Westminster wonders: What are interesting Houses of Parliament facts?

Ever wondered what’s hiding behind the grand façade of the Houses of Parliament? Well, you’re in for a treat. We’re about to take you on a journey behind the interesting facts about the Houses of Parliament.

So, whether you’re a history enthusiast, a political buff, or just curious about the secrets held within these iconic walls, fasten your intellectual seat belts – our adventure begins now!

The Palace of Westminster is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

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UNESCO doesn’t just hand out World Heritage Site status to any old building. To earn this prestigious title, a site must meet certain criteria that make it stand out in terms of its cultural, historical, architectural, or natural significance.

So, what is it about the Palace of Westminster that caught UNESCO’s discerning eye?

One word: Gothic. The Palace of Westminster boasts some seriously impressive Gothic Revival architecture. It’s like a medieval fairy tale come to life. Picture soaring spires, intricate stonework, and pointed arches that make you feel like you’ve stepped into a history book. 

The Houses of Parliament belong to the Monarch

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While the Palace of Westminster, where the Houses of Parliament reside, is a place of spirited debates and political manoeuvring, it’s important to remember that the Monarch still holds the keys to this majestic castle. 

The Monarch’s ownership of the Houses of Parliament is more symbolic than practical. 

So, what does it mean for the King to “own” Parliament? Well, it’s a bit like saying he owns Buckingham Palace or the Crown Jewels. It’s all part of the grand pageantry and heritage of the British monarchy. 

Sir Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin won the competition to design the new Palace of Westminster

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Back in the 19th century, the Houses of Parliament were in dire need of a makeover. Enter Sir Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin, an unlikely pairing of talents. 

Barry was a seasoned architect, known for his classical designs. Pugin, on the other hand, was a fiery Gothic Revivalist with a penchant for the ornate and intricate. 

Barry and Pugin’s winning design was a triumph of collaboration. Their plan seamlessly blended Barry’s classical expertise with Pugin’s Gothic flair. The result? An architectural masterpiece that would become an enduring symbol of British democracy.

The Parliament buildings feature a colour-coding system

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This clever setup assigns different colours to political parties – blue for the Conservatives, red for Labour, and yellow for the Liberal Democrats. It helps members quickly find their way around the complex and harks back to parliamentary traditions. 

So, next time you’re in this iconic institution, keep an eye out for these subtle, colourful cues that guide the way through the maze of democracy. 

The Big Ben bell weights 13.7 tons and has been chiming since 1859

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So, what’s the deal with this colossal bell in the timekeeping tower of the Houses of Parliament? Well, it tips the scales at a whopping 13.7 tons. That’s like having an elephant perched up there, keeping track of time. But wait, there’s more!

Big Ben’s been chiming away since 1859, making it a veritable time traveller. Imagine all the history it’s witnessed – from Victorian England to the modern era. It’s seen wars, peace, triumphs, and tribulations. Talk about a reliable witness to history!

The Palace of Westminster contains around 1,100 rooms, 100 staircases, and 3 miles of corridors

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The Palace of Westminster, rebuilt in the mid-19th century after a fire, was built to blend old and new elements while accommodating the growing British Parliament in its 1,100 purposeful rooms. 

The 100 staircases in the building symbolise the maze-like nature of politics. Climbing one set leads to the House of Lords while another takes you to the Central Lobby. 

On the other hand, the 3 miles of corridors are like arteries through which democracy flows, with MPs and Lords moving between meetings and votes, plotting and pondering along the way.

Wearing a suit of armour into Parliament is not permitted

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Back in the day, when Parliament was just finding its footing, disputes and disagreements often escalated to the point where some members decided that dressing like knights was a good way to intimidate their rivals. Think of it as the medieval version of a power suit – only clankier.

But fast forward to the 21st century, and those chainmail and helmet ensembles are more likely to raise eyebrows than voices in debate. So, in the interest of maintaining a somewhat more civil atmosphere, the rulebook now explicitly states: “No suits of armour allowed”.

The central lobby is a place where members of the public can meet and lobby their Members of Parliament (MPs)

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The central lobby is a place where the public can rub elbows with their Members of Parliament (MPs) and have a good old chat about the issues that matter most to them. Imagine that!

This iconic space is like the Grand Central Station of politics, minus the trains but packed with conversations that can shape the nation.

Parliament once thought about leaving the Palace of Westminster due to the foul odour of the River Thames

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So, Parliament, in all its wisdom, contemplated relocating to a place with fresher air. And who could blame them? Even the most dedicated politicians would struggle to focus on the aroma of raw sewage wafting in through the windows.

But here’s the twist: the move never happened. Despite the olfactory assault, the Palace of Westminster stood its ground. Perhaps it was a case of “better the devil you know”. 

Or maybe the building itself was so steeped in tradition and history that it refused to budge. Either way, it’s a quirky fact that adds a whiff of intrigue to the iconic Houses of Parliament.

During World War II, the Palace of Westminster was bombed by the German Luftwaffe and suffered extensive damage

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In the Blitz of 1940-41, the Luftwaffe rained down bombs on London, and Parliament’s historic home took a beating.

The result? Extensive damage. Bombs pierced through its majestic roof, reducing parts of the building to rubble. The Commons Chamber, the iconic St. Stephen’s Hall, and the Westminster Hall all bore scars from this harrowing time. 

But here’s the remarkable part: the spirit of democracy persevered. Despite the destruction, Parliament continued to meet, albeit in makeshift spaces.

