Palace of Westminster, London – where the British Parliament sits

Tour of the Palace of Westminster in London

Nothing could be easier than a visit to the Palace of Westminster, home to the oldest British Parliament in the world, the mother or, if you prefer, the father (or parent) of modern democracy.

All you need to do is get a British visa and fly to London. And there – find a conspicuous building on the banks of the River Thames. This building can be distinguished by the world-famous Big Ben, the high clock tower. Officially this tower is called “Elizabeth Tower”, but no one calls it so. And even on the maps is signed “Big Ben.

British Parliament

Only Her Majesty’s subjects can enter this tower, all others are not allowed. “Victoria Tower” at the other end of the building is taller and thicker, but it is “Big Ben” that is known around the world.

British Parliament

How to get into the Palace of Westminster

I imagined getting inside Parliament wouldn’t be easy, at least I thought there would be trouble with tickets and a big line to get in.

Not so. As I walked past the British Parliament building along the street with the colloquial name Parliament Street (which turns into St. Margaret’s Street), I noticed that people enter and exit through a gate marked “visitor entranz” (entrance for visitors, in Russian).

British Parliament

British Parliament

metal bollards block the entrance to Parliament after the recent terrorist attacks

This gate, located near Cromwell Square, is guarded by armed men in uniform. (By the way, note that unlike the London public, which is a steep mix of various races and peoples, the armed men in London are represented almost exclusively by white Anglo-Saxons.)

British Parliament

Oliver Cromwell himself is standing right there. I took him for d’Artagnan by his clothes and equipment. But no, it turned out to be Cromwell.

British Parliament

On the fence is a diagram showing how to get to the ticket office.

British Parliament

It is not quite clear why the entrance to the Palace of Westminster and the ticket offices are separated. Either to not create a queue, or to make visitors wiggle their brains and play orienteering (the British are very fond of quests and intelligence tests). The ticket office is quite far, you have to cross Bridge Street and round the corner into Victoria Embankment.

British Parliament

But if you follow the route, it’s not hard to find.

Here’s some information for those who wish to get to know the British Parliament better.

Parliament’s official website: http://www.parliament.uk/visiting.

To get to the gallery in the House of Commons and to watch it in action, you have to stand in line at St. Stephen’s Gate. It’s best to arrive after 1 p.m., as there are more lines before lunch.

This can be done during the business sessions, which take place according to the following schedule.

House of Commons:

Monday – Tuesday 2:30 – 10:30 p.m., Wednesday 11:30 – 7:30 p.m., Thursday 10:30 – 6:30 p.m., Friday: 9:30 – 3 p.m.

House of Lords:

Monday – Tuesday 2:30 – 10 p.m., Wednesday 3 p.m. – 10 p.m., Thursday 11 a.m. – 7:30 p.m., Friday (occasional): 10 a.m.

It is possible to visit the British Parliament as part of an organized tour. There are two types of tours: regular Saturday tours, which take place all year round, and visits during parliamentary vacations. The duration of the tour is 90 minutes. Tours are in groups of 20-25 people. Excursions in English are held at intervals of 15-20 minutes. Russian guided tours are held 2 times a day: at 13.40 and 16.15.

The cost of the tour with a guide is £28, for students, people over 60 years old and military personnel (but only United Kingdom Armed Forces) – £23, children from 5 to 15 years old – £12. Children under the age of 5 are free. If purchased in advance, tickets cost £25.50; £21 and £11 for eligible categories (prices are as of October 2017).

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A self-guided tour with an audio guide costs £20.50; £18 and £8.50 respectively (and one child from 5 to 15 years old can go free with each adult). If you take a ticket in advance, the ticket prices are £18.50; £16 and £7.50 respectively. The audio guide is very good, I walked at my own pace (the tour groups overtook me), so I ended up not regretting in the slightest that I didn’t take the tour.

British Parliament

Audio guides are available in English, French, German, Russian, Spanish, Italian, Chinese and Portuguese. It is not clear how speakers of other languages get around.

You can still have tea in Westminster. Afternoon English tea will then cost £29 per adult and £14.50 per child. I don’t know if it’s worth it, haven’t tried it. The price for tea is serious.

You can buy tickets by phone on +44 161 425 8677 or at the ticket office at Portcullis House on Victoria Embankment (Portcullis House SW1A 2L) .

There was no crowding at the ticket office. I immediately bought a ticket (with the audio guide £20.50) and, not believing my luck, went back to the “entrances”.

The ticket had a time on it, it was about 25 minutes away, but I went, thinking I would wait at the entrance. The guards did not pay attention to the time of the visit, and I was immediately let into the search room.

