

Immediately north of the Robing Room is the Royal Gallery. At 33.5 by 13.7 metres (110 by 45 ft), it is one of the largest rooms in the Palace.[15] Its main purpose is to serve as the stage of the royal procession at State Openings of Parliament, which the audience watch from temporary tiered seating on both sides of the route.[35] It has also been used on occasion by visiting statesmen from abroad when addressing both Houses of Parliament, as well as for receptions in honour of foreign dignitaries,[36] and more regularly for the Lord Chancellor's Breakfast;[37] in the past it was the theatre of several trials of peers by the House of Lords.[36][38] Documents from the Parliamentary Archives are on display in the Royal Gallery (including a facsimile of Charles I's death warrant), and the tables and seating offer a workspace for members of the Lords that is conveniently close to their debating chamber.[19]

The decorative scheme of the Royal Gallery was meant to display important moments in British military history, and the walls are decorated by two large paintings by Daniel Maclise, each measuring 13.7 by 3.7 metres (45 by 12 ft): The Death of Nelson (depicting Lord Nelson's demise at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805) and The Meeting of Wellington and Blücher (showing the Duke of Wellington meeting Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815).[19] The murals deteriorated rapidly after their completion due to a range of factors, most importantly atmospheric pollution, and today they are almost monochrome.[31] The rest of the planned frescos were cancelled, and the walls are filled with portraits of kings and queens from George I onwards.[39] Another decorative element with military undertones are the eight statues of gilded Caen stone that flank the three doorways and the bay window of the Gallery, sculpted by John Bernie Philip. Each depicts a monarch during whose reign a key battle or war took place.[19] The panelled ceiling, 13.7 metres (45 ft) above the floor,[15] features Tudor roses and lions, and the stained-glass windows show the coats of arms of the Kings of England and Scotland.[36]

Prince's Chamber

The Prince's Chamber is a small anteroom between the Royal Gallery and the Lords Chamber, named after the room adjoining the Parliament Chamber in the Old Palace of Westminster. Due to its location, it is a place where members of the Lords meet to discuss business of the House. Several doors lead out of the room, to the division lobbies of the House of Lords and to a number of important offices.[19]

The theme of the Prince's Chamber is Tudor history, and 28 oil portraits painted on panels around the room depict members of the Tudor dynasty. They are the work of Richard Burchett and his pupils, and their creation entailed extensive research, which contributed to the founding of the National Portrait Gallery in 1856. 12 bronze bas-reliefs are set into the wall below the portraits, executed by William Theed in 1855–57.[19] Scenes included are The Field of the Cloth of Gold, The Escape of Mary, Queen of Scots and Raleigh Spreading His Cloak As a Carpet for the Queen. The ceiling panels depict the arms of England, Scotland and Ireland.[40]

The room contains two octagonal tables, each with a set of eight chairs decorated with lion heads, and a statue of Queen Victoria, flanked by statues of Justice and Clemency. Victoria is shown seated on a throne (itself placed on a pedestal) and holding a sceptre and a laurel crown, thus "governing and ruling".[41] The sculptural ensemble, made of white marble and carved by John Gibson in 1855, reaches 2.44 metres (8 ft) in height; its size has long been controversial, and the flanking statues ended up in storage between 1955 and 1976. The group is located in the archway opposite the door to the Royal Gallery, and when said door is removed before State Openings of Parliament to facilitate the royal procession, the statues are clearly visible all the way to the Robing Room, symbolically reminding the Monarch of their royal duties.[19][42]

Lords Chamber

The Sovereign's Throne and its gilded Canopy dominate the ornate Lords Chamber.

The Chamber of the House of Lords is located in the southern part of the Palace of Westminster. The lavishly decorated room measures 13.7 by 24.4 metres (45 by 80 ft).[15] The benches in the Chamber, as well as other furnishings in the Lords' side of the Palace, are coloured red. The upper part of the Chamber is decorated by stained glass windows and by six allegorical frescoes representing religion, chivalry and law.

