Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, London
RICHARD THE LIONHEART is proudly sitting on his horse in the Old Palace Yard since the unveiling in 1860. Richard 1st was king of England from 1189 until his death 10 years later when he was only 42 years old. He was nicknamed the Lionheart long before he became king due to his reputation as a great fighter, becoming leader of his own army at the age of 16 when he helped put down rebellions against his father, Henry II. In the crusades he won several victories against his counterpart, Saladin, but failed to recapture Jerusalem. He lived most of the time in his Duchy of Aquitaine in the south of France and spent very little time in England.
Richard was shot in the neck by an arrow from the crossbow of a boy who claimed that Richard had killed his father and two brothers and had killed him in revenge. The boy was dragged before him expecting the worse but Richard forgave him,and before sending the boy away gave him 100 shillings, a tremendous amount in those days. The doctor made a mess pulling the arrow out and it became gangrenous. Two weeks later he died in the arms of his mother and strangely his heart was buried at Rouen, his innards at Chalus and the remainder at the feet of his father Fontevraud Abbey. According t the Bishop of Rochester he ascended to heaven in 1232 after spending 33 years in purgatory for his sins.
The two Houses of Parliament are the House of Commons and the House of Lords and it might be of some interest that the Queen may not enter the House of Commons as she is not a commoner, but the whole complex is actually the Palace of Westminster. The original palace was built in the 11th century but was destroyed by fire in 1512 and again in 1834. It is a 'MUST SEE' if you are in London even if you cannot book a guided tour. Throngs of people crowd around it everyday even though there is increased barriers and security.
Smoking is not allowed in the House of Commons since the 17th century so there is a snuff box as you enter. And another interesting fact that the phrase 'IN THE BAG' originates from people putting petitions in a velvet bag on the back of the Speaker's Chair as they were too embarrassed to raise the point in public. No animals are allowed in the Building except guide dogs, but a few cats would not go astray as the building is infested with mice.
Tours available Monday to Friday in August and September for £15 Saturdays throughout the year also. Tours in French, Spanish and German are available.
Take a look at the cast iron lamp posts in Hyde Park and other parts of London, which are made out of cast iron but it is hard to tell if they are the original gas lamps or have been replaced by replicas. Anyway, no matter if they are original or new they are worth examining and very suitable for parts of London with the Victorian houses.
If you can afford it you can have riding lessons at a costly £70 to £100 an hour depending on your requirements. There is a north side and south side riding area in the park and often you will see many riders on their horses. www.hydeparkstables.com for info.
BIG BEN, I have heard it ring many times heralding in the New Year in London on Television. Now, on a cold and wet day, I was in London standing right beside it.
Did you know its correct name is Saint Stephen's Tower, Big Ben is the common name and it refers to the clock's hour bell, the largest of the clock's five bells.
The clock was the largest in the world and is still the largest in Great-Britain. What is wonderful about Big Ben, is its remarkable accuracy.
The 96 metre high Clock tower was constructed between 1843 and 1858 as the clock tower for the Houses of Parliament.
On a wet day, I didn't get much of a look at the Houses of Parliament, too busy trying to keep dry!
Big Ben can only be viewed from the outside.
People who have read my travel pages will already know that I adore sculpture and municipal art, so it's no great surprise that Parliament Square in Westminster is one of my favourite spots in London for 'sculpture spotting'.
If you are immortalised in Parliament Square, then you really know that you've ascended to the rarified ranks of the Great and the Good - the only snag is that you usually have to be dead to do so! The current roll call includes British heavyweights from yesteryear such as Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George, Benjamin Disraeli, Viscount Palmerston and Sir Robert Peel as well as a few statesmen from the Former Colonies, including Abraham Lincoln. Surprisingly there are also two South Africans: Nelson Mandela - the only one to be commemorated during his lifetime - and Field Marshal Jan Smuts (whose picture is shown here).
I was particularly intrigued by Smuts' presence, as I believe that he is one of the most influential world statesmen of the early 20th century. He was one of the primary architects of the League of Nations (the forerunner to the United Nations) and was one of Britain's staunchest allies before he was voted out of office after World War II and replaced by the Nationalist government that would eventually morph into the apartheid regime. Above all, Smuts was a dedicated Anglophile who would have been chuffed to know that his statue stands outside the Mother of Parliaments!