As part of tradition, the House of Commons typically slams the door in the face of Black Rod

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Here’s how it goes down: Black Rod, who’s essentially the Crown’s messenger, struts into the House of Commons during this regal spectacle. Their mission? To summon Members of Parliament (MPs) to the House of Lords for the big to-do known as the King’s or Queen’s Speech.

But here’s the kicker – the House of Commons doesn’t take kindly to uninvited guests. So, as a cheeky nod to tradition and a reminder of their independence, they slam the door in Black Rod’s face. 

Yes, you read that right. They slam it right in their face. It’s sort of fun.

The Victoria Tower houses the Parliamentary Archives which holds millions of historical records and documents

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While the Houses of Parliament are buzzing with debates, policies, and all that political jazz, the Victoria Tower quietly plays the role of guardian to a mind-boggling collection of historical records and documents. We’re talking millions of them, mate.

This archive is like a time machine that lets you journey through the annals of British history. Inside those hallowed walls, you’ll find everything from medieval manuscripts to the nitty-gritty details of landmark legislation.

Winston Churchill planned the House of Commons with fewer seats than there were MPs

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Winston Churchill believed that a few empty seats would symbolise the ever-present need for compromise in politics. It’s like saying, “Hey, there’s always room for one more if we can agree on stuff”. 

It’s a clever way to nudge MPs towards finding common ground, even when the benches are packed.

The Speaker’s House is one of the oldest parts of the Palace, dating back to the 14th century

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The Speaker’s House has witnessed centuries of debates, decisions, and disputes. It’s where the Speaker of the House of Commons, that impartial referee of parliamentary proceedings, hangs their hat. 

And let’s be honest, if those walls could talk, they’d have tales to tell that would make Game of Thrones seem like child’s play.

The term “Parliamentary Ping Pong” carries genuine meaning

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Well, in the grand arena of the Houses of Parliament, when the House of Commons and the House of Lords can’t quite agree on a piece of legislation, they engage in a lively game of back-and-forth. 

The process goes something like this: The Commons proposes a law, the Lords make some changes, and then it’s sent back to the Commons for approval. 

But wait, there’s more! If the Commons doesn’t like what the Lords did, they can send it back again, and so on, until both sides reach a consensus or tire themselves out.

The Palace of Westminster has its own police force ensuring the safety and security of the complex

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The Parliament Police are the guardians of this political fortress. They’re like the unsung heroes of Westminster, keeping a watchful eye on the comings and goings of lawmakers, staff, and visitors alike. 

But here’s where it gets even more intriguing – the Parliament Police have a history that’s as old as the Palace itself. They’ve been patrolling these hallowed halls since the 19th century, long before modern security systems were a thing.

The Houses of Parliament were formerly a palace belonging to the monarchy

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The Houses of Parliament were all about royal bling and extravagant feasts. It was originally a palace and not just any palace, but the Palace of Westminster. 

So, when you stroll past the iconic architecture of the Houses of Parliament, remember that beneath the modern-day politicking lies a history that’s as royal as it gets. It’s like having a democracy-flavored cherry on top of your palace sundae

The Great Westminster Hall is often used for major state banquets and ceremonial occasions.

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It’s a historic masterpiece that’s been around for over 700 years, and it’s seen more drama than your favourite Netflix series.

But this grand dame of a hall is still very much in the game. It’s where world leaders wine and dine during state banquets, where the King or Queen welcomes visiting dignitaries, and where centuries of tradition meet the glitz and glamour of the modern era.

You can see the spot in St Stephen’s Hall where Charles I tried to enter Parliament to arrest five of its members 

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This elegant corridor holds a historic secret dating back to 1642 when King Charles I strode in intending to arrest five defiant Members of Parliament for treason. However, his plans hit a snag when he discovered the House of Commons doors locked. 

Those clever MPs had slipped away, leaving the King seething in the hallway. This fateful standoff marked the beginning of the English Civil War, a turning point in British history. 

Today, that very spot in St. Stephen’s Hall preserves the echoes of this dramatic confrontation, offering visitors a tangible connection to the past.

It is estimated that it took over 1,200 years to establish the modern system of the UK Parliament

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The story begins with the early Anglo-Saxon councils, then weaves through the Magna Carta in 1215, and encounters numerous twists and turns along the way. It includes civil wars, revolutions, and centuries of political wrangling.

Fast forward to the present day, and you’ll find a parliamentary system that’s a model for democracies around the world. But it’s been a journey of fits and starts, of progress and setbacks, like a grand symphony with countless movements.

The famous “Division Bell” is rung in the Palace of Westminster to alert members of Parliament that a vote is taking place

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This bell is a centuries-old tradition that echoes through the hallowed halls of Parliament, signalling to MPs that it’s time to make their way to the voting lobbies. You see, the Palace of Westminster is a labyrinthine maze, and getting lost in its grandeur is all too easy. 

And when the bell rings, MPs have precisely eight minutes to wrap up their conversations, abandon their cups of tea, and hustle to the voting areas. It’s like a political race against time, where every second counts.

The famous Westminster Bridge was the scene of a terrorist attack in 2017

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On March 22nd 2017, a terrorist ploughed a vehicle into pedestrians on the bridge, causing devastation. The attack also breached the grounds of the Palace of Westminster when the assailant stormed the entrance.

This was a day that rattled not just London but the entire world, underscoring that no place is immune to contemporary challenges. Yet, in the face of terror, Londoners and people worldwide came together, proving that unity can shine even in the darkest hours.

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