At the south end of the Chamber are the ornate gold Canopy and Throne; although the Sovereign may theoretically occupy the Throne during any sitting, he or she attends only the State Opening of Parliament. Other members of the Royal Family who attend the State Opening use Chairs of State next to the Throne, and peers' sons are always entitled to sit on the steps of the Throne. In front of the Throne is the Woolsack, a backless and armless red cushion stuffed with wool, representing the historical importance of the wool trade, and used by the officer presiding over the House (the Lord Speaker since 2006, but historically the Lord Chancellor or a deputy). The House's mace, which represents royal authority, is placed on the back of the Woolsack. In front of the Woolsack is the Judges' Woolsack, a larger red cushion formerly occupied during the State Opening by the Law Lords (who were members of the House of Lords), and prospectively by the Supreme Court Justices and other Judges (whether or not members), to represent the Judicial Branch of Government. The Table of the House, at which the clerks sit, is in front.

Members of the House occupy red benches on three sides of the Chamber. The benches on the Lord Speaker's right form the Spiritual Side and those to his left form the Temporal Side. The Lords Spiritual (archbishops and bishops of the established Church of England) all occupy the Spiritual Side. The Lords Temporal (nobles) sit according to party affiliation: members of the Government party sit on the Spiritual Side, while those of the Opposition sit on the Temporal Side. Some peers, who have no party affiliation, sit on the benches in the middle of the House opposite the Woolsack; they are accordingly known as cross-benchers.

The passage of the Parliament Act 1911. Votes in both Houses of Parliament are conducted in the form of divisions.

The Lords Chamber is the site of nationally televised ceremonies, the most important of which is the State Opening of Parliament, which is held formally to open each annual parliamentary session, either after a General Election or in the autumn. At this occasion every constitutional element of the government is represented: the Crown (both literally, and figuratively in the person of the Sovereign), The Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and The Commons, (who together form the Legislature), the Judiciary (although most judges are not members of either house of parliament), and the Executive (both Government Ministers, and ceremonial military units in attendance on the Sovereign); and a large number of guests are invited to attend in the large Royal Gallery immediately outside the Chamber. The Sovereign, seated on the Throne, delivers the Speech from the Throne, outlining the Government's programme for the year and legislative agenda for the forthcoming parliamentary session. The Commons may not enter the Lords' debating floor; instead, they watch the proceedings from beyond the Bar of the House, just inside the door. A small purely formal ceremony is held to end each parliamentary session, when the Sovereign is merely represented by a group of Lords Commissioners.

Peers' Lobby

Directly north of the Lords Chamber lies the Peers' Lobby, an antechamber where Lords can informally discuss or negotiate matters during sittings of the House, as well as collect messages from the doorkeepers, who control access to the Chamber. The Lobby is a square room measuring 11.9 metres (39 ft) on each side and 10 metres (33 ft) in height,[15] and one of its main features is the floor centrepiece, a radiant Tudor rose made of Derbyshire marbles and set within an octagon of engraved brass plates.[43] The rest of the floor is paved with encaustic tiles featuring heraldic designs and Latin mottoes. The walls are faced with white stone and each is pierced by a doorway; above the arches are displayed arms representing the six royal dynasties which ruled England until Queen Victoria's reign (Saxon, Norman, Plantagenet, Tudor, Stuart and Hanoverian), and between them there are windows stained with the arms of the early aristocratic families of England.[44]

Of the doorways, the one to the south—which leads into the Lords Chamber—is the most magnificent, and sports much gilding and decoration, including the full royal arms. It is enclosed by the Brass Gates, a pair of elaborately pierced and studded doors together weighing 1.5 tonnes (1.7 short tons).[45] The side doors, which feature clocks, open into corridors: to the east extends the Law Lords Corridor, which leads to the libraries, and nearby to the west lies the Moses Room, used for Grand Committees.

To the north is the vaulted Peers' Corridor, which is decorated with eight murals by Charles West Cope depicting historical scenes from the period around the English Civil War.[46] The frescoes were executed between 1856 and 1866,[47][48] and each scene was "specifically chosen to depict the struggles through which national liberties were won".[46] Examples include Speaker Lenthall Asserting the Privileges of the Commons Against Charles I when the Attempt was Made to Seize the Five Members, representing resistance against absolute rule, and The Embarkation of the Pilgrim Fathers for New England, which illustrates the principle of freedom of worship.

