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Palace of Westminster

19th Century view of the Palace of Westminster
(from Westminster Bridge)

The Palace of Westminster is the home of both Houses of Parliament in the United Kingdom. Buildings have occupied the site since at least Saxon times, though the oldest buildings still in existence date from around 1097. On January 20, 1295 the first meeting of the first English parliament was conducted here. The palace gives its name to the parliamentary system known as the Westminster System.

It was originally (and still officially is) a Royal Palace, which led to the area becoming the centre of government in the United Kingdom as it transitioned from a monarchy to a parliamentary democracy. The palace was the main London residence of the monarchs of England until Henry VIII took over the Palace of Whitehall in 1530.

The House of Commons made its first permanent home at St Stephen's Chapel, a part of the palace.

Much of the complex was destroyed by fire on October 16, 1834, and rebuilt by 1870, when the Houses of Parliament moved into their current residences.

The Current Palace

The current complex occupies approximately 3.24 hectares (8 acres), with 265.8 metres (872ft) of waterfront along the river Thames. It contains 1000 rooms, 100 staircases, and two miles of passageways.

The design was the result of a national competition, and was the work of Augustus Pugin and Charles Barry. The building is built from Anstone, a sandy magnesian limestone quarried in the village of Anston near Rotherham, South Yorkshire. The stone blocks were originally laid with the strata the wrong way, and had to be replaced in 1902.

The 320ft high clock-tower is the most famous feature, and houses the bell known as Big Ben.


The Palace in 2003, with
The London Eye in the background.
On May 11, 1812, Prime Minster Spencer Perceval was assassinated by a bankrupt banker in the lobby of the House of Commons.

During World War II the House of Commons was destroyed by the Luftwaffe in a May 10, 1941 air raid, but was rebuilt and resumed use on October 26, 1950. In the interim, the Commons sat in the Lords Chamber, with the Lords sitting in the adjacent Kings's Robing Room.

See Also