Did you know that the meeting place of the Parliament of the United Kingdom still has a ceremonial role as a royal residence?
In this post, you’ll discover our top 12 facts about the Houses of Parliament, one of the most famous sites in London!
1. The Houses of Parliament is its informal name
The Houses of Parliament are located in a building called “The Palace of Westminster.” This means that the building is called this way because it serves as the meeting place for both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
While the first official parliament met for the first time in the year 1295, they weren’t always held at the Palace of Westminster. It wasn’t until the year 1707 that all British parliaments were held in this location.
2. It’s not located in the City of London
One of the most interesting facts about the Houses of Parliament is that the Palace is not located in the City of London, but rather in the City of Westminster.
The reason dates back to the Middle Ages (halfway the 11th century) and the fact that a royal residence and church, now known as Westminster Abbey, was built on Thorney Island just west of the City of London, across the River Thames.
Shortly after, the area was being referred to as “Westminster,” which is now synonymous with the UK Parliament and the British Government.
3. The Palace is owned by the British Monarchy
Because the original purpose of the building was to serve as the royal residence of the Kings of England, it has since been owned by the British Monarch in right of the Crown.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating facts about the Houses of Parliament is that it still serves as a royal residence, but only for ceremonial purposes.
After all, it is the official meeting place of the British Government now.
4. The Old Palace was destroyed by fire in the 1830s
The building we see today isn’t the original palace. The original medieval structure was destroyed by a huge fire in the year 1834 and has since been completely rebuilt.
The original building is often referred to as the “Old Palace,” and even though the core of this structure dated back to the Middle Ages, the Palace was seriously remodeled from the 17th century onwards.
This includes a thorough renovation of the interior by Sir Christopher Wren, famously known for his work on St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
5. There was a fire back in the early 16th century as well
The 1834 fire wasn’t the only time that the medieval structure suffered this faith. Back in the early 16th century, in the early days of the reign of Henry VIII, the Palace was partially destroyed by a fire as well.
This fire wasn’t as huge as the one in the 19th century, but it still destroyed the royal apartments of the palace, forcing the royal family to “York Place,” another palace in Westminster which became the royal residence in 1530.
Since then, its usage as the meeting place of the Houses of Parliament became more prominent.
6. The Parliament once planned to move into Buckingham Palace
Perhaps one of the most surprising facts about the Houses of Parliament is that Buckingham Palace, another royal residence in London, was offered to Parliament to serve as their official meeting place after the Palace of Westminster was destroyed in 1834.
The reason was the fact that King William IV disliked it and wanted to get rid of it.
That didn’t happen because Buckingham Palace was deemed completely unsuitable to serve this purpose. This in combination with the fact that the tradition of having the British Government residing in Westminster was too strong ensured any other plan to move was quickly shelved as well.
7. The palace was completely rebuilt in the Gothic Revival style
With this in mind, only one option remained viable, and that was to completely rebuild the Palace of Westminster. To find a design, an architectural competition was held.
Sir Charles Barry came out as the winner, and the Palace was rebuilt in the Gothic Revival style, mainly influenced by the English Perpendicular Gothic style used between the 14th and 16th centuries.
Another famous building in this style is the nearby Henry VII Chapel at Westminster Abbey.
8. The Houses of Parliament are huge!
The Houses of Parliament have a total floor area of 112,476 square meters (1,210,680 square feet) and consist of over 1,100 rooms!
Perhaps one of the most fascinating facts about the Houses of Parliament is that its entire façade was built on reclaimed land from the River Thames. In total, about 3.24 hectares (8 acres) were reclaimed from the river.
This allowed the Palace to become so huge.
9. The interior designer also designed the most famous tower in the UK
The simple fact that this was such a huge project meant that Sir Charles Barry didn’t go alone at it. he got help from another renowned architect named Augustus Pugin, a pioneer of the Gothic Revival style.
While he took care of the interior design and arrangement, he’s not remembered for this particular aspect. What he’s remembered for is the design of arguably the best-recognized symbol in the United Kingdom, Big Ben, which was renamed the Elizabeth Tower.
On the opposite end, we can find another famous tower named the Victoria Tower which houses the Parliamentary archives and serves as the official entrance to the Palace for the Monarch called the “Sovereign’s Entrance.”
10. This is what a Russian Tsar said about the Houses of Parliament
To say that the Palace of Westminster’s design was welcomed positively is an understatement. From all corners of the world, the new amazing building was praised when it was completed in 1876, and well before that as well.
Some approval came from unexpected sources. Halfway through the 19th century, nobody else than Tsar Nicholas I, who ruled over the Russian Empire from 1825 until 1855, called the newly constructed Palace of Westminster “A dream in stone.”
It’s no surprise then that it’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in Britain and one of the most famous historical buildings in the UK as well!
11. Here’s how you can distinguish the House of Commons and the House of Lords
Did you notice that Westminster Bridge was painted green? This wasn’t an accident, because this is the exact color of the seats in the House of Commons.
A bridge a bit further called “Lambeth Bridge” is painted in red, because that’s the color of the seats in the House of Lords.
If you connect the dots, you realize that the House of Commons is located near Westminster Bridge, and the House of Lords is located near Lambeth Bridge.
12. The cellars of the palace have been searched yearly for over 400 years
One of the most remarkable facts about the Houses of Parliament is that a particular ritual has been going on since an important event happened in the year 1605.
That’s the year of the “Gunpowder Plot,” an attempt to assassinate King James I by several English Catholics. The most famous one was Guy Fawkes, the man who was supposed to detonate the gunpowder that was stored in the cellar of the Palace of Westminster, and which would have killed the King and his entire family.
The plot was revealed, however, and all of the conspirators were captured and either killed as they fled or horribly executed in the aftermath.
Because of the Gunpowder Plot, the cellars of the Palace are always searched by the Yeomen of the Guard before every State Opening of Parliament, which happens once or twice a year.
This means that this tradition has been ongoing for over 4 centuries!