Who would have thought that you could visit the Houses of Parliament? The Palace of Westminster is one of the most iconic buildings in London. Inside is even more spectacular and historic.
Did you know there has been a royal palace on the site of Westminster for nearly 1,000 years?
The history of Big Ben, the Elizabeth tower and The Palace of Westminster is truly remarkable. It makes for a very interesting and great day out for the whole family. Take a tour of the House of Commons the Chamber of Commons and see the grandeur of this magnificent building.
The entrance for the tour is at Cromwell green and on arrival you will be taken through security much like the checks you see at the airport. My son Harry had his entire rucksack full, But the security was great the assistant on the X-ray machine even joked and said how many Fidget Spinners have you got in there? ( no joke he had at least 5! ) They let us in and we were given visitor passes to wear around our necks and set on our merry way.
The Palace of Westminster Audio Tour.
You first enter the palace through Westminster hall which is magnificent. The roof has the largest hammer beam roof in the world and is the largest medieval unsupported roof in Northern Europe. This is where you acquire your audio tour guide for the visit. There is plenty of time to wander around Westminster hall before and after your tour taking in the great history.
The audio tour is numbered and clearly displayed while walking around, the information is clear and interesting. My two boys age 16 and 12 were completely engaged from the minute the audio started. At the end of each section there is the option to hear more such as information on paintings, stained glass windows or traditions. Myself and my Oldest son trailed behind as he insisted on listening to all of the extra pieces.
The palace contains some of the finest art and craftsmenship Britain has ever seen it is truely stunning. During the tour there are assistants on hand to help you and answer any questions.
The tour takes you through The Palace of Westminster from the Westminster hall right through to the Chamber of Commons itself.
You will see damage done to the buildings in the war, this was left there on Sir Winston Churchills instructions. It symbolises and is preserved as a ‘Monument to the Ordeal’ which Westminster endured during the Second World War.
You will also learn about what the rooms such as the Robing room, the Central Lobby and the Peers Corridor. The audio tells you what they were used for, the architecture and their history.
With a handy map you can see where you are going and which numbers correspond to which room. There is no rushing and plenty of time to hear all the extra pieces the audio has to offer.
The palace of Westminster became the permanent home of parliament when Henry VIII moved out. After the palace was destroyed in a fire it was rebuilt by Charles Barry, in the style of Gothic architecture. With the most famous clock in the world it’s no wonder it’s one of Londons most well known sights. The interior of all of the rooms are just exquisite, gold guilding with leather and velvet fabrics. Ornate paintings on the walls and stunning tiles on the floor.
Westminster hall is still used today for royal and state ceremonies, several monarchs and great parliamentarians have laid in state here including Winston Churchill. Many famous trials were held here too such as the trial of Guy Fawkes and several other men who were involved in trying to blow up parliament. The floor in The Palace of westminster shows the brass plaques in situ.
St stephens porch and Hall
You will walk through St stephens porch where you will find the first world war memorial sculpture of the recoding angel. Brass gothic creatures adorn the Light posts which host beautiful chandeliers.
Next stop after St Stephens porch was St Stephens hall. St Stephens hall sits on the site of where the House of Commons was before it was destroyed by fire in 1834. The architecture here and statues are exquisite , as are the stained glass and ornate paintings with hanging chandeliers. we spent a long time in this room as we had to listen to all of the extra bits again as per Owens instructions.
St Stephens hall is where the Houses of Commons sat originally from the mid 16th century until it was destroyed in the fire. It was the epicentre of great parliamentary events for almost 300 years. It features statues of some of the greatest parliamentarians who have debated there.
There are still brass marks on the floor from where the speakers chair would of stood. the murals illustrate the building of Britain and where privately funded by members of the House of Lords.
The traditions of the House
From here you visit the rest of the rooms around Parliament and the the traditions of voting. I loved learning about of the house of commons and the Lords Chamber, with interesting information such as the Black Rod.
Black Rod is appointed by the monarch and is senior officer of the House or Lords. Black Rods duty is to appear at the State opening of the House of Lords. The state opening goes back to Henry the v111 who is known to have opened parliament. The monarch follows a professional route through the royal gallery to the House of Commons. The Black rod when arriving knocks on the door 3 times to gain admission. There is a dent in the door where it striked for so many years.
You hear about the division Bell, which rings to signal that a division is occurring and that members of the House of Commons or of the House of Lords have eight minutes to get to their chosen Division lobby to vote for or against the resolution.
As some members of parliament may be not be present the bells ring all around westminster including some local pubs and offices. There are approximately 500 Division bells in and around westminster.
The Elizabeth tower talk.
London history day takes place on the 31st of May the day that Big Ben started keeping time. On this day there was a of talk on the Elizabeth tower and the history behind the clock and Big ben. this is not part of the original tour but you can buy a book on The Elizabeth tower in the Gift shop to learn all about it after the tour for £5.
Big Ben is the largest bell in the tower and was cast at warners bell foundry in Stockton on tees. A huge crack appeared in the bell in 1857 and it had to be remelted by a foundry in Whitechapel London. When it was finally put in place it cracked again, this time to fix it they took a small piece of metal out to stop the crack going further and made the hammer strike a different place. This bell is still used today.
Some Elizabeth tower facts.
The Elizabeth tower is 96 metres high and was finished construction in 1859.
The clock dials are 7 metres across and the longest hand the minute hand is 4.3 metres long.
The BBC first broadcast the sound of Big Ben chiming on the 31st of Dec 1923.
Tours of The Palace of Westminster are available for visitors from the uk and overseas. On Saturdays through the year and on most week days, details to book your tour can be found here.
You can not take food in to The Palace of Westminster , but For snacks and drinks you can visit the jubilee cafe. In the Gift shop you can purchase wine and drinks that are straight from the Houses of Parliament. Along with other small reminders of your day such as mugs and tea towels ( very British )
I hope you enjoyed sharing a visit with us to The Palace of Westminster. It was lovely just how interesting the family found the experience.
For more days out for the family take a look at my London days out Guides.
I was kindly invited to The Palace of Westminster by Visit Parliament and this is my own view and personal opinion.
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