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Westminster & Palace of Westminster, London, England

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Westminster & Palace of Westminster, London, England

Ashburnham House

Ashburnham House is an extended seventeenth-century house on Little Dean's Yard in Westminster, London, United Kingdom, and since 1882 has been part of Westminster School. It is occasionally open to the public, when its staircase and front drawing room in particular can be seen to be superb. There has been a building on the site since the 11th century. The current house incorporates remains of the medieval Prior's House, and its garden is the site of the monks' refectory, and some of the earliest sittings of the House of Commons: one instance in which they met in the refectory was to impeach Piers Gaveston, in the time of Edward II.[1] The current Ashburnham House took its present form around the time of the Restoration when it was leased by Charles Ashburnham, a friend of Charles II.[2] It subsequently became a London seat for the family that became the Earls of Ashburnham. As the staircase has the characteristics of work by Inigo Jones or his pupil John Webb the design of the house was for many years attributed to them. Now however the house as a whole is attributed to architect William Samwell.[3] The Ashburnham family lived in the house until John, 1st Earl Ashburnham sold the lease to the crown in 1730.[4] It became the repository for the Cotton library of historic manuscripts (originally assembled by Sir Robert Cotton), to which was later added the Old Royal Library; and also a residence for the keeper of the king's libraries, Richard Bentley. These books and manuscripts now form the heart of the collections of the British Library. A fire in Ashburnham House on 23 October 1731 damaged many items: a contemporary records Bentley leaping from a window with the priceless Codex Alexandrinus under one arm. The manuscript of Beowulf was among those that suffered damage, a fact reported in The Gentleman's Magazine.[5] In 1739 the Dean and Chapter bought the property from the Crown for ₤500.[6] The house was the object of a scandalous legal and parliamentary battle between the canons of Westminster Abbey and Westminster School for twenty years after the Clarendon Commission recommended that Westminster Abbey surrender it to the School upon the demise of its current occupant, the redoubtable sub-dean The Reverend Lord John Thynne, who lived there with his equally formidable wife and nine children. The Dean and Chapter attempted to evade their obligations under the Public Schools Act, by purportedly using their control of the School's Governing Body to sell out the school's statutory right for the benefit of the Canons. Even after this was defeated by a debate in Parliament, Lord John survived until 1881, once surprising the headmaster looking over his garden wall with the words "Not Dead Yet, Dr. Gow!" The house was the original location of Westminster's first day-house, also known as Ashburnham House, from when it was founded until it moved in 1951 to 6 Dean's Yard. During the Second World War, the library was used as a communications station for the Royal Air Force, the ground floor as the American officers' "Churchill Club", and a senior conference facility for secret military purposes. In 1969, it was used as one of the locations for The Magic Christian.

Bridgewater House

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Bridgewater House, Westminster is at 14 Cleveland Row, Westminster, London, England. It is a Grade I listed building.[1] The earliest known house on the site was Berkshire House built in about 1626-27 for Thomas Howard, second son of the Earl of Suffolk and Master of the Horse to Charles I of England when he was Prince of Wales.[2] Howard was later created Earl of Berkshire. After being occupied by Parliamentarian troops in the English Civil War, used for the Portuguese Embassy, and lived in by Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, the house was lived in by Charles II's mistress Barbara Villiers, who was made Duchess of Cleveland in 1670, following which the house was known as Cleveland House. She refaced the old house and added new wings. After being owned for some years by a speculator the house was sold in 1700 to John Egerton, 3rd Earl of Bridgewater, after which it passed by inheritance until 1948.[3] Cleveland House was re-designed in the Palazzo style by Sir Charles Barry in 1840 and the rebuilding was completed and renamed in 1854 for Lord Ellesmere, heir of the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater. It is built in Bath stone with a slate roof in three storeys with a basement. It was famous, in both incarnations, as the site of the Stafford Galley (in Cleveland House) and Bridgewater Gallery (in Bridgewater House), where the collections of paintings of the Duke of Bridgewater and his nephew and heir George Leveson-Gower, 1st Duke of Sutherland (whose second son Ellesmere was) were on at least semi-public display. The collection included about 70 paintings from the famous Orleans Collection, some of which are now in the Sutherland Loan to the National Gallery of Scotland. The collection was opened in 1803, and could be visited on Wednesday afternoons over four, later three, months in the summer by "acquaintances" of a member of the family, or artists recommended by a member of the Royal Academy.[4] The building was damaged in the Second World War and has since been adapted for office use.[1] The painting Charles I Insulted by Cromwell's Soldiers, thought lost in the raid, was rediscovered in 2009. In 1981 Bridgewater House was purchased and restored by Greek shipping magnate Yiannis Latsis,[5] and is still owned by his family.