Central Lobby

Saints Patrick and David watch over the Central Lobby from above the doors towards St Stephen's Hall and the Commons Corridor respectively.

Originally named "Octagon Hall" because of its shape, the Central Lobby is the heart of the Palace of Westminster. It lies directly below the Central Tower and forms a busy crossroads between the House of Lords to the south, the House of Commons to the north, St Stephen's Hall and the public entrance to the west, and the Lower Waiting Hall and the libraries to the east. Its location halfway between the two debating chambers has made Erskine May describe the Lobby as "the political centre of the British Empire",[49] and allows a person standing under the great chandelier to see both the Royal Throne and the Speaker's Chair, provided that all the intervening doors are open. Constituents may meet their Members of Parliament here, even without an appointment,[50] and this practice is one of the possible origins of the term lobbying.[51] The hall is also the theatre of the Speaker's Procession, which passes from here on its way to the Commons Chamber before every sitting of the House.

The Central Lobby measures 18.3 metres (60 ft) across and 22.9 metres (75 ft) from the floor to the centre of the vaulted ceiling.[15] The panels between the vault's ribs are covered with Venetian glass mosaic displaying floral emblems and heraldic badges, and the bosses in the intersections of the ribs are also carved into heraldic symbols.[52] Each wall of the Lobby is contained in an arch ornamented with statues of English and Scottish monarchs; on four sides there are doorways, and the tympana above them are adorned with mosaics representing the patron saints of the United Kingdom's constituent nations: St George for England, St Andrew for Scotland, St David for Wales and St Patrick for Ireland.[note 3] The other four arches are occupied by high windows, under which there are stone screens—the hall's post office, one of two in the Palace, is located behind one of these screens. In front of them stand four bigger-than-life statues of 19th-century statesmen, including one of four-time Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone.[46] The floor on which they stand is tiled with Minton encaustic tiles in intricate patterns and includes a passage from Psalm 127 written in Latin, which translates as follows: "Except the Lord build the House their labour is but lost that build it".[53]

The East Corridor leads from the Central Lobby to the Lower Waiting Hall, and its six panels remained blank until 1910, when they were filled with scenes from Tudor history.[54] They were all paid for by Liberal peers and each was the work of a different artist, but uniformity was achieved between the frescoes thanks to a common colour palette of red, black and gold and a uniform height for the depicted characters. One of the scenes is probably not historical: Plucking the Red and White Roses in the Old Temple Gardens, depicting the origin of the white and red rose as emblems of the Houses of York and Lancaster respectively, was taken from Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 1.[55]

Members' Lobby

Continuing north from the Central Lobby is the Commons' Corridor. It is of almost identical design to its southern counterpart and is decorated with scenes of 17th-century political history between the Civil War and the Glorious Revolution. They were painted by Edward Matthew Ward and include subjects like Monk Declaring for a Free Parliament and The Lords and Commons Presenting the Crown to William and Mary in the Banqueting Hall.[46] Then, mirroring the arrangement at the Lords part of the Palace, is another antechamber, the Members' Lobby. In this room, Members of Parliament hold discussions or negotiations, and are often interviewed by accredited journalists, collectively known as "The Lobby".[56]

The room is similar to the Peers' Lobby but plainer in design and slightly larger, forming a cube 13.7 metres (45 ft) on all sides.[15] After the heavy damage it sustained in the 1941 bombing, it was rebuilt in an simplified style, something most evident in the floor, which is almost completely unadorned. The archway of the door leading into the Commons Chamber has been left unrepaired as a reminder of the evils of war, and is now known as the Rubble Arch or Churchill Arch. It is flanked by bronze statues of Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George, the prime ministers who led Britain through the Second and First World War respectively; a foot of each is conspicuously shiny, a result of a long tradition of MPs rubbing them for good luck on their way in before their maiden speech. The Lobby contains the busts and statues of most 20th-century prime ministers, as well as two large boards where MPs can receive letters and telephone messages, designed for the use of the House and installed in the early 1960s.[57]