British Parliament

Search room.

The security guard asked where I was from, and upon learning that “fro rasha,” showed a picture of a knife, a gun, and something else like a bomb, muttering: “Nyet, nyet, nyet.” That is, he made it clear that Russian was not quite alien to him.

Like before boarding the plane, I was made to take off my belt and watch, remove metal objects from my pockets, and put my backpack through an X-ray scanner. I went through the frame, I was given a nametag, and I was allowed on the tour. But the man behind me, quite English-looking, was checked manually for a long time, as he aroused some suspicion.

When I left the inspection room I took a fenced path through a small front garden to Westminster Palace, which offered a view of the palace from inside.

British Parliament

Palace of Westminster

Parliament, view from the courtyard

Palace of Westminster

No one guided me where to go or what to do.

Tour of the Palace of Westminster

The first room is Westminster Hall, a huge semi-darkened hall that is 770 years older than the rest of the building.

Palace of Westminster

British Parliament

British Parliament

British Parliament

Palace of Westminster

British Parliament

It is the only survivor of the royal palace of ancient times.

Palace of Westminster

This is what the Palace of Westminster looked like in the Middle Ages.

Before Parliament it was the seat of the Supreme Court of England.

Westminster Hall is famous for its complex ceiling design, made of oak. This intricate construction was created in 1393 by carpenter Hugh Herland (here, even his name is known). Well, the timbers have been changed since then. It’s been over 500 years, after all.

British Parliament

On the floors, copper plaques mark places associated with important events. Here the Queen Mother had her funeral, here Nelson Mandella gave a speech, here the current Queen Elizabeth No. 2 stood…

British Parliament

British Parliament

Audio guides and charts (included in the ticket price) are provided in this room. Going by the chart and turning on the audio guide in the right places, I walked an entertaining way through the main halls of the Palace of Westminster.

British Parliament

The numbers indicate where to turn on the audio guide

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The tour, accompanied by explanations in excellent Russian, goes through only a few of them (think the main ones).

At the end of the tour you can visit the Jubilee Cafe with a souvenir store. But the prices there are not small, and souvenirs are the most common.

There were quite a lot of independent tourists, from time to time organized groups. No one rushed me. But, even without turning on the button to listen to the various additional information such as “If you want to know about Guy Fawkes” press …” or “if you want more information about feminists …”, I spent 1.5 hours. And I don’t regret it one bit. It all went in the same breath. You can only take pictures in the first 2 halls for some reason known to the Brits. And then no more.

What secrets I could fit in the camera and pass from their sovereign to our power, I can not even think. Especially since the internet is full of photos of the interiors of Parliament.

History of the Palace of Westminster in London

The modern building of Westminster was constructed in 1847-1849 under the direction of Charles Barry and Augustes Pugin in neo-Gothic style. The British Empire was at the height of its power, and no money was spared on the construction. At the time, it was one of the largest structures – suffice it to say that it had 1,100 rooms. And according to some reports – the highest at the time of the civilian buildings in the world.

Badly damaged the palace during World War 2, when Westminster was a target for German pilots. To commemorate this, at the suggestion of then-Prime Minister Churchill, the doorway leading to the House of Commons retains traces of destruction in the brickwork.

The Palace of Westminster was restored by 1950. Now the building is in need of restoration again, it has already begun, and so the clock on Big Ben is stopped, and some of the buildings are in scaffolding.

Houses of the British Parliament.

Tourists visit in order: Westminster Hall, St. Stephen’s Hall, Central Hall, House of Lords, Prince’s Chamber, Royal Gallery, the Queen’s Dressing Room, Members’ Lobby (I don’t know how to translate: as I don’t try, it all comes out not quite decent in Russian), the House of Commons.

The walls depict various events from British history, ranging from King Arthur to the reign of Queen Victoria, under whom the modern palace was built. There’s the meeting of Wellington with Blücher after the battle of Waterloo, and seeing off the kneeling Drake by Elizabeth I (the song “The Pirate’s Grandmother Was Seeing Him Off to Robbery” came to mind),

British Parliament

and the picture of the meeting of the anxious Indian raja with the cold-blond gentleman

British Parliament

etc., etc. Three pictures are devoted to the defeat of the Spanish Armada.

In the hall of St. Stephen, where you can still take photographs

British Parliament

British Parliament

British Parliament

British Parliament

British Parliament

British Parliament

In the central hall one can see the patron saints of Great Britain – St. George for England, St. Andrew for Scotland, St. David for Wales and St. Patrick for Northern Ireland, and England is somehow written as Anglia, not England. Many statues.

