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The beautiful Houses of Parliament 

May 2010  

The beautiful Houses of Parliament

houses of parliamentThe election has meant that politics has taken over as a key topic this month.

Most of us are probably worn out by all the coverage and discussion, and here at Laterlife we are certainly not going to add to that! However, we thought it might be appropriate timing to have a general look at the actual Houses of Parliament. After all, most of us will have seen this magnificent building at least once in our lifetime and many will have heard Big Ben strike the hour on radio news.

Its origins date back to the early eight century when a Saxon church dedicated to St Peter’s was constructed on the site alongside the Thames. There are reports that the history dates back even further to when a Roman temple to Apollo once stood here, but this is not officially recorded.

The Saxon church became known as the west monastery or West Minster. In the tenth century the church was reconstituted as a Benedictine abbey and adopted as a royal church.

Interestingly in those days the Thames was wider and shallower than it is today, and the area was marshy and damp.

Edward the Confessor was really responsible for changing the site to one of such significance. Soon after his coronation in 1042 he began building Westminster Abbey and also a neighbouring palace so that he could oversee the construction of the new abbey.

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.

In 1834 some important papers were being burned in a big furnace underneath the building – this was in an era before shredders were heard of! – and something went badly wrong because by the morning most of the buildings known as the Palace of Westminster lay in smoking ruins. All that was left was Westminster Hall, the Cloisters and one or two other buildings.

This was the perfect opportunity for a complete rebuild and a competition was held to design and build a reconstruction of the Palace. This was won by an innovative neo-gothic design created by architect Charles Barry and construction began in 1840, lasting 30 years. It wasn’t that different from modern construction in that the project went way beyond its budget and there were major delays as the buildings were completed. In fact, Charles Barry and his assistant both died before the work was finished.

It was clearly worth all the effort though, because today the beautiful façade along the Thames and the dominating clock tower and its bell known as Big Ben have now become iconic landmarks the world over. The new buildings retained their historic name, the Palace of Westminster (now also known as the Houses of Parliament), and the Palace was made a Grade 1 listed building in 1970 and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

You can visit the inside of the Houses of Parliament as well as admire the wonderful exterior – tours are held throughout the year and take around 75 minutes. Tickets are available to buy online through www.ticketmaster.co.uk/housesofparliament (external website) or by phoning 0844 847 1672. Be aware though that the tours are extremely popular and you do need to book well in advance.



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