Commons Chamber

The Chamber of the House of Commons is at the northern end of the Palace of Westminster; it was opened in 1950 after the Victorian chamber had been destroyed in 1941 and re-built under the architect Giles Gilbert Scott. The Chamber measures 14 by 20.7 metres (46 by 68 ft)[15] and is far more austere than the Lords Chamber; the benches, as well as other furnishings in the Commons side of the Palace, are coloured green. Members of the public are forbidden to sit on the red benches, which are reserved for members of the House of Lords. Other parliaments in Commonwealth nations, including those of India, Canada and Australia, have copied the colour scheme under which the Lower House is associated with green, and the Upper House with red.

Like its predecessor, the post-war chamber of the House of Commons can seat on its green benches only about two-thirds of all Members of Parliament.

At the north end of the Chamber is the Speaker's Chair, a present to Parliament from the Commonwealth of Australia. The current British Speaker's Chair is an exact copy of the Speaker's Chair given to Australia, by the House of Commons, on the celebration of Australia's Parliamentary opening. In front of the Speaker's Chair is the Table of the House, at which the clerks sit, and on which is placed the Commons' ceremonial mace. The dispatch boxes, which front-bench Members of Parliament (MPs) often lean on or rest notes on during Questions and speeches, are a gift from New Zealand. There are green benches on either side of the House; members of the Government party occupy benches on the Speaker's right, while those of the Opposition occupy benches on the Speaker's left. There are no cross-benches as in the House of Lords. The Chamber is relatively small, and can accommodate only 427 of the 646 Members of Parliament[58]—during Prime Minister's Questions and in major debates MPs stand at either end of the House.

By tradition, the British Sovereign does not enter the Chamber of the House of Commons. The last monarch to do so was King Charles I, in 1642. The King sought to arrest five Members of Parliament on charges of high treason, but when he asked the Speaker, William Lenthall, if he had any knowledge of the whereabouts of these individuals, Lenthall famously replied: "May it please your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here."[59]

The two red lines on the floor of the House of Commons are 2.5 metres (8 ft 2 in)[15] apart, which, by (probably apocryphal) tradition, is intended to be just over two sword-lengths. Protocol dictates that MPs may not cross these lines when speaking. Historically, this was to prevent disputes in the House from devolving into duels. If a Member of Parliament steps over this line while giving a speech he or she will be lambasted by opposition Members. This is a possible origin for the expression "to toe the line".

Westminster Hall

Westminster Hall in the early 19th century

Westminster Hall, the oldest existing part of the Palace of Westminster, was erected in 1097,[60] at which point it was the largest hall in Europe, though it was subsequently overtaken over a hundred years later by the Palais de la Cité in Paris (1301–06) and a hall in Padua of similar date.[61] The roof was probably originally supported by pillars, giving three aisles, but during the reign of King Richard II, this was replaced by a hammerbeam roof by the royal carpenter Hugh Herland, "the greatest creation of medieval timber architecture", which allowed the original three aisles to be replaced with a single huge open space, with a dais at the end. Richard's architect Henry Yevele left the original dimensions, refacing the walls, with fifteen life-size statues of kings placed in niches.[62] The rebuilding had been begun by Henry III in 1245, but had by Richard's time been dormant for over a century.

Westminster Hall has the largest clearspan medieval roof in England, measuring 20.7 by 73.2 metres (68 by 240 ft).[15] Despite an Essex legend that the oak timber came from woods in Thundersley, Essex, it is known that the original roof was constructed with Irish black oak from County Galway and the chestnut roof timberwork was framed in 1395 at Farnham in Surrey, 56 kilometres (35 mi) south-west of London.[63] Accounts record the large number of wagons and barges which delivered the jointed timbers to Westminster for assembly.[64]

Westminster Hall has served numerous functions. It was primarily used for judicial purposes, housing three of the most important courts in the land: the Court of King's Bench, the Court of Common Pleas and the Court of Chancery. In 1875, these courts were amalgamated into the High Court of Justice,[65] which continued to meet in Westminster Hall until it moved to the Royal Courts of Justice in 1882.[66] In addition to regular courts, Westminster Hall also housed important trials, including impeachment trials and the state trials of King Charles I at the end of the English Civil War, Sir William Wallace, Sir Thomas More, John Cardinal Fisher, Guy Fawkes, the Earl of Strafford, the rebel Scottish Lords of the 1715 and 1745 uprisings, and Warren Hastings.

