The Westminster Trip

Reporter: Anne Grimshaw

A Fabulous Tour!

 

It must be about 50 years since I went around the Houses of Parliament. Since then I have learned much about British history and can make much more sense of what I saw and was being told by our excellent guide, John.

 

We began in Westminster Hall, over 900 years old, where, amongst other roles, it has seen the lying-in-state of various monarchs and one politician, Winston Churchill. It is a fantastic building with a hammerbeam roof commissioned in 1393 by Richard II.

 

From there it was into the Houses of Parliament designed in the mid 19th century by architect Charles Barry, in the Gothic Revival style of the 14th to 16th centuries. Augustus Pugin designed the interior. The works of these two men offer the wow factor in spades. And I am not the only one to think so. Pop singer Michael Jackson thought so too: he wanted to buy the gold throne used by the monarch in the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament so people could bow to him… he was told it wasn’t for sale.

 

John told us about the paintings and the stories behind them: not only what they depict such as the death of Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and the Allied victory at the battle of Waterloo in 1815, but the details in the portraits such as the crowns that the Queen wears for the Opening of Parliament. And the sculptures too: when the statue of Churchill was installed, it did rather dwarf that of Lloyd George. However, that was easily remedied: they stood Lloyd George on a double plinth!

 

It was so interesting to not only see but also actually be inside rooms and have explained the procedure for the Opening of Parliament. First is the searching of the cellars by soldiers (since the Gunpowder Plot in 1605). Then comes the assembly of Peers and Commons in their respective Houses, then the delivery of a Parliamentary hostage (yes, really!) The royal regalia then arrives followed by the monarch (who dresses in a special robing room) before going to her throne in the House of Lords. The Queen then sends her representative to summon the MPs from the House of Commons (green benches) to hear her speech from her throne in the House of Lords (red benches). (It is at this point that Black Rod knocks on the door of the Commons to symbolise the Commons’ independence from Royal influence.) The Queen then delivers her speech and leaves. The speech is then debated. The whole building is, in fact, designed around this one event.

 

(On a personal note, I was sorry we could not see the broom cupboard where Suffragette Emily Wilding Davison hid in protest on the night of the 1911 census: no vote, no name on census!)