For anyone interested in learning more about this fascinating man, see my travel tips on his house in Irene near Pretoria (which is a must for anyone visiting South Africa who has an interest in this period).
Would-be photographers and those who'd like to get a good look at these statues from all angles may be frustrated to discover that the grassed section of Parliament Square around which the statues are displayed has been cordoned off and at the time of writing (January 2011) it was only possible to walk along the pavement. This is to prevent the protestors who have been camped out opposite Parliament (protesting Britain's involvement in various armed conflicts) from migrating onto the grass, and as they've been there for several years already, they're unlikely to be going away anytime soon.
This home of "Big Ben" (or The Clock Tower), is a neo-Gothic wonder from the mid 19th century, and it’s full of houses: namely the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Reserve ahead to watch antics during Parliament sessions.
The Palace of Westminster, also known as the Houses of Parliament, stands on the banks of the Thames in the London borough of Westminster. The palace is the seat of the British Parliament, which consists of the House of Commons (House of Commons, similar to the Dutch Lower House of the Belgian Chamber of Representatives) and the Upper House (House of Lords, similar to the Dutch Senate or the Belgian Senate). Since 1987, together with Westminster Abbey and Saint Margaret's Church on the World Heritage List of UNESCO.
When I searched the internet for detailed information about Palace of Westminster’s façade, I found a most fascinating article called An Eloquent Sermon in Stone by David John Watkin (Professor of History of Architecture, Cambridge). His introductory words are so perfectly describing my intention with this tip that I simply let him speak first:
Quote David Watkin:
“Architecture is more than mere engineering, aiming not just to make buildings stand up but make them speak – and, at its best, to make them speak eloquently of profound matters. No public building exemplifies that power better than Sir Charles Barry’s Houses of Parliament, whose architecture delivers virtually a sermon in stone to the British nation about its deepest value, its ancient culture”.
(please make sure you read the whole article if you share a similar fondness of older, talking, buildings as I do).
Well, the Palace of Westminster had a certain fascination for me ever since I saw it back in 1977. This time however I took my time and walked around it quite often, at least as far as I could get. I deeply regret that I don’t know that much about British history as it would have been helpful to understand what I saw. Sir Barry created a masterpiece with this façade. He created it in Perpendicular style, the typical English version of late Gothic, which, to be honest, I really like better than our continental version of Gothic. It is fascinating to look at the eastern part (the one which faces river Thames). At first glance it seems very much symmetrical, but it is not. The three towers are of different size, height and style, and the middle part is a bit raised compared to the sides. But to me this looks even more harmonic than if it would be completely symmetrical. I’ve read that this eastern part has sculptures of more than 300 kings, queens and saints, but it is difficult to get details, unless you would hire a boat and drive along slowly. The southern façade (towards Victoria Gardens) is easier to admire. Photo 3 shows in my opinion how this perpendicular harmony was created: one statue in the middle, flanked by two others, but the middle one has a higher spire on the guarding roof, which points into the next “rectangular block” above this section. Sir Barry and Pugin gave very much attention to the elaborateness of all the statues, as it can easily be seen in the main photo. Between the statues are Tudor roses and initials of Queen Victoria (Victoria Regina) all over. On the western façade (the outer walls of House of Lords) the porticullis and heads of earls and others dominate (photo 4).
So I can only highly recommend to take your time and walk around the long building to take in these amazing details of the façade. I will certainly do so next time, and by then I hopefully know more about the history to understand what I see. I often thought about how Sir Barry and Pugin worked on the plans, in days where no CAD was available. And from this point of view, their work is even more outstanding, given the huge amount of drawings and sketches they did, which alltogether lead to this incredibly beautiful building.
Coordinates on GoogleEarth:
BIG BEN.. and the house of parliament have been symbolizing London for years. If you want to know the history, google it. But if you want to witness the beauty, I'd suggest go check out yourself. My pictures may help you a bit.
The Palace of Westminster (otherwise known as the Houses of Parliament) is perhaps the most recognisable building in London and one of my favourites. Why 'Houses' of Parliament? Well, the British Parliament comprises two houses: the lower House of Commons of elected representatives and the upper House of Lords, peopled with hereditary and life peers.