George IV's coronation banquet was held in Westminster Hall in 1821; it was the last such banquet held.

Westminster Hall has also served ceremonial functions. From the twelfth century to the nineteenth, coronation banquets honouring new monarchs were held here. The last coronation banquet was that of King George IV, held in 1821;[67] his successor, William IV, abandoned the idea because he deemed it too expensive. The Hall has been used for lyings-in-state during state and ceremonial funerals. Such an honour is usually reserved for the Sovereign and for their consorts; the only non-royals to receive it in the twentieth century were Frederick Sleigh Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts (1914) and Sir Winston Churchill (1965). The most recent lying-in-state was that of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother in 2002.

The two Houses have presented ceremonial Addresses to the Crown in Westminster Hall on important public occasions. For example, Addresses were presented at Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee (1977) and Golden Jubilee (2002), the 300th anniversary of the Glorious Revolution (1988), and the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War (1995).

Under reforms made in 1999, the House of Commons uses the Grand Committee Room next to Westminster Hall as an additional debating chamber. (Although it is not part of the main hall, the room is usually spoken of as such.) The seating is laid out in a U-shape, in contrast with the main Chamber in which the benches are placed opposite each other. This pattern is meant to reflect the non-partisan nature of the debates held in Westminster Hall. Westminster Hall sittings occur thrice each week; controversial matters are not usually discussed.

Other rooms

There are two suites of libraries on the Principal Floor, overlooking the river, for the House of Lords Library and House of Commons Library.

The Palace of Westminster also includes state apartments for the presiding officers of the two Houses. The official residence of the Speaker stands at the northern end of the Palace; the Lord Chancellor's apartments are at the southern end. Each day, the Speaker and Lord Speaker take part in formal processions from their apartments to their respective Chambers.[68][69]

There are 19 bars and restaurants in the Palace of Westminster,[70] many of which never close while the House is sitting. There is also a gymnasium, and even a hair salon; the rifle range closed in the 1990s.[71] Parliament also has a souvenirs shop, where items on sale range from House of Commons key-rings and china to House of Commons Champagne.


Concrete barriers restrict access to Old Palace Yard.

The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod oversees security for the House of Lords, and the Serjeant at Arms does the same for the House of Commons. These officers, however, have primarily ceremonial roles outside the actual chambers of their respective Houses. Security is the responsibility of the Palace of Westminster Division of the Metropolitan Police, the police force for the Greater London area. Tradition still dictates that only the Serjeant at Arms may enter the Commons chamber armed.

With rising concern about the possibility of a lorry full of explosives being driven into the building, a series of concrete blocks was placed in the roadway in 2003.[72] On the river, an exclusion zone extending 70 metres (77 yd) from the bank exists, which no vessels are allowed to enter.[73]

Despite recent security breaches, members of the public continue to have access to the Strangers' Gallery (public gallery) in the House of Commons. Visitors pass through metal detectors and their possessions are scanned.[74] Police from the Palace of Westminster Division of the Metropolitan Police, supported by some armed police from the Diplomatic Protection Group, are always on duty in and around the Palace.