Montagu House

Montagu House, Whitehall was the name of two mansions in Whitehall in Westminster, Central London, England. In 1731, John Montagu, 2nd Duke of Montagu, abandoned the existing grand Montagu House in the socially declining district of Bloomsbury, which was later to become the premises of the British Museum, and purchased a site that had once been occupied by the Archbishops of York's London residence and had later been part of the site of Whitehall Palace. He built himself a relatively modest mansion in the conventional style of the day, which can be seen in Canaletto's painting of Whitehall. In the late 1850s, the 2nd Duke of Montagu's descendant, Walter Montagu Douglas Scott, 5th Duke of Buccleuch, one of the United Kingdom's three or four richest landowners, replaced the Georgian house with one of the grandest private mansions in London. It was designed by the versatile Scottish architect William Burn in the style of a French Renaissance chateau. The building was admired in its day. It was built of Portland stone, with a steep mansard roof, corner towers and a skyline peppered with stone chimneys. The interior featured a top-lit central saloon and a grand staircase, heavily coffered ceilings and elaborately carved furnishings. It housed part of the exceptional Buccleuch art collection, including works by Rubens and Rembrandt and the finest British collection of miniatures apart from the Royal Collection. In 1917 the house was taken over for use as government offices, and in 1949-1950 it was demolished. The site forms roughly the southern half of that of the current main Ministry of Defence building in Whitehall.

Stratford House

Stratford House a Grade I listed house in Stratford Place, Westminster. Built by Richard Edwin for Edward Stratford, 2nd Earl of Aldborough between 1770 and 1776 as London seat of the Stratford family. It is the current home of the Oriental Club.

Palace of Westminster - Houses of Parliament


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Westminster Hall

Westminster Hall is the oldest building in Parliament and almost the only part of the ancient Palace of Westminster which survives in almost its original form. The Hall was built in 1097 under William II (Rufus), the son of William the Conqueror, and was completed two years later. He had conceived the project to impress his new subjects with his power and the majesty of his authority. According to one story, when the King first inspected the Hall, one of his attendants remarked that it was much larger than needed. The King replied that the Hall was not half large enough, and that it was a mere bedchamber when compared to what he had in mind. But the Hall was indeed by far the largest hall in England, and probably in Europe at that time.

Did you know?

The walls of Westminster Hall are actually slightly curved, making it two feet and six inches wider in the centre than at its ends.

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Old and New Palace Yards

Old and New Palace Yards were two of the main courtyards of the medieval Palace of Westminster. During the time of Edward the Confessor, Old Palace Yard connected the Palace with Westminster Abbey, and was a quiet secluded spot where one could meditate or rest.

Old Palace Yard was at the centre of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605; Guy Fawkes and his confederates rented one of the houses which ran in a row across the centre of the Yard, and first began to tunnel through to the House of Lords, until they found it simpler to hire a cellar under the House itself.

Captured and pronounced guilty, they were hanged from a scaffold erected in the Yard.

In 1618, Sir Walter Raleigh was beheaded in the Yard. His widow took his head away, wrapped in his cloak, and kept it for over twenty years in a glass case until she died.