The current building is a flamboyant confection by Sir Charles Barry in the Perpendicular Gothic style(!) and surprisingly recent, with the exterior having only been completed in 1870 (and much of the interior much later than that). Like many Central London buildings, the Houses of Parliament have been cleaned in recent years to remove accumulated surface grime and I think that the honey coloured limestone - a pleasant counterpoint to the rather stark white Portland Stone which has been used for the facades of many of the Whitehall buildings - is beautiful, particularly in the early morning and late afternoon, when the masonry seems to glow in the gentle light.
There has been a building on this site since the mid 11th century, and the earliest surviving building of the Westminster Complex is the adjacent Westminster Abbey. Westminster Palace was initially a royal residence that accommodated a Model Parliament (comprising some members of the clergy and nobility) from as early as 1295, although their primary function was to impose taxes rather than govern - some would argue that not much has changed!
The Palace has changed dramatically over the centuries due to several devastating fires and repeatedly extended and remodelling to adapt to its changing function. Parts of the medieval structure such as the lovely Undercroft Chapel still survive - despite the best efforts of Guy Fawkes and the other ill-fated participants in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 (who were hung, drawn and quartered for their pains) - but most of the building postdates the catastrophic fire of 1834.
The Palace has three towers. The tallest is the Victoria Tower, which is equipped with a flagstaff: if the Royal Standard (the Queen's personal flag) is flying, then the monarch is in the House, and if the Union Jack is flying, Parliament is in session. The Bell Tower at the other end of the building houses five bells, including the largest, Big Ben (whose distinctive 'boing' strikes on the hour). If there is a light on in the Bell Tower, then it is indication that the House is sitting - rumour has it that this convention was introduced so that Queen Victoria to make sure that her Government were putting in the requisite number of hours! The Octagonal Tower is the smallest of the three towers, and was initially installed as a ventilation feature (presumably to vent all that hot air???), cited by architects as "the first occasion when mechanical services had a real influence on architectural design". However, the design was a failure and the tower was eventually was demoted to a decorative feature.
When I was at university, my Byronic boyfriend and I often take late night strolls down to the Thames and play Pooh Sticks off Westminster Bridge - it sounds very lame looking back, but in the throes of young love, it seemed wildly romantic! If the weather was cold and we didn't yet feel like going home, we would check to see whether the light was on in the Bell Tower, and, if so, we would submit ourselves to a cursory security check and then slip into the Visitors' Gallery of the House of Commons to watch the late night debate in the surprisingly small Chamber. This was usually much less dramatic than it sounds, with MPs droning on about some dull topic (and in truth, it was more amusing to spot which members were snoozing on the benches) but it was interesting to see parliamentary process in action. In the post 9/11 world, things are very different, and although it is still possible to visit, the process is a lot more security-conscious (although still free): see the website below for more details.
People Of A Certain Age (ie. middle aged people like me!) will not be able to look at the roof of Westminster Palace without conjuring up a pivotal scene from my all time favourite BBC series: 'House of Cards' - people who have seen it will know exactly what I mean, and I won't spoil it for those who have yet to have the pleasure. This brilliant pitch black commentary on the life and times of a fictional British MP Francis Urquhart (whose initials were far from accidental) was written by Michael Dobbs, Margaret Thatcher's former Chief of Staff and is a biting commentary on Westminster and what one has to do to survive and thrive in this viciously competitive environment. This series (and its sequels, 'To Play The King' and 'The Final Cut') are an absolute must for those wanting to gain an insight into the British parliamentary system and cynical British humour!
Sharp-eyed travellers (and other know alls) will also be awarded brownie points for noting the similarity between the Houses of Parliament in London and the House of Parliament in Budapest whose architect Imre Steindl who was inspired by Westminster Palace!
Many visitors to Westminster probably miss the Jewel Tower, but it is one of only two surviving buildings from the original medieval Palace of Westminster. It was built in 1365-6 for King Edward III by Henry Yevele, the 'Surveyor of the King's Masonry' and was originally intended as a private treasury.
It was originally surrounded by a moat, to give greater security, and also provide fish for the King's table.
From 1621 the tower was used to store parliamentary records, and later it was used by the Board of Trade's standards department, which tested standard weights and measures.
