Houses of Parliament :: Visitors' Map of London :: A-Z Maps


Houses of Parliament

This enormous Victorian Gothic building stands throughout the world as a symbol of democratic government; its great agglomeration of fairy-tale towers and pinnacles add up to a memorable skyline, and its Clock Tower (Elizabeth Tower) has become an unofficial symbol of London ( 'Big Ben' is in fact not the name of the tower or clock but of the hour bell).

Erected between 1840-68 to designs of Charles Barry, with a lavish wealth of detail and splendiferous fittings and furnishings by his assistant, Augustus Pugin. The building occupies the site of the old Palace of Westminster, the chief Royal residence from Edward the Confessor's time to that of Henry VIII (who preferred the more modern apartments of his newly acquired palace in Whitehall). Parliament grew from the ancient Great Council (see Westminster Hall), the Lords and Commons separating during the reign of Edward I. While the Lords continued to meet in the palace, the Commons sat in the Chapter House of Westminster Abbey until 1547, when they transferred to St Stephens Chapel.

In 1834 however, the old palace buildings, with the exception of Westminster Hall, St Stephens Chapel crypt and the Jewel Tower, were destroyed in a great fire - for which we have to thank for our now famous Victorian landmark.

Sittings of Parliament are indicated by a Union Jack flying from Victoria Tower and, by night, a light towards the top of the Clock Tower.

See Also: Downing Street - SW1, Westminster Hall

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