The statue of Richard the Lionheart by Baron Marochetti now stands in the Yard. A model of the statue was first shown at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851, and various noblemen subscribed £3,000 to have it cast in bronze and presented to the nation.

New Palace Yard lies in front of the north end of Westminster Hall. It was named New after the Hall was built by William II (Rufus) in 1097, to distinguish it from Old Palace Yard and the great hall of Edward the Confessor's Palace which lay to the south.

It now conceals a five-level underground car park with space for 450 cars, constructed in 1972-4. An archaeological investigation undertaken at that time yielded much information about the history of the Yard. In particular, it revealed the octagonal base of a large canopied fountain built in 1443 by Henry VI. This fountain, which incorporated the remains of an early 12th century conduit, stood in the yard until the late 17th century. The Yard has since been laid out as a garden, with a fountain that commemorates the Queen's Silver Jubilee of 1977.

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The Palace of Westminster became increasingly important as the centre of government and royal authority during the reign of King Henry III. New exchequer buildings were built along the north end of the Great Hall (Westminster Hall) around 1270, and the Court of Common Pleas (which the Magna Carta in 1215 demanded to be held in a fixed place) came to be located within the Palace, as well as Courts of the King's Bench and of Chancery. In 1245, the first mention is made of a royal throne which stood on a dais against the south wall of Westminster Hall. The throne symbolised the King's continuous presence at the ceremonial heart of the Palace, and was occupied during great occasions of state.

From as early as 1259, the state openings of parliamentary occasions were held in the King's private apartment at Westminster, the Painted Chamber.

It is not clear where Parliament under Simon de Montfort met in 1265 when they got to Westminster. It may have met in St Paul's for some of its debates and discussions, or used the Chapter House of Westminster Abbey.

The Westminster parliaments of Edward I sat in the Painted Chamber, or in the adjacent White Chamber (which eventually became the House of Lords), or sometimes in the Chapter House or Refectory at Westminster Abbey.

St Stephen's Chapel 1184-1363

First mentioned in 1184, the Chapel of St Stephen was initially the King's private chapel at the Palace of Westminster, and stood on the site of what is now St Stephen's Hall. When King Edward I began to rebuild the Chapel between 1292 and 1297, he set out to create a rival to anything built by any other monarch, particularly his cousin Louis IX's Sainte Chapelle in Paris.

The king was long dead by the time craftsmen finished St Stephen's seventy years later. The actual construction work went on for only twenty years, as it constantly had to be stopped and restarted as the royal finances ebbed and flowed.In designing the Chapel, the King's mason, Michael of Canterbury, attempted to create a delicate harmony between its whole and component parts. This simple idea had a strong influence on the subsequent development of English architecture, and particularly the Gothic style.

The Chapel of St Mary Undercroft was completed by King Edward I in 1297, further developed under Edward II, and finally completed by Edward III in around 1365. While St Stephen's Chapel was the chapel of the Royal Family, the Court and the Royal Household worshipped at St Mary Undercroft.

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Houses of Parliament, St Stephen's Crypt - Watercolour by Edward M. Barry c.1863 (WOA 1601)

By the time of the fire of 1834, the Chapel had been used as a wine cellar and (so legend has it) as stabling for Oliver Cromwell's horses.

Speaker's dining room

Part of the Chapel had also been turned into a dining room for the Speaker of the Commons, and holes were bored into the wall to accommodate the kitchen chimneys. Because of its underground location, the Crypt Chapel was one of the few structures in the Palace of Westminster to survive the great fire of 1834, although much of its stonework was harmed.

The chapel was heavily restored between 1860 and 1870 by Charles Barry's (the architect of the current Palace of Westminster) son, Edward, who tried to reproduce the earlier medieval decoration and vaulting in a neo-Gothic style. During the restoration works, the remains of William Lyndwoode, the Bishop of St David's (who died in 1464) were found embalmed in the chapel's north wall; he was reburied in the cloister of Westminster Abbey. The decision to reinstate the building as a chapel was much debated, but it was slowly brought into use as one. The Chapel is a Royal Peculiar, which means it does not come under the jurisdiction of a bishop but is under the monarch's control. The monarch exercises this via the Lord Great Chamberlain.