Under a provision of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, it has been illegal since 1 August 2005 to hold a protest, without the prior permission of the Metropolitan Police, within a designated area extending approximately one kilometre (0.6 mi) around the Palace.[75]


A famous attempt to breach the security of the Palace of Westminster was the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605. The plot was a conspiracy among a group of Roman Catholic gentry to re-establish Catholicism in England by assassinating the Protestant King James I and replacing him with a Catholic monarch. To this end, they placed large quantities of gunpowder beneath the House of Lords, which one of the conspirators, Guy Fawkes, would detonate during the State Opening of Parliament on 5 November 1605. If executed, the explosion would have destroyed the Palace, killing the King, his family and most of the aristocracy. However, the plot was discovered and most of the conspirators were either arrested or killed while trying to evade capture. The survivors were tried for high treason in Westminster Hall, convicted and gruesomely executed by hanging, drawing and quartering. Since then, the cellars of the Palace have been searched by the Yeomen of the Guard before every State Opening of Parliament, a traditional precaution against any similar attempts against the Sovereign.[76]

The assassination of Prime Minister Spencer Perceval in 1812 in the lobby of the House of Commons

The previous Palace of Westminster was also the site of a prime-ministerial assassination in 1812.[77] While in the lobby of the House of Commons, on his way to a parliamentary inquiry, Spencer Perceval was shot and killed by a Liverpool merchant adventurer, John Bellingham. Perceval remains the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated.

The New Palace became the target of Fenian bombs on 24 January 1885, along with the Tower of London. The first bomb, a black bag containing dynamite, was discovered by a visitor on the steps towards the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft. Police Constable (PC) William Cole attempted to carry it to New Palace Yard, but the bag became so hot that Cole dropped it and it exploded.[78] The blast opened a hole in the floor 1 metre (3 ft) in diameter, twisted the iron railings nearby, damaged the roof of the Crypt and shattered all the windows in the Hall, including the stained-glass South Window at St Stephen's Porch.[79] Both Cole and PC Cox, a colleague who had joined him to offer assistance, were seriously injured.[78] A second explosion followed almost immediately in the Commons Chamber, causing great damage—especially to its south end—but no injuries, as it was empty at the time.[80] The incident resulted in the closure of Westminster Hall to visitors for several years; when visitors were re-admitted in 1889, it was under certain restrictions and never while the two Houses were sitting.[81]

On 17 June 1974, a 9-kilogram (20 lb) bomb planted by the Provisional IRA exploded in Westminster Hall.[82] Another attack took place on 30 March 1979, when Airey Neave, a prominent Conservative politician, was killed by a car bomb as he drove out of the Palace's new car park.[83] Both the Irish National Liberation Army and the Provisional IRA claimed responsibility for the murder; security forces believe the former was responsible.

The Palace has also been the site of a number of acts of politically motivated "direct action". In July 1970, a canister of tear gas was thrown into the Chamber of the House of Commons to protest against conditions in Northern Ireland. In 1978, activist Yana Mintoff and another dissident threw bags of horse manure,[84] and in June 1996 demonstrators dropped leaflets.[85] Concern about such attacks and a possible chemical or biological attack led to the construction of a glass screen across the Strangers' Gallery in early 2004.

The new barrier does not cover the gallery in front of the Strangers' Gallery, which is reserved for ambassadors, members of the House of Lords, guests of MPs and other dignitaries,[86] and in May 2004 protesters from Fathers 4 Justice attacked Prime Minister Tony Blair with flour bombs from this part, after obtaining admission by bidding for a place in the visitors' gallery in a charity auction.[87] Subsequently, rules on admission to the visitors' galleries were changed, and now individuals wishing to sit in the galleries must first obtain a written pass from a Member certifying that that individual is personally known to them. In September of the same year, five protesters opposed to the proposed ban on fox hunting disrupted the proceedings of the House of Commons by running into the Chamber.[88]

Although the House of Lords has mostly avoided such incidents, it became a target in 1988. During the debate for the controversial Clause 28, which was a proposal to ban the promotion of homosexuality in schools, three lesbian demonstrators disrupted the proceedings by abseiling into the Chamber from the public gallery.[85]