Nowadays, there is an exhibition inside telling the story of the building, and a small cafe.
Open daily, 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. Admission is £3.20.
Located on the River Thames, the Houses of Parliament building is one of the most interesting buildings in a city full of mostly uninteresting buildings. It is one of London’s most recognizable buildings probably due to its clock tower which houses the 13 ton bell, Big Ben. Most people think the clock tower is Big Ben, which is not the case. Currently only UK residents can tour the clock tower. Unfortunately while we were there, you could not tour the Parliament building either so we just walked around outside.
During the Summer Opening, UK residents and overseas visitors can buy tickets to tour the Houses of Parliament. It is arranged during the summer recess, when Parliament does not sit and Members work away from Westminster. Tours run from Monday to Saturday inclusive, but not on Sunday or Bank Holidays. Tours take about 75 minutes and include the Commons and Lords Chambers, the Queen's Robing Room, the Royal Gallery and Westminster Hall.
Opening hours Saturdays throughout the year:
9.15am to 4.30pm
Summer Opening: 29th July to 3rd September 2011 and 19th September to 1st October 2011
Ticket prices Adult: £15.00
Tickets are available on the day of tour from the Ticket Office located next to the Jewel Tower in Old Palace Yard (opposite the Houses of Parliament). However, visitors are advised to pre-book tours in advance online through ticketmaster or by phoning 0844 847 1672.
Tour times: July/August: Mon, Tues, Fri, Sat 9.15am-4.30pm, Wednesday and Thursday 1.15-4.30pm. September: Mon, Fri, Sat 9.15am-4.30pm. Tues, Wed, Thurs 1.15-4.30pm.
Security measures include searches prior to entry. Cell phones must be turned off, and no cameras/photos except in Westminster Hall.
Please note that all visitor information is correct as of this update.
The Westminster system of Government has evolved over 700 years and as an Australian Citizen who is keen on social democracy I was keen to go to the source of our Constitution - no not to Buckingham Palace, THE HOUSE OF COMMONS!
The only surviving original part of Westminster Palace built 900 years ago by King William(Rufus) in 1097 is the entrance - St.Stephen's Hall. It is here that you sit until guided into the Chambers where the politicians argue their case.
If you love history this is a valued experience. This is where all the policies that affect ours and our ancestors daily lives have been a burden or a liberation!
Check the excellent parliament website for information on a visit. Try and be there for Question Time - the Prime Minister, David Cameron was an impressive speaker (even though I wouldn't vote for him!).
Allow for a good half a day at least, and more if you want to go into the Parliamentary bookshop!
Each summer (from August 1st to September 30th) the Houses of Parliament are open to the public with gioded tours operating every few minutes. Tours last 75 minutes. Foreign language tours are also available in French, Spanish, German and Italian. You will be able to see the historic building, including the chambers of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
History of the Palace of Westminster
The Palace of Westminster was the principal residence of the kings of England from the middle of the 11th century until 1512.
In 1834 the Palace was burned down. This fire destroyed almost all of the Palace except Westminster Hall, the crypt of St Stephen's Chapel, the adjacent cloisters and the Jewel Tower. The present Houses of Parliament were built over the next 30 years. They were the work of the architect Sir Charles Barry. The design incorporated Westminster Hall and the remains of St Stephen's Chapel.
The House of Commons Chamber was destroyed in a German air attack in 1941. It was rebuilt after the Second World War, taking care to preserve the essential features of Barry's building - the architect was Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. The new Chamber was completed in 1950.
Layout of the Palace of Westminster
After coming through the public entrance St Stephen's Entrance, the approach to the Central Lobby of the Palace is through St Stephen's Hall from St Stephen's Porch at the southern end of Westminster Hall. Central Lobby, a large octagonal hall, is the centrepiece of the Palace. The Central Lobby is a great masterpiece of Victorian art.
From the Central Lobby, corridors lead northward to the House of Commons Lobby and Chamber and southward to the House of Lords. Beyond the House of Lords are the ceremonial rooms used at the State Opening of Parliament - the Queen's Robing Room and the Royal Gallery - reached by a separate entrance under the Victoria Tower.
NB: no photography is possible on the tour