Palace of Westminster
October 16, 1834: The Palace of Westminster burns. The Old Palace was built on the River Thames and was placed on the site of what may first have been used as a royal residence by Canute the Great who reigned from 1016-1035. Westminster Abbey was built by St. Edward the Confessor in 1045-50. The Palace at Westminster was the monarch’s main residence in the late Medieval period. The Royal Council (precursor of the Parliament met in Westminster Hall (the only part of the historic buildings remaining still today). The royal living chambers were destroyed by fire during the reign of King Henry VIII. The structure was built as a royal home and so there were no purpose-built rooms in which Parliament could meet.
In the 1700s major changes to the building were made. Parliament struggled to manage their workload when meeting in a variety of venues. There was not space created for document storage. These things were taken into account with a remodeling project. A second substantial remodel was done in 1824-27. It was not all appreciated as the newer work was in the neo-classical style and it clashed with the original Gothic style. The Exchequer used tally sticks (wooden sticks used to facilitate counting) and they were cleaning up some of the stored sticks. They were placed in two furnaces in what was deemed a careless manner. A fire broke out in the chimney flues which ran under the floor of the Lords’ chamber and up through the walls.
The floor and walls caught fire and it spread quickly throughout the complex. It was London’s biggest fire between the Great Fire of 1666 and the Blitz during World War II. Several artists in the area were drawn to the flames and were able to create pictorial evidence of the conflagration. It took most of the night to bring the fire under control and by that time much of Westminster was destroyed. The House of Commons met in St. Stephen’s Chapel and that was destroyed along with the Lords Chamber, the Painted Chamber, and the official residences of the Speaker and the Clerk of the House of Commons. The London Fire Engine Establishment were able to keep Westminster Hall from burning as well as a few other part of the old Houses of Parliament.
A competition was held to design a new place for Parliament to meet and there were 97 entries by November 1835. Charles Barry’s design won; he had visited Belgium to view their civic architecture and got ideas for his submission which was drawn up by Augustus Pugin, a 23 year old architect. The building included 11 courtyards and accommodations for 200 people. There were 1,180 rooms, 126 staircases, and 2 miles of corridors. The cost estimates to build were between £707,000 and £725,000 with construction taking six years. The foundation stone was laid on April 27, 1840 and the building was finally complete in 1870 at a cost of £2.5 million. Barry died before the building was completed.
I don’t mind being a symbol but I don’t want to become a monument. There are monuments all over the Parliament Buildings and I’ve seen what the pigeons do to them. – Tommy Douglas
The English think they are free. They are free only during the election of members of parliament. – Jean-Jacques Rousseau
We all know what Parliament is, and we are all ashamed of it. – Robert Louis Stevenson
A Parliament is nothing less than a big meeting of more or less idle people. – Walter Bagehot
Also on this day: Cardiff Giant– In 1869, a petrified giant was found near Cardiff.
Complex Numbers – In 1843, quaternions were first defined.
Planned Parenthood – In 1916, Margaret Sanger opened a clinic.
Disney – In 1923, Walt and Roy Disney signed a contract to produce the Alice Comedies.
London Beer Flood – In 1814, beer flooded London streets.