In the lobby of the House of Commons are figures of Winston Churchill, David Lloyd-George, prime minister during World War I, Margaret Thatcher, under whom Britain emerged from the crisis after the collapse of the Empire, and a fourth – I do not remember who.

The guide explained, or rather explained (the tour is led by a pleasant female voice), that it was planned to put more than 600 statues of figures of British history. But then there would have been too many of them, and the idea was abandoned.

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The decoration of the halls of Parliament is sumptuous, and quite in keeping with the grandeur of the largest empire that ever existed. The House of Lords is especially splendidly decorated, in red and gold.

British Parliament

It is understandable: “lord” in Russian means “lord. And historically, the Lords were the highest hereditary nobility and made up the main “upper house. But for a long time now, the House of Lords has had only advisory and recommendatory functions. And since the 1990s of the 20th century, the “Lords” are no longer hereditary, and now the upper house consists of people of authority and merit who have achieved great success on their own. Those who used to inherit the title of lord will sit out, and new ones will only be elected.

Modern lords cannot make decisions, but they can give sensible advice or suspend legislation.

The shabby royal throne in the King’s Gallery and the modest decoration of the House of Commons Hall stand out from the general imperial splendor. By the way, the guide said “House of Commons”, but here we usually say Commons. The throne, it turns out, was made for Queen Victoria, and she sat on it for 63 years and 7 months and 2 days, and, of course, a lot of wear and tear.

And the House of Commons was originally intended for the representatives of the common people, who had to approve the taxes requested by the king. Hence the emphatic modesty of the lower house, decorated in discreet green tones.

British Parliament

It was customary to close the doors of the chamber before the queen. The official accompanying the queen knocks on the door with a metal staff (the mark of the staff is clearly visible on the door, it is preserved and is proud of it). And only after making sure that the queen is not someone else, the door to the chamber is unlocked. This custom dates back to the days of the English Revolution. Back then, Charles 1 stormed into parliament and wanted to arrest some of the more zealous parliamentarians. Thanks to the locked door of the House of Commons, he was unable to do so. The result of this story is known: England became a parliamentary monarchy, and Charles lost his head.

The History of British Parliamentarianism

Although it is the 21st century, the British Parliament retains customs and traditions that date back centuries. This gives its work a theatrical feel. Thus, besides the above-mentioned custom, the Queen arrives at the session in a carriage, the members of the House of Lords sit in robes and wigs, and the Lord Speaker (until 2006, Lord Chancellor) sits on a sack of wool. There is actually no sack; it is replaced by a large red trestle bed and a pillow, indeed, stuffed with wool. The Parliamentary Bailiff (Sergeant-at-Arms) has a sword and is the only armed person in Parliament. I don’t know if he will be able to use it for its intended purpose if necessary.

The British people gained their rights through a long struggle.

Gradually legislative power passed from the King and the House of Lords to the House of Commons. And now anyone can come to parliament and see (though through a thick glass) how his elected representatives work. To monitor, so to speak, the work of the servants of the people.

Since 1832, only men over the age of 30 who owned real estate had the right to vote. After World War 1, all men over 21 became eligible to vote, as the guide said, in gratitude for participation in that war. It wasn’t until 1969 that all British subjects over the age of 18 were given voting rights.

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Women, on the other hand, were equalized in voting rights in 1928. “Look,” points out the guide, “at the bottom the windows of Parliament are boarded up with metal mesh. This was done because women, seeking suffrage in the late 19th century, broke the windows of Parliament and repeatedly tried to set it on fire.” The bars on the windows are not removed to commemorate those events.

British Parliament

The British have created a very thoughtful, balanced system of government. It retains some archaic features, but it only makes it nicer. By abandoning empire after World War 2, Britain retained influence over its former colonies around the world, imposed its ridiculous and unsound language on the world. And gave the world a model of parliamentarianism. Not without reason, in most of the former English colonies, for all their heterogeneity, a democratic dispensation prevails.

A visit to the Palace of Westminster is highly recommended: informative and beautiful.

Palace of Westminster, London – where the British Parliament sits

The Palace of Westminster in London is traditionally the seat of the British Parliament. In other words, it is the heart of the country, in the legislative sense. At the same time the palace itself has an exceptional flavor, being built in the neo-Gothic style, its facade overlooking Whitehall (one of London’s main streets), connecting in this way with Trafalgar Square. Westminster Palace, whose towers give it a special color, reminiscent of the donjons and defensive elements of medieval fortresses, especially spectacular at dusk. It’s truly one of London’s most beautiful places, with its own unique history and, of course, quite a few legends associated with the place.

