From Tommy’s notebook. Photo link: London – Westminster
When: Saturday 29 September 2007, 11am-12:30pm
Blurb: The Palace of Westminster, also known as the Houses of Parliament, is the site of the two houses of the United Kingdom parliament.
My thoughts: The Houses of Parliament are open for guided tours during the summer recess, and for public observation during sittings. The former gives you wider access and more information, but the latter is free, and lets you see politicians in action.
While the intricate (fiddly) carvings and Gothic towers give the building the image of a relic of a bygone era, it is very much a living organism still full of vitality. At the entrance to the House of Commons, for example, the hall is ringed with busts and statues of great prime ministers, and not just Winston Churchill or Benjamin Disraeli – Margaret Thatcher launches forth, fingers pointing, from her pedestal. Several pedestals and alcoves remain bare, a reminder of the future.
Ceremony and symbolism is everywhere, and much more palpable than at, say, Buckingham Palace. At the same time, there is a marked contrast between the Lords’ section, and that of the Commons. The tour enters from the sovereign’s entrance. At the end of a long corridor is an ante room filled with busts of Prime Ministers who have come from the House of Lords – unlike the equivalent colleciton at Commons, there doesn’t seem to be provision for any future additions. This part of the Palace is decorated in red from head to toe. The architectural design aims to facilitate the monarch’s procession. The art focuses on the glories of the British nation – Waterloo and Trafalgar, King Arthur, other great kings of the past.
As one moves towards Commons, the theme changes. A series of paintings around Saint Stephen’s Tower, the central tower that separates Lords from the Commons, reminds the visitor of the violence and turmoil that lead to the uneasy truce between Parliament and Sovereign. The House of Commons chamber is significantly smaller than the Lords – apparently as a result of Churchill’s
The division between the Commons on the one hand and the Lords and Sovereign on the other extends outside. The courtyard outside the Lords’ section features an equestrian statue of King Richard I, while the much smaller space outside the Commons’ section features a standing statue of Oliver Cromwell. On the other side, Westminster Bridge, which crosses the Thames at the Commons’ end of the building, is painted in a green theme, while Lambeth Bridge, at the Lords’ end, has a red theme.