Westminster Palace

I was scrolling through an image library on my iPhone and found a stack of photos which were taken when Hubbie and I visited the Palace of Westminster late August last year. Oh my, how horrible the last summer was! The photos jogged my memory. That summer, Hubbie was struck by shingles and out of action for nearly three weeks. While he moaned and wept with pain, I spread anti-inflammatory ointment on his arm and fingers and dressed them with crepe bandage. The memory of the period still makes me shudder.

Anyway, the trip to the House of Parliament was a sort of celebration for his recovery from the illness. Also, I had been interested in this remarkable neo-gothic style building ever since I moved to London and wanting to visit there one day. ‘Shall we book a tour? We can have afternoon tea in there too!’ Hubbie had visited the Palace during a school trip when he was a boy. However, it was a long time ago and he wanted to revisit the place too.

People, people, people…

Always congested with tourists.

A word of advice. If your tour starts around lunchtime and you are worried about where to eat, don’t get tempted to grab sandwich and coffee from the outlets, such as Cafe Nero, etc, along Portcullis House. They have no table or chair to sit at and always mega busy. All in all, the area around the Palace of Westminster is not visitor friendly. Apart from a few pubs along Whitehall, there is no restaurant or cafe to eat or rest. And even the public toilet within the underground station is reputed to be the most expensive in the capital… ‘Ugh, we should have had something before we set off!’, we groaned as we saw a swarm of tourists milling around the snack bars. Our tour was supposed to start around 2 o’clockish  and the afternoon tea just before four o’clock. We didn’t like the idea of having to walk around with an empty stomach for so long. In the end, we bought ham & cheese croissant, fruits salad and latte at Cafe Nero and sat down on the steps by Portcullis House. Oh dear, we didn’t expect this eventuality…

After finishing our impromptu picnic, we headed to the House of Parliament. By the gate, there were a staff as well as armed policemen, checking documentations produced by the visitors. After checking our paperwork, one of them directed us towards the entrance with an airport-style security.

Hello Oliver!

After going through the security, we were ushered to a courtyard called New Palace Yard which lead to Westminster Hall…

To our chagrin, we did find a cafe by the hall which was open to visitors. We could have had a decent snack in a more civilised manner instead of scoffing it like street urchins! The security staffs weren’t fussy about the time on the tickets so we could have entered earlier and had lunch at the cafe. Damn.

The entrance of Westminster Hall…

Westminster Hall was built by William ll, the son of William the Concueror, in 1097. The primary purpose of the hall was to impress his English subjects by its sheer scale – measuring 73 by 20 metres, it was by far the largest hall in England and probably in Europe then…

As the name suggests, Westminster Palace was built as a royal residence. The palace was a victim of numerous fires and the largest fire of 1834 burnt down most of the compound except this medieval hall.

The hall have been in use for mainly ceremonial purpose. For example, Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill’s coffin was lain in state before it was transported to St Paul’s Cathedral for his funeral…

The hall also receives state guests, such as the Pope, presidents and prime ministers who are invited to address the Houses, Commons and Lords.

In the past, the hall was used for a more grim business. It housed temporary courtrooms which tried Sir Thomas Moore during the Henry Vlll’s reign and King Charles l during the short-lived Commonwelth of England…

As we all know, both of them were condemned to death.

At the far end of the hall, there was a grand stone staircase which lead to St Stephen’s Hall…

A view from St Stephen’s Porch towards the main entrance to the hall…

It was awe inspiring to realise that I was standing on the same spot and looking at the same things as the kings and the queens of the Plantagenet, the Tudor and the Stiart, etc. All those plaques embedded on the floor represents historical significance of the British Parliamental history.

And next stop, St Stephen’s Hall…

Comparing with the ginormous size of Westminster Hall, St Stephen’s Hall was more intimate and almost cozy. It was also more ornate with fan vault ceiling and colourfully painted murals.
Beyond this point, photography was forbidden therefore no image to show until the afternoon tea at the Terrace Pavilion.

After St Stephen’s Hall, we arrived at Central Lobby. The lobby was undergoing extensive repair works on the floor and the ceiling, and as a result, barriers and scaffoldings were all over the place. The interior of the octagonal lobby was a familiar sight through televised broadcasts and I felt incredibly excited to be in there.

Then, we moved to House of Lords. Oh my, what a decor! The chamber was covered with an insane amount of wood-carvings. With those rich burgundy red leather seats with gold trimming, the place was magnificently resplendent.

Next room we visited was Lords Visitor Route. The space had a high ceiling with an airy atmosphere and it was exhibiting the Battle of Waterloo as it was the centenary year of the famous battle. We also passed the staircase where the Queen climbed up every time she visited the Palace of Westminster for State Opening of Parliament. In the adjacent room, we saw a throne on which she would sit before she entered House of Lords. Very impressive!

Then, we walked back to Central Lobby so we could visit House of Commons at the opposite end of the compound.
The first thing I wanted to see was a spot on the chamber door where the Black Rod would strike with his staff. If you are familiar with the ritual of State Opening, you know why. The Black Rod is an official of the Parliament and apart from his usual duties, such as maintaining the building service and overseeing security, he also has a role to play at State Opening. Upon the sovereign commands the Commons to be summoned, the Black Rod walks across Central Lobby with the message. However, the doors are slammed shut in his face – a symbolic gesture to express the independence of the Commons. So the Black Rod strikes the door three times with his staff. 

When I reached the doors, they were wide open and I couldn’t see the notorious part of the door. ‘Where is it the Black Rod strikes?’ I begged the staff to show it to me. He pointed the metal plate on the door. It was scarred and slightly dented by repeated banging. I just loved this kind of  British peculiarity…

Comparing with the richly decorated House of Lords, the Commons’ Chamber was spartan – hardly any embellishment. The interior consisted of dark wood panels and green leather seatings made the space appeared sombre and solemn. Apart from the policemen standing here and there quietly, the room was empty and even lifeless. The only sound was humming from the air conditioning unit. What a difference it made, I thought. No doubt the place would transform to a hornets’ nest once the Parliament was in session.

After visiting House of Commons, it was almost time for afternoon tea. People with the reservations, including us, were herded up and lead to the Terrace Pavilion…

An army of staffs walked around the tables briskly and took orders for drink as soon as we were seated.
Then, they brought out a tray of afternoon tea treats…

Oh dear, it was the meanest afternoon tea we had ever come across! Especially for the price we paid for. And the staff didn’t come around with second helpings of cake or sandwich but instead, they were offering to refill our teapots. I had been to many afternoon teas and this one was the most disappointing affair. Poor Hubbie was so looking forward to this treat and he was bitterly complaining how hungry he still was when we walked out from the venue!

The only plus point of having tea there was a view from the tea room…

Apart from the afternoon tea, the tour was thoroughly enjoyable and I would love to bring my mother in future. I bought tea towels with the House of Parliament logos for her at their gift shop.

At the exit…

Another word of advice. Their audio guide was very informative. So don’t forget to borrow it when you are there!

Kaori by Kaori Okumura


2 thoughts on “Westminster Palace

  1. Really enjoyed reading this. I’ve been to Westminster Hall before but I’ll be visiting the rest of the Palace of Westminster next month and cannot wait! One of those places that very few Londoners ever get round to visiting.

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