Activists on the roof of the Palace of Westminster

The protests have not been limited to the interior of the Palace. Early in the morning of 20 March 2004, two Greenpeace members climbed the Clock Tower to demonstrate against the Iraq war, raising questions about the security around such a high-profile target.[89] In March 2007, another four members of Greenpeace made their way to the Palace's roof by means of a nearby crane, which was used for repairs to Westminster Bridge. Once up, they unfurled a 15-metre (50 ft) banner reading "Tony ♥ WMD", protesting against the British government's plans to update the Trident nuclear weapons programme.[90] In February 2008, five campaigners from the Plane Stupid group climbed to the roof of the building to protest against the expansion of Heathrow Airport. The activists, who unfurled two banners and threw down paper planes, were led off by police peacefully after about three hours. MPs and security experts found it worrying that the protesters made it to the roof despite the tightened security measures, and the police believe that they may have had inside help.[91] In October 2009, 45 Greenpeace activists climbed to the roof of Westminster Hall to call for a number of environmental measures. After almost five hours, twenty of them climbed down, while the rest spent the night on the roof.[92][93]

Rules and traditions

Eating, drinking and smoking

The Palace has accumulated many rules and traditions over the centuries. Smoking has not been allowed in the chambers of the House of Lords and the Commons since the 17th century.[94] As a result, Members may take snuff instead and the doorkeepers still keep a snuff-box for this purpose. Despite persistent media rumours, it has not been possible to smoke anywhere inside the Palace since 2005.[95] Members may not eat or drink in the chamber; the exception to this rule is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who may have an alcoholic drink while delivering the Budget statement.[96]

Dress code

The introduction of a new Member of Parliament, 1858. Wearing hats in the House of Commons has not always been treated in the same way.

Hats must not be worn (although they formerly were when a point of order was being raised),[97] and Members may not wear military decorations or insignia. Members are not allowed to have their hands in their pockets—Andrew Robathan was heckled by opposing MPs for doing this on 19 December 1994.[98] Swords may not be worn in the Palace, and each MP has a loop of ribbon in the cloakroom for storing weapons.

Other traditions

No animals may enter the Palace of Westminster, with the exception of guide dogs for the blind;[94] sniffer dogs and police horses are also allowed on the grounds.[99]

Speeches may not be read out during debate, although notes may be referred to. Similarly, the reading of newspapers is not allowed. Visual aids are discouraged in the chamber.[100]

Applause is not normally allowed in the Lords and Commons. Some notable exceptions to this were when Robin Cook gave his resignation speech in 2003,[101] when Prime Minister Tony Blair appeared for the last time at Prime Minister's Questions and when Speaker Michael Martin gave his leaving speech on 17 June 2009.[102]

It is a convention that MPs do not discuss the Sovereign nor use the name of the monarch as a point of debate without prior permission from the Speaker. This comes from 19th-century constitutionalist Erskine May, who said, "the irregular use of the Queen's name to influence a decision of the House is unconstitutional in principle and inconsistent with the independence of Parliament ... Any attempt to use her name in debate to influence the judgement of Parliament is immediately checked and censured." Vincent Cable was reprimanded for breaking this convention during a session of Prime Minister's Questions in 2008.[103]

Culture and tourism

Le Parlement de Londres, Claude Monet, 1903, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

The exterior of the Palace of Westminster—especially the Clock Tower—is recognised worldwide, and is one of the most visited tourist attractions in London. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) classifies the Palace of Westminster, along with neighbouring Westminster Abbey and St. Margaret's, as a World Heritage Site. It is also a Grade I listed building. There is no casual access to the interior, but it may be seen in a number of ways:

  • Viewing debates from the public galleries of the House of Commons or the House of Lords: UK residents may obtain tickets in advance from their MP. It is also possible for both UK residents and overseas visitors to queue for admission on the day, but capacity is limited and there is no guarantee of admission. Only a very small part of the Palace's interior may be seen. Either House may exclude "strangers" if it desires to sit in private.
  • Tours during Parliamentary sessions: UK residents may apply to their MP or a peer for a place on a guided tour of Parliament while it is in session. British educational institutions may also arrange a tour through their MP. Overseas visitors may only tour Parliament during the summer recess.[104]
  • Summer opening: tours are available during a two-month period during the summer when Parliament is not sitting. These tours are open to both UK residents and overseas visitors.[105]
  • Television Viewing: live broadcasts of Parliamentary sessions can be viewed on BBC Parliament; recorded footage is shown when Parliament is not in session. The sessions are also occasionally rebroadcast in the United States via C-SPAN.
  • Touring the Clock Tower: Currently, only UK Residents can tour the Clock Tower, by arranging a tour through their local MP.[106]

