PALACE OF WESTMINSTER

“Why haven’t we been to the Houses of Parliament?” enquired the Junior CW’s.  Fair enough question and one to which I didn’t have a good answer.  A few clicks later we had tickets for the whole family on the first Friday of the Easter holidays.  Palace of Westminster, Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Parliament; the seat of British government goes by many different names, we were lucky enough to have a perfectly sunny day for our visit.

Palace of Westminster

Security checks are thorough, as you would expect, and once past them cameras are strictly forbidden but you do get an excellent audio guide.   The first space that you enter is vast, Westminster Hall is a jaw droppingly large place now, goodness only knows how awe-inspiring it must have been seen through medieval eyes.  The wood timber roof is the largest hammer-beam roof in the world.  In this room Charles I was tried, Nelson Mandela addressed both Houses of Parliament and monarchs have laid in state here.  Brass plaques dot the floor indicating where momentous events took place.

Palace of Westminster
Westminster Hall © UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Westminster Hall was the only part of the medieval palace of Westminster to survive a fire in 1834.  The rest of the  familiar building is a Victorian creation.  What you don’t see on television is just how much gold there is everywhere.  No surface seems to go undecorated with at least some glitter.  The windows are filled with stained glass, colour is everywhere.  The tour takes you into the House of Lords, it is so much smaller that you would expect and Queen’s throne so much more golden.  You get a sense that it is a chamber in which discussion is possible rather than the exchange of ranting speeches.

Palace of Westminster
House of Lords © UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

After the Lords you follow the route that Black Rod takes when he goes to summon the Commons to hear the Queen’s speech.  Nobody slams the doors of the House of Commons in your face, you get walk straight in.  Once again it is so much smaller than it appears to be on television, you can see that heated debate is likely as opponents on the front benches are so close that they could almost touch.

Palace of Westminster
House of Commons © UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

We all  enjoyed our visit, the building is beautiful and being where big decisions are made is spine tingling.   “We’ve been there!” is now a constant refrain when the news is on.  Next the Junior CW’s want to see a debate, for that we must wait for an inset day that coincides with a day when the Houses of Parliament are sitting.

PALACE OF WESTMINSTER
Westminster, London SW1A 0AA
Tours are available on Saturdays and weekdays during parliamentary recesses.
Booking in advance is recommended, that way you won’t turn up on a day when you can’t do a tour or it is fully booked, click here for details.  It is also possible to book a tour with afternoon tea that is taken in a Thameside room and sounds amazing but we didn’t have time for tea.
Admission: Adults £8.50, concessions £16, Children (5-15) one free per adult or £7.50

BANQUETING HOUSE

Can we go to the beanbag place?  Is a question often asked in our household.  Translated that means can we visit the Banqueting House please.  I’m ashamed to say that it isn’t the ground breaking architecture or the magnificent Rubens ceiling or even the historical importance of the building that lures us back time after time but the lure of beanbags that scatter the grand hall.

Banqueting House

Banqueting House is the only remaining part of Whitehall Palace, it was the first building that Inigo Jones designed using the Palladian principles that he had seen and admired in Italy.  James I commissioned it to replace an earlier wooded banqueting house to host not only banquets but masques and royal receptions.  Just 27 years after it was completed James’ son, Charles I climbed these stairs on the way to his execution.

Banqueting House

You start your tour in the basement watching a short film explaining the history of the building and the historic events that have taken place here.  It was not only the site of the execution of Charles I but also the venue in which William and Mary had the Bill of Rights read to them before they ascended to the throne.  As you would expect this is not any old basement but a rather fine undercroft.

Banqueting House

Lolling around on beanbags, whilst listening to the audio guide that comes with the entrance fee, is not the only way to admire the Rubens ceiling you can also opt to use the magnifying mirrors that also dot the floor.   Charles I asked Rubens to come up designs that glorified his father.  Rubens drew up the designs in London and then decamped back to his studio in Antwerp to complete the work.  When the finishedcanvases were unrolled ready for installation it was with horror that it was realised that they wouldn’t fit. Careful measurements had been taken, both Belgium and England used feet and inches but each country used a different length for what they called a foot.  Scissors and paste had to be deployed to make significant changes before they would fit.

Banqueting House

For many years we have had family membership of Historic Royal Palaces, this means that for a one off payment of £100 a year  we can visit Hampton Court, Kensington Palace, Tower of London and Kew Palace as well as the Banqueting House as often as we like.  As we live less than an hour away from all of these we have made good use of our membership and made just popping in to loll on the beanbags an easy thing to do.

Ground breaking architecture, history oozing out of its pores, stunning ceiling, comfy beanbags and some pretty luxurious loos the Banqueting House has it all.  All that it lacks is a café, but that is no problem as a short walk away in St James’s Park has a café.  To get there you walk over the road past the mounted horse guards (if you lucky you might be in time for the changing of the guard) over the parade ground and hey presto there is the park.  Turn around and you will be rewarded with a  stunning view back over Whitehall.

BANQUETING HOUSE
Whitehall, London SW1A 2ER
Open: Daily 10am – 5pm (Banqueting House is still used for State entertaining and maybe shut at short notice, so check before you make a special journey)

Admission:  Adults £6.50, concessions £5.50

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