On 16 October 1834, fire broke out under the Lords Chamber of the Palace of Westminster, and quickly took hold. Within hours the whole site was engulfed in flames, the fire burning throughout the night, watched by thousands of people on Westminster Bridge and in the streets.
'Some commentators viewed the fire as divine retribution ...'
One spectator described it as ‘certainly the grandest thing we have ever witnessed’. Journalists recounted the progress of the fire as if it were a major theatrical event, and artists such as JMW Turner produced spectacular paintings as a visual record of this historic moment.
By the following day, most of the central area was in ruins. Some commentators viewed the fire as divine retribution for the recent parliamentary reforms and others as a sign of more significant political changes to come. In the history of the Palace of Westminster, it was certainly the best opportunity since the 16th century for a modern, purpose-built structure for the houses of Parliament.