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18 September 2014
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St Stephen's Chapel: From the Crown to the People

By Jacqueline Riding
Reform and re-form

Image of the ruins of Parliament after the fire of 1834
Parliament lies in ruins after the fire of 1834 ©
By the early 19th century, the accommodation of the Commons within St Stephen's was a subject of continual debate.

After James Wyatt's death, John Soane was assigned the task of continuing the remodelling of the Parliament buildings. His report intriguingly included the plan:

'... to restore St. Stephen's chapel to its original splendour and thereby render it suitable to be used as a chapel for the Members of both Houses of Parliament, with a new House of Lords on one side, and a new House of Commons on the other.'

This was never put into action and the Commons Chamber remained a cramped and uncomfortable environment. In addition, ventilation was a particular problem.

'Full enfranchisement would not come for another 100 years ...'

In 1831, a select committee was formed to debate the 'possibility of making the House of Commons more commodious and less unwholesome'. But the MPs were involved with much greater issues - the expansion of the vote through the Great Reform Act of 1832 - and nothing got done.

Full enfranchisement would not come for another 100 years, and the expansion in numbers of people allowed to vote was limited, but the Act did allow for the representation of major industrial cities such as Manchester and Sheffield.

Published: 2005-04-02

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