Architectural historian Dan Cruickshank selected the Palace as one of his five choices for the 2006 BBC television documentary series Britain's Best Buildings.[107]

The nearest London Underground station is Westminster on the District, Circle and Jubilee Lines.


  1. ^ At this point of its course, the Thames flows from south to north instead of its general west–east direction, so the Palace is effectively situated on the west bank of the river.
  2. ^ Depicted (clockwise) are the virtues of Courtesy, Religion, Generosity, Hospitality and Mercy. The two missing frescoes were meant to depict Fidelity and Courage.[32] Queen Victoria's portrait can be seen in the Parliamentary website.[33]
  3. ^ Ireland was part of the United Kingdom in its entirety from 1801 until the secession of the Irish Free State in 1922. Decorative references to Ireland exist throughout the Palace of Westminster and include symbols like the harp and the shamrock; these remain valid with regards to Northern Ireland.


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  2. ^ "Jewel Tower". English Heritage. Retrieved 27 December 2009. 
  3. ^ Fraser, Antonia (1992). The Wives of Henry VIII. New York: Alfred A Knopf. ISBN 0394585380. 
  4. ^ Ziegler, Phillip (1971). King William IV. Collins. p. 280. ISBN 978-0002119344. 
  5. ^ Watkin, David. "An Eloquent Sermon in Stone". City Journal Summer 1998. Retrieved 27 December 2009. 
  6. ^ Riding, Christine (7 February 2005). "Westminster: A New Palace for a New Age". BBC. Retrieved 27 December 2009. 
  7. ^ a b c "Architecture of the Palace: Bomb damage". UK Parliament. Retrieved 27 December 2009. 
  8. ^ "Richard I statue: Second World War damage". UK Parliament. Retrieved 27 December 2009. 
  9. ^ Macdonald (2004), p. 95.
  10. ^ Field (2002), p. 259.
  11. ^ "Bombed House of Commons 1941". UK Parliament. Retrieved 27 December 2009. 
  12. ^ Macdonald (2004), p. 96.
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  18. ^ Department of the Serjeant at Arms Annual Report 2001–02, Section: "St Stephen's Tower": "This project involved the renovation and re-modelling of offices on four floors above St Stephen's Entrance."
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Lords Route virtual tour". UK Parliament. Retrieved 29 January 2010. 
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  26. ^ Guide to the Palace of Westminster, p. 25.
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  45. ^ a b c d "Central Lobby virtual tour". UK Parliament. Retrieved 31 January 2010. 
  46. ^ Wilson (2005), p. 21.
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  48. ^ Quinault (1992), p. 93.
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  60. ^ Jonathan Alexander & Paul Binski (eds), Age of Chivalry, Art in Plantagenet England, 1200–1400, pp. 506–7, Royal Academy/Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London 1987. In Paris only the lower hall survives as the Conciergerie.
  61. ^ Alexander and Binski, op. & pages cit. Only six of the statues, rather damaged, remain, and the dias has been remodelled, but otherwise the hall remains largely as Richard and his architect Henry Yevele left it.
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Further reading

  • Pevsner, Nikolaus; Bradley, Simon (2003). The Buildings of England. London 6: Westminster. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0300095951. 
  • Tanfield, Jennifer (1991). In Parliament 1939–50: The Effect of the War on the Palace of Westminster. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office. ISBN 978-0108506406. 

External links

Coordinates: 51°29′57.5″N 00°07′29.1″W / 51.499306°N 0.12475°W / 51.499306; -0.12475


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



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Proper noun

Palace of Westminster

  1. An extensive building on the north bank of the River Thames in London, housing the House of Commons and the House of Lords.


See also

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