Houses of Parliament, London, England

Parliament Square, Houses of Parliament, London, England.

Parliament Square and the Houses of Parliament.

Parliament Square is adjacent to both the Palace of Westminster (aka Parliament) and Westminster Abbey and offers the classic contrast of filthy rich in stretch limos and filthy poor demonstrators in tiny tents. Actually that’s an exaggeration as the stretch limos are usually hired by party people and the long-term demonstrators are frequently borderline crazies being tolerated by a reasonably liberal elite. But it certainly looks bad. . .

That tower at the north end of the Palace of Westminster, by the way, is officially known as the Clock Tower, not Big Ben, even though most of the world – including the British public – know it Big Ben. Big Ben is the name of the heaviest of 5 bells in the tower.

What are The Houses of Parliament?

The Houses of Parliament, otherwise known as the Palace of Westminster or Westminster Palace is the political centre of England and embraces two Parliamentary ‘houses’, actually debating chambers. The House of Lords are unelected and get a seat due to their titles; the House of Commons is where lies the real power of the country, wielded by elected Members of Parliament, including the Prime Minister.
The most ‘exciting’ time to visit is during Prime Minister’s Question Time.

MPs  Shame on you

Statue in Victoria tower gardens, Houses of Parliament, Westminster, London, England

Members of Parliament hanging their heads in shame. Hah! That’ll be the day!

a) MPs only indicate shame when they are busted so after the bigwig powers that be – sharing the Palace and probably expense account dinners with the bustees – decide not to prosecute most of them it’s back to business as usual, except with more care.

b) That being said, many British MPs do possess both morals and ethics and are not particularly affluent, or if they are they made it themselves through a successful business. Parliamentary pay is not generous. The mass of MPs are tainted by a minority of grasping individuals corrupted by power and greed.

c) the sculpture above is actually a limited-edition Rodin sculpture called The Burghers of Calais. It’s in Victoria Tower Gardens on the south side of the Palace of Westminster.

Westminster Palace History

Houses of Parliament frontage, Westminster Palace, London, England

The west side of Westminster Palace, Old Palace Yard and Peer’s (i. e. Lords etc. ) entrance.

St Edward the Confessor built the first royal residence here in 1045, at about the same time as Westminster Abbey, but the royal advisors in those days had to use Westminster Abbey’s Chapter House for policy discussions until the 16th century when they moved into a much remodeled Westminster Palace.

In 1834 there was a destructive fire in the Palace such that the Houses were forced to move. King William IV offered them Buckingham Palace free of charge because he didn’t like it. Apparently Parliament didn’t either as they rejected the offer, eventually deciding to rebuild on the same historical spot and go clubbing in the meantime.
The new Gothic Palace took about 20 years and was mostly complete by 1860.

Westminster Palace Trivia

– There has been a no-smoking law in the House of Commons since the 17th century so MPs use an alternative, snuff. Doorkeepers still keep a snuff-box available for members who fancy a quick snort.

– Food and drink are also forbidden, except for the Chancellor of the Exchequer who can have a stiffening glass of something alcoholic while delivering the budget statement.

– Members may not keep their hands in their pockets.

Statue of Oliver Cromwell, Houses of Parliament, Westminster, London, England

Anti-Royalist Oliver Cromwell’s statue in Cromwell Green.

A Member of Parliament in 1628, Cromwell led various armies in two civil wars between Parliamentarians and King Charles I, 1642-1648. Having terminated royal rule in the UK he – along with a court – proceeded to terminate Charles I, though he was kind enough to have his head sewn back on afterwards.

However Charles got revenge from the grave precisely 12 years after his death as Cromwell’s body was exhumed from Westminster Abbey (he had been dead for 3 years), was executed and hung in chains in Tyburn before finally his head was stuck on a pole outside Westminster Hall until 1685. Take that Ollie!

Visiting the Palace of Westminster

Gardens beside Houses of Parliament, Westminster, London, England

The popular POV for TV talking heads when Parliament is the subject.

* UK residents can get a free tour of the Clock Tower or other main areas of the Palace, a free guided tour or ticket for the public gallery of the Commons at Prime Minister’s Question Time from their local MP or from a Lord for the House of Lords.

* Overseas visitors and UK residents can both queue to watch debates; line up at the entrance above right. There may be along wait.

* Houses of Parliament Paid Guided Tours for non-residents are available on Saturdays or during Summer Opening (usually August-September).

* Visitors to the Palace of Westminster enter through the doors visible on the right, beyond Cromwell Green.

Official website: Visiting Parliament

Getting to Palace of Westminster/Houses of Parliament

On Foot: just 2 minutes walk from Westminster Abbey, 2 from 10 Downing Street (Prime Minister’s home), 2 from Westminster Bridge leading to the South Bank and London Eye, 10 minutes also from Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery, 12 minutes from Buckingham Palace, 12 mins from Tate Britain.

By Bicycle: The only 2 docking stations currently nearby, not very close, are in Abbey Orchard Street and Smith Square, Westminster. Strange that the holier-than-thou bigwigs and Parliament politicos don’t want eco-bicycles in their area! Environment? Pah! Jeeves, fetch a stretch and make mine a Hummer.

By Tube/Underground: Westminster. Nearest main Rail stations are Charing Cross and Waterloo.

By Bus: Masses, e. g. 3, 11, 12, 24, 53, 87, 88, 148. . . .

By Car: Don’t! No parking, no space, no tolerance. Taxis, no problem of course.