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The Jewel Tower, which still stands today, is one of four surviving sections of the medieval Palace of Westminster, the others being Westminster Hall, the Cloisters and Chapter House of St Stephen's, and the Chapel of St Mary's Undercroft. The Tower was built by King Edward III between 1365 and 1366 on land appropriated from Westminster Abbey at the edge of the Privy Garden (a private garden adjacent to the royal apartments) at the south-west corner of the Palace.

In those days, the medieval palace extended right to this point. The monks, however, bitterly resented this encroachment, and rejoiced when William Usshebourne, one of King Edward's keepers of the Privy Palace, choked to death on the bones of a pike caught in the moat surrounding the Jewel Tower. The three-storey building was intended to serve as a storeroom for the king's private collection of jewels, gold and silver, which were administered at that time as a branch of the King's Privy Wardrobe. It is likely that space was found for these at Westminster as the main Privy Wardrobe (at the Tower of London) was filled with military supplies and equipment during the French War. The Tower was designed by Henry Yevele, the most famous architect of the day. It was constructed largely of Kentish rag stone, and contained a moat and medieval quay for protection against fire and thieves (their remains are still visible today).

In 1547, Edward VI granted the Commons the use of the Chapel after the dissolution of St Stephen's College. When the MPs moved in, they found the arrangement of choir stalls for the choir and a screen near one end of the Chapel still in place. So they simply took over both stalls and screen for their purposes; they sat in the choir stalls and made speeches to each other across the aisle of the Chapel.

This configuration may have in fact encouraged the development of the two-party system, of government versus opposition, in British political life. If the Commons had continued to sit in the octagonal Chapel House, the political history of Britain might have been very different. The MPs also made ingenious use of the screen which the canons left behind; those who voted in favour of a motion would walk through its right-hand door, while those who did not would exit through the left door. Today, MPs voting aye continue to file out to the lobby on the right, and those voting no, to the lobby on the left.

The Chapel of St Stephen's was home to the Commons Chamber for over 300 years.

As such it was the setting for many of the great political events of early modern England:

  • Great parliamentarians such as Robert Walpole, William Pitt and Charles James Fox all debated here
  • The religious issues which culminated in the Articles of the Reformation were fought out in the Chapel
  • William Wilberforce pleaded here for the abolition of the slave trade
  • The bills which led to the Great Reform Act were debated here
  • It was in the Chapel that Charles I attempted to arrest five Members and confronted its Speaker, William Lenthall in the lead up to the Civil War
  • In 1812, Spencer Perceval was shot dead by John Bellingham in the lobby in front of the Chapel, the only British Prime Minster to have been assassinated

In 1692, the House of Commons concluded that the Chapel was in desperate need of restoration. Sir Christopher Wren redesigned the structure as a classical building, with wall panels and internal galleries to each side.

The vaulted roof was also hidden by a lower wooden one, presumably to improve its acoustics. When the Act of Union with Scotland in 1707 resulted in the addition of 45 new MPs, Wren tried to squeeze in the new members by widening the galleries he had put in a few years before. By the 19th century, the Chapel's interior had a very different look in contrast to its former medieval magnificence.

The Commons stayed in the Chapel until the Great Fire of 1834

Architects were invited to submit their designs for the new Palace and a commission was set up to select the best. Out of 97 designs submitted, the architect Sir Charles Barry's was successful. However, his winning design did not feature a clock tower. He added this to his design in 1836.

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Elizabeth Tower, Clock and Big Ben

Construction of the Clock Tower began in September 1843. This is the iconic tower which stands today in the Houses of Parliament.