Palace of Westminster in London - where the British Parliament sits

Palace of Westminster in London – where the British Parliament has its seat

Palace of Westminster: Start with a little history

A picture of the palace of Westminster impresses even those far removed from the realm of architecture, but it was built almost a thousand years ago in around 1042. Of course, this is not the building that we can see now in the heart of the British capital. At the time, the palace was built because the legendary Tower, which had served as the King’s residence until then, had incomprehensibly ended up on the edge of the city. The new building was built in the center of London, where the current monarch at the time Edward and his family promptly moved.

In half a century, the Palace of Westminster (Britain is rightly proud of this spectacular building!) has grown considerably in terms of space occupied. It was joined by the large and frankly pathos-laden Westminster Hall, which is believed to have been erected in honor of King William the Redhead II. It was there, in Westminster Hall by the order of the same Redhead that the Supreme Court of England, respectively the highest judicial body of the country, began to sit. By the way, this is the only part of the complex, which has survived to this day, albeit repeatedly restored.

Palace of Westminster in London - where the British Parliament sits

Palace of Westminster: Start with a little history

Westminster Palace (in London this building has always been unique, the only one of its kind) has gone down in history not only because of its status. In the XIII century it was here that the famous John the Sovereign signed the legendary “Great Charter of Liberties”. The fact that he later literally washed England in blood for it, we will omit.

The original style of the palace gravitated toward the Gothic, although of course it has been rebuilt and reconstructed many times, making significant changes to the structure. The Westminster Palace, the towers of which, by the way, were not always so high and luxurious, experienced its most extreme “reincarnation” in 1834. It was then that the building was erected, which today inspires us with respect. The fact is that that year in London there was a fire of exceptional power and the Palace of Westminster (photos of constructions of that time, of course, are not available), this mighty symbol of the British kingdom, simply burned down, almost to the ground. Only the aforementioned Westminster Hall and the so-called Jewel Tower remained. But this same tower, which housed (you guessed it, right?) the royal treasury, was built not in XI century like Westminster Hall, but somewhat later, in XIV century by order of Edward III.

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Palace of Westminster in London - where the British Parliament sits

Palace of Westminster: Start with a little history

We don’t know how many rooms there were in the Palace of Westminster before the fire, because only the most general references have survived and there is no exact plan of the building. But we know very well what path the history of the palace took afterwards. After the fire, the British government announced a design competition for a new palace. The famous English architect Charles Barry, whose project was truly grandiose and pathetic, won the competition without too many problems. The famous clock tower of the Palace of Westminster was, of course, also designed by Barry.

The building site was prepared over a period of three years, and the Palace of Westminster itself – the new, transformed Palace – was erected for nearly half a century, from 1840 to 1888. At the same time, the aforementioned St. Stephen’s Tower was rebuilt, as well as many other structures, without which the original palace somehow got by. As a result, by the end of the XIX century, the Palace of Westminster acquired its present appearance.

Palace of Westminster in London - where the British Parliament sits

Palace of Westminster: Start with a little history

About the sights instead of the conclusion

The largest hall of the Palace of Westminster is Westminster Hall, it has an area of 1,800 square meters, with walls about 28 meters high. In fact, it’s the oldest (you remember, it’s almost a thousand years old!) and the largest medieval hall in Western Europe.

No less legendary “element” of the Palace of Westminster is Victoria Tower, aka St. Stephen’s Tower, aka the Clock Tower of the Palace of Westminster, aka the world famous Big Ben. The 98-meter tower with an enormous clock and a truly monstrous-sized bell makes an astonishing, even a little frightening impression. Unfortunately, tourists cannot get inside the tower.

Palace of Westminster in London - where the British Parliament sits

And now a legitimate question – how many rooms are there in the Palace of Westminster? At the moment 1,100, with a total area of 3.2 hectares. What’s more, the corridors alone are more than 3 kilometers long! In general, there is a lot to do.

By the way, every year on November 5, guards at the Palace of Westminster with medieval lanterns and halberds at arms’ length traditionally search the palace cellars. Those who know even a little bit about British history know that this is a tribute to an event that took place in 1605. It is about the famous Guy Fawkes and the “Gunpowder Plot.” And this is far from the only story associated with the Palace of Westminster. We could tell them endlessly, but first of all, it’s better to hear it all from the lips of a guide, a qualified specialist. And secondly, you have to see it, you just have to see it…

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