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A few days ago, I happened across some interesting illustrations of the parliamentary estate in London, old and new.

The first tweet shows the complex as it was in the mid-1500s. The text about Bishop Thirlby pertains to his membership of the House of Lords as a Lord Spiritual, a bishop in the Church of England:

The Lords Spiritual still exist today, with the Right Revd David Urquhart as their convenor:

Returning to the illustration of the parliamentary estate, here is another illustration from the same period. This is what the House of Lords looked like in the Elizabethan era:

The above illustrations show what Parliament looked like when the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 took place (image credit: Wikipedia).

Three illustrations in a horizontal alignment. The leftmost shows a woman praying, in a room. The rightmost shows a similar scene. The centre image shows a horizon filled with buildings, from across a river. The caption reads "Westminster". At the top of the image, "The Gunpowder Plot" begins a short description of the document's contents.A small group of English Catholics attempted to blow up the House of Lords on November 5 that year. The objective was to remove James I, a Protestant, from the throne and re-install a Catholic monarchy. Robert Catesby led the group of men, although the perpetrator we remember best is Guy (Guido) Fawkes, for whom the evening of November 5 — our fireworks/bonfire night — is named. Fawkes was in charge of the explosives. Traditionally, a ‘guy’, an effigy, was made. People contributed loose change to calls for ‘a penny for the guy’ to pay for the effigy and associated fireworks. The effigy was then burnt and fireworks let off as a way of saying that traitors will not prevail against our government.

Half a century later, we have an example of what written legislation looked like. Note the French language at the top, a legacy of the Norman invasion of 1066. ‘Le Roy le veult’ is archaic French for ‘The King wills it’. The feminine version, for Elizabeth I, was ‘La Reyne le veult’. The text of the law is written in English:

It was not unusual for accidental fires to break out in or near the estate.

A bad one occurred in 1779 (pictured in the next tweet), but the one that ravaged nearly everything, except for Westminster Hall and a few lesser structures, occurred in 1834:

On October 16, 1834, an overheated wood-burning stove caught fire. In 1835, King William IV assured Parliamentarians that the blaze had been accidental.

A fierce competition to rebuild Parliament took place among leading British architects divided into one of two camps: neoclassical or neo-Gothic.

In the end, Charles Barry’s neo-Gothic design won. A young architect, Augustus Pugin, had to submit his design under Barry’s name. This was because Pugin had recently converted to Catholicism and his earlier designs for other buildings in England were rejected for that reason.

While the argument over architectural style raged on, Barry supervised construction of the new Palace of Westminster until his death in 1860. By then, Barry had received a knighthood for the building of both houses of Parliament, the Commons and the Lords.

This is a painting of the new structure in 1864:

As for the clock tower, the Elizabeth Tower that houses Big Ben, Pugin designed that, too, although Barry, his superior, added a few finishing touches and submitted the plans under his own name.

Pugin wrote:

“I never worked so hard in my life [as] for Mr Barry for tomorrow I render all the designs for finishing his bell tower & it is beautiful & I am the whole machinery of the clock.”[38]

Pugin is largely responsible for the lavish, church-like interior. In his other work, Pugin designed churches and other religious buildings. In 2012, the BBC broadcast a documentary about him called God’s Own Architect.

Pugin predeceased his boss, Charles Barry. In February 1852, he suffered a nervous breakdown whilst on a train to London with his son Edward. When the train arrived in the capital, Pugin was incoherent and unable to recognise anyone. He was in two different asylums until September that year, when his wife Jane was able to take him to the home he had designed for them, The Grange, in Ramsgate, Kent. Pugin died on September 14. He is buried next door at a church he designed, St Augustine’s, a Catholic Church.

The design of the current Palace of Westminster is still contentious today:

The architectural debate continues. People love the neo-Gothic style or loathe it. I find it beautiful:

Today, the Palace of Westminster is undergoing much-needed renovation. The scaffolding continues to be removed from the Elizabeth Tower, and soon Big Ben will be ringing again.

It has taken ten years to replace the Victorian cast iron roof, the largest in Europe, if not the world. The two Speakers of the House — Lord McFall of Alcluith (Lords) and Sir Lindsay Hoyle (Commons) — admire the finished product. Click on the photos to see them fully. Sir Lindsay Hoyle is in the red jacket:

The Palace of Westminster is a magnificent structure.

It is thought that the Elizabeth Tower will reopen for tours sometime this year.

A thing of beauty is a joy forever.

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