Charles Barry was a fine architect but he was not a specialist clockmaker. He sought advice from a friend, Benjamin Lewis Vullamy, after adding a prominent clock tower to his design for rebuilding Parliament after the 1834 fire.

Vulliamy was the Queen's Clockmaker. He began designing a clock for Barry's tower. Other respected clockmakers, like Edward John Dent, wanted to be involved and disputes broke out. In 1846 a competition was held to decide who should build the clock.

The Astronomer Royal, Sir George Airy, was appointed referee and set out high standards for the clock to meet. These included:

the first stroke of each hour to be accurate to within one second the clock's performance to be telegraphed twice a day to Greenwich Observatory Seven years delay

Airy's demanding standards led to delays which lasted seven years. During this time Airy appointed Edmund Beckett Denison to support him in his decision. Denison was a barrister and also a gifted amateur clockmaker.

In February 1852, Dent was appointed to build the clock to Denison's own design.

The next delay occurred when it was discovered space inside the tower was too small for the planned clock design. Modifications costing £100 had to be made.

Dent died in 1853 and his stepson, Frederick, completed the clock in 1854. It cost £2500 to make.

There was another delay because the Clock Tower wasn't finished on schedule. Until installation in 1859, the clock was kept at Dent's factory. Denison made many refinements including inventing the 'Double Three-legged Gravity Escapement'. This was a revolutionary mechanism, ensuring the clock's accuracy by making sure its pendulum was unaffected by external factors, such as wind pressure on the clock's hands.

Denison's invention has since been used in clocks all over the world. It is also known as the 'Grimthorpe Escapement' as Denison was made Baron Grimthorpe in 1886.

The clock was installed in the Clock Tower in April 1859. At first, it wouldn't work as the cast-iron minute hands were too heavy. Once they were replaced by lighter copper hands, it successfully began keeping time on 31 May 1859. It was not long before the chimes of the Great Bell, also known as Big Ben, joined in. Officially, the Elizabeth Tower's bell is called the Great Bell though it is better known by the name 'Big Ben'.

There are two theories for this name's origin. These are that the Great Bell was:

  • named after Sir Benjamin Hall, First Commissioner for Works 1855-1858
  • named after Ben Caunt, a champion heavyweight boxer of the 1850s

The first theory is thought to be the most likely.

The name 'Big Ben' is often associated with the Elizabeth Tower and the Great Clock as well as the Great Bell. It was to the Great Bell that the name originally was given.

Warners of Norton near Stockton-on-Tees cast the new bell in August 1856. It was transported by rail and sea to London. On arrival at the Port of London, it was placed on a carriage and pulled across Westminster Bridge by 16 white horses.

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The bell was hung in New Palace Yard. It was tested each day until 17 October 1857 when a 1.2m crack appeared. No-one would accept the blame. Theories included the composition of the bell's metal or its dimensions. Warners blamed Denison for insisting on increasing the hammer's weight from 355kg to 660kg.

Warners asked too high a price to break up and recast the bell so George Mears at the Whitechapel Foundry was appointed. The second bell was cast on 10 April 1858.

This bell was 2.5 tonnes lighter than the first. Its dimensions meant it was too large to fit up the Elizabeth Tower's shaft vertically so Big Ben was turned on its side and winched up. It took 30 hours to winch the bell to the belfry in October 1858. The four quarter bells, which chime on the quarter hour, were already in place.

Big Ben rang out on 11 July 1859 but its success was short-lived. In September 1859, the new bell also cracked and Big Ben was silent for four years. During this time, the hour was struck on the fourth quarter bell. In 1863, a solution was found to Big Ben's silence by Sir George Airy, the Astronomer Royal.

Big Ben was turned by a quarter turn so the hammer struck a different spot the hammer was replaced by a lighter version a small square was cut into the bell to prevent the crack from spreading The total cost of making the clock and bells and installing them in the Elizabeth Tower reached £22,000.

Apart from occasional stoppages Big Ben has struck ever since.

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