Palace of Westminster

Despite working there for some time now, this is the first occasion on which I’ve mentioned the building in which I spend more time than anywhere else. Clue: it’s our country’s most famous landmark and the namesake of HP Sauce!

Since at least Saxon times, there have been buildings on the site which is today home to the Palace of Westminster, or the Houses of Parliament as it is more commonly known. A mediaeval palace and its various additions were destroyed in a massive fire in 1834 though the eerily tranquil Westminster Hall which dates from 1097 did survive. Work began on the present Gothic style Palace in 1840 after a design by Charles Barry (1795-1860) was chosen by the Royal Commission following a public competition. Augustus Welby Pugin (1812-52) assisted Barry on, in particular, the Gothic elements. The project took around thirty years to complete.

Now’s a good time to clear up a common mistake. What is generally known as ‘Big Ben’ is in fact called the Clock Tower. Big Ben is the largest (and loudest!) of the Tower’s five bells. Also, the Victoria Tower on the opposite end of the building is much larger than the Clock Tower. It is only slightly taller at 98.5m compared to 96.3m but is almost double the width. The cavernous Westminster Hall was incorporated into Barry’s design as were the remains of St. Stephen’s Chapel and the Cloisters which also both survived the fire. There are said to be over 1,200 rooms, 100 staircases and well over 2 miles of corridors. I can quite believe it.

Barry became Sir Charles when he was knighted in 1852. Closer to home, he also designed St. Peter’s Church, the Attree Villa and the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton along with St. Andrew’s Church in Hove. The Attree Villa was tragically demolished in 1972 despite being Grade II* Listed. My favourite room in Parliament, incidentally, is the Royal Gallery and it also happens to have a Brighton connection – a large picture of George IV hangs prominently therein.

It’s gone midnight and I still have much work to do before I can sleep. It’s likely to be raining in the morning and the train to work is always packed. But, it doesn’t matter. As soon as the Clock Tower comes into view as I walk along Victoria Street, it’ll be impossible not to feel happy.