Politics here and across the world right now is so highly charged, isn’t it a great time to learn about the history of our Parliament in the heart of Westminster? Be grateful or maybe not, that we have a system that allows debate, rather than ‘off with their head’.
A day in Westminster I’d say is a must for any Londoner or visitor, and where better to start than The Palace of Westminster. A guided tour of this incredible building is like walking in the most amazing museum, regardless of your politics, the history is overwhelming. I did a blog post last year after my first visit, and recently I went back for London’s first History Day to a Clock Makers Tour, with two of the men who care for it, along with the 2000 clocks dotted around the Palace.
On 31 May, Big Ben had been keeping time for 158 years, even though it is actually 160 yrs old. It is the oldest serving building in Westminster Hall. This extraordinary design by Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin was actually an after thought to the original Palace of Westminster design.
Having been built after the Great Fire of London, the top of the Tower is all made of cast iron to protect it from fire, and the rest is made of brick and covered with Anston stone from Yorkshire.
The bell of Big Ben broadcasts live twice a day for the World Service at 6am and midnight, but did you know that this Great Bell is the third bell that was delivered and weighs 13.5 tons. The first hour bell cracked after it had been sent by boat and rail from Stockton-on-Tees, the second bell was cast at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry (sadly that closed last year), and that too cracked, each time the the bell was broken up and melted down to be re cast.
Once ready, it took 35 hours of non-stop winching man hours to raise the bell… 35 HOURS – can you imagine!! Restored in 1863 it has chimed on the hour ever since. The first chime rang out on New Years Eve 1923.
There are 334 steps to the top, and every Monday, Wednesday and Friday there is a time check and the clock is wound up manually. This takes 90mins. The strikes and chimes wouldn’t last a week if they weren’t wound.
Edward Denison made the clock, and whilst it sat there for 5 years until the tower was ready, he repeatedly modified the time keeping, that to this day the ‘double three-legged gravity escapement mechanism’ is what makes this clock so unique, and crucial to the accuracy of the clock.
Elizabeth Tower (as it is now known) was always designed to be used at night. There are 312 panes of glass in each white facade of the German gothic numerated clock, but did you know that one pane is missing in each? Why, because originally it was lit by gas lights, and a man would have to stay up all night to keep the gas alight. Now it’s not bad for a little ventilation & access to a little clean.
These are just some of the many extraordinary facts shared by Paul Roberson and Ian Westworth.
This talk was one of the most fascinating I’ve ever been to, so I’m now applying to my MP to request a visit and climb those historic steps myself. This is the only part of visiting Westminster that requires a request from your local MP.
If you are making a day of it, I would eat before you arrive, as security is tight, and can take a while to go through. I would always try and book for first thing too.
A walk across Westminster Bridge take you to the London Eye, and beyond that there are so many little restaurants from Pain Quotidien to Wahaca to the cafe at the Festival Hall.
Walking along Whitehall, you have Trafalgar Square at one end for a little pub Walkers of Whitehall, really nice, or National Portrait Gallery cafe. Alternatively Villiers in Villiers Street, just next to Charing Cross Station. There is also the oldest pub down there called Gordon’s, which has memorabilia all over the walls. They have a garden & terrace if eating inside isn’t for you! It gets very busy in the evenings.
Culture in Westminster
Walk along Whitehall, past Downing Street to Horseguards and catch a changing of the Guard, Westminster Abbey, Churchill War Rooms, Household Cavalry Museum
London Aquarium, London Eye for the birds eye views, Southbank for food market at weekends, and in the summer. St James’s Park for downtime and a picnic. It’s quiet and one of the most beautiful Royal parks.
She said:“I loved the history of it all, I also chatted to the gallery assistants who’ve worked there forever, so extra details and stories made the audio guide even better”
He said: “Surprisingly I enjoyed the tour a lot, definitely recommended, but plan lunch before anything else, because I was starving when I was done”
Teens said: “Fascinated and loved it… glad I’m studying politics Mum!”