From ecclesiastical to secular
The palace’s transition from royal residence to the exclusive home of Parliament was now complete. At this point it can be assumed that some alterations occurred to adapt the chapel to suit its new role. Accounts from 1547 to 1558 include:
‘sundry charges made and done in and upon the Parlyament house at Westminster some tyme Saynt Stephen’s Chappell.’
'... the tradition of red for Lords and green for Commons was firmly established by the early 19th century ...'
It is generally believed that members sat in the medieval choir stalls, which had been increased and lengthened to accommodate them. This tradition has informed the structure and format of the seating in all subsequent chambers, including the present Commons chamber.
Little is known of the appearance of St Stephen’s up to the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. In 1670 the chairs were painted green - and there has been much speculation about the use of green as the defining colour for the Commons. Certainly the tradition of red for Lords and green for Commons was firmly established by the early 19th century - the interior decoration of the new palace, particularly in the upholstery within the respective chambers and seat furniture throughout the building, reflected this.
In the 1670s there were rumours of a Catholic plot to replace Charles II with his younger brother, James. Echoes of the Gunpowder Plot heightened concerns regarding security at Parliament and local residents reported ‘... knocking and digging in the earth, in some cellars near adjoining to the Houses of Parliament.’
Sir Christopher Wren was asked to make an assessment of the basement security to which he responded that ‘... the vaults and cellars under or near this House are of such a nature, that there can be no assurance of safety.’ Some improvements were made in 1679 - including structural work to the roof - but by 1692 the Commons requested a major overhaul.
'The format and 'workaday' appearance has remained the signature of the Commons Chamber.'
Designed by Wren, the interior walls of the chapel were completely masked with wainscoting (oak panelling), with rows of benches the length of the chamber at ground level. Because the dimensions of the chamber were restricted (60ft by 30ft), an upper gallery was installed to provide additional seating.
At the east end of the chamber was the Speaker’s chair, in front of which was the clerk’s table. In appearance it was very simple and plain; contrasting dramatically with the polychrome decoration of the Royal Chapel hidden beneath. The format and 'workaday' appearance has remained the signature of the Commons Chamber.
The Act of Union with Scotland in 1707 created a requirement for 45 additional seats in the chamber after which little changes were made until the Act of Union with Ireland in 1800 whereby a further 100 MPs required seating. The job was given to James Wyatt.
The existing furnishings were ripped out, exposing Edward III’s wall paintings ‘... as fresh and vivid as if they could only boast a twelvemonth’s date.’ These were unceremoniously destroyed during Wyatt’s remodelling. The medieval (and thus royal) heart of the chapel had been finally and irreparably ripped out.