BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

18 September 2014
Accessibility help
Church and State

BBC Homepage

Contact Us

Westminster: A New Palace for a New Age

By Christine Riding
Image of the ruins following the fire of 1834
Palace of Westminster, following the fire of 1834  ©

The new Palace of Westminster was built with modern convenience - and the comfort of MPs - very much in mind. So why did the past loom so large during the planning stage?

New palace

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.

Published: 2005-02-07

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy