Eleven Things to spot on the Houses of Parliament Tour

Eleven Things to Spot on the Houses of Parliament TourWhat could be more thrilling than standing in the steps of the Prime Minister, the Queen and Braveheart? A tour of the Houses of Parliament is a fantastic opportunity for children to see inside one of the world’s most iconic buildings. You’ll find out about Guy Fawkes, the man who tried to blow up the building; Charles I, the king who had his head cut off for abusing his power; and secret doors leading to even more secret toilets.

The Palace of Westminster has been a royal palace for over 1,000 years. Originally King Canute’s hunting lodge, it was the main residence for the kings of England from 1042 until 1512 when King Henry VIII moved out after a fire. The Houses of Parliament were built on the site of the medieval palace in the 19th century after another large fire. Although most of the buildings look really old they are in fact all, apart from Westminster Hall, only 150 years old.

These are the things you should look out for.

Stand on the spot where Charles I was condemned to death in Westminster Hall

Westminster Hall is the oldest part of the Houses of Parliament. It was completed by William the Conqueror’s son, William Rufus, in 1098 and it’s where the law courts used to sit. It is a real thrill to walk around here. So many of the most exciting moments of British history have happened within these walls.

For my boys and I, the biggest thrill was standing on the exact spot where King Charles I  was sentenced to death in 1649. It is also here where the Scottish ‘Braveheart’, William Walace was sentenced to death for treason in 1305 and where Sir Thomas More was condemned to death in 1535.

In more recent times, this is where Nelson Mandela addressed Parliament and where the bodies of people like Winston Churchill and King George VI were laid in state before their funerals.

We enjoyed looking at all the statues of animals and admiring the 600-year-old roof. Our guide told us that when they did some repair work up there recently they found lots of medieval tennis balls up in the rafters left over from people indulging in a spot of royal tennis after work!

Follow the processional route taken by the Queen

The Queen opens Parliament every year and the tour follows the ‘Line of Route’, the route the Queen takes for the State Opening of Parliament. She arrives in a horse drawn coach at the Sovereign’s Entrance and makes her way from there to the Robing Room, through the Royal Gallery and Tudor Room to the Lords Chamber.

We were fascinated to discover that before the State Opening, the cellars of the Palace of Westminster are searched by the Beefeaters, the Yeoman of the Guard from the Tower of London, in order to prevent another Gunpowder Plot. The Yeoman Warders search the cellars with their lanterns. This is the cellar where, in 1605, Guy Fawkes was found guarding a pile of gunpowder with which he and a group of Catholic plotters were planning to blow up the Houses of Parliament in an attempt to kill the protestant King James I.

Find the secret door in the Robing Rome

The Robing Rome, with its highly ornate ceilings and copious amounts of gold leaf, is probably the grandest dressing room you’ll ever see. There’s even a throne in here, a ‘Chair of State’, built for Queen Victoria. This is where the Queen comes to put on her state robes and the Imperial State Crown. A copy of Charles I’s death warrant is displayed in here as a stark reminder of what can happen to a monarch who attempts to interfere with Parliament.

The most thrilling thing for my boys was the discovery of a secret panel which leads to the Royal Apartments or, in other words, a toilet which only the Queen is allowed to use.

Admire the glitz of the Lords Chamber

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The Queen addresses Parliament in the most lavishly decorated room of the whole palace. The Royal Throne is based on the early 14th century Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey. In front of the throne there’s a big cushion like a giant beanbag where the Lord Speaker sits. It’s called a Woolsack because it’s stuffed with wool. All the benches are red here, which is the colour of the Lords as opposed to the Commons which is green. There are lots of microphones dangling down from the ceiling which my boys thought looked like the candles hanging down from the Great Hall at Hogwarts.

See if you can work out where Churchill damaged the table

A bomb fell on the House of Commons during the Second World War so the government had to move into the Lords Chamber. Winston Churchill was prime minister at the time and he used to pound on the desk during his speeches to the Commons. The table in the middle of the Lords Chamber is that same table and if you look closely you can see the mark where Churchill’s signet ring scratched the table from Churchill banging on it so much.

Look at the statues of the prime ministers in the Members’ Lobby

IMG_1428-Commons-from-Members-Lobby-with-ChurchillYou can find more bomb damage in what is now called the Churchill Arch in the Members’ Lobby outside the entrance to the Commons Chamber. There are statues here of various prominent prime ministers including Winston Churchill, Clement Atlee and Margaret Thatcher.

There’s a marked difference between the size of Churchill’s statue and that of Lloyd George. Our guide told us that Churchill deliberately commissioned his statue to tower over that of his predecessor. Apparently Lloyd George’s widow complained that he looked ridiculous so they put him on a plinth to make him look taller.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stand in the Commons Chamber

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We would have loved to have sat down on one of the famous green benches but unfortunately it’s not allowed. The Commons Chamber is the room we really wanted to see for ourselves, the room we’ve seen countless times on the television. The first thing that struck us was how much smaller it looks in real life. There are 650 members of parliament but there is only space in the chamber for 450 people on the benches.

Another interesting thing we learned was that the Queen is not allowed in this room. No British monarch has been allowed in since King Charles I stormed into the Commons – and we all know what happened to him.

Find out where the Speaker used to go to the toilet

Oh, the joys of toilet humour! The grand Speaker’s Chair is raised up so that the Speaker can see what’s going on and control the proceedings. It looks all the grander for having a canopy over the top of the chair. This is because they used to hang drapes around the chair whenever the Speaker needed to use the toilet.

There is a rule that the Speaker has to be present for the parliamentary session to carry on. Nobody wanted to interrupt the session if the Speaker needed the loo so for 600 years the poor Speaker had to draw the curtains and use a chamber pot behind the canopy whenever he had to relieve himself. This went on for centuries until it was decided that a Deputy Speaker could stand in if the Speaker had to leave the room.

See where the Suffragettes used to chain themselves in St Stephens Hall

Suffragettes regularly used to chain themselves to the statue of Lord Falkland when they were protesting about the women’s right to vote at the beginning of the 20th century. The women caused such a disturbance that they banned women from the Central Lobby for ten years from 1908 to 1918.

See who you can spot…

IMG_3672The thing about the Houses of Parliament is that you never know who you’re going to bump into. As we walked outside, a Rolls Royce pulled up and there was the King of Ghana and his entourage…

Don’t miss the Jewel Tower

Your tour ticket gives you free entry to the Jewel Tower opposite Westminster Palace. It was built in 1365 to store King Edward III’s personal treasure and was originally surrounded by a moat to make it harder to attack.

The official records of the House of Lords were kept here from 1580 to 1864 so this is the place to see copies of thrilling documents like the death warrant of King Charles I and the act of parliament that abolished slavery.

How to book a tour of the Houses of Parliament

Tours are available on Saturdays thought the year and on most weekdays during parliamentary recesses including the summer, Christmas and Easter.

There are several ways of booking a tour. You can either book a tour online or from the ticket office at the front of Portcullis House. A self-guided audio tour costs £18.50 for adults. One child is free with each paying adult, £7.50 for each additional child. There is a family version of the audio tour. The 90-minute guided tours cost £25.50, adults; £11, children. It’s best to book in advance but some tickets may be available on the day from the ticket office.

UK residents can do a guided tour free of charge by contacting their MP. All you need to do is contact your MP or a Member of the House of Lords. You can find your MP and a list of Members of the House of Lords on the UK Parliament website.

There are regular Family Guided Tours of the Houses of Parliament. Check the website for details.

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50 thoughts on “Eleven Things to spot on the Houses of Parliament Tour

  1. Fascinating to see some of the details – I’ve been into Westminster Hall which is incredible and had a glimpse of the Lords but never a full tour. I hadn’t realised UK residents could do it for free either.

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    • It’s a great trip for ten to eleven year olds. No wonder they love it! Such a shame you haven’t been able to go along with them. You’ll have to arrange a separate trip to London and do it for yourself. Thanks so much for sharing. I really appreciate it. 🙂

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  2. I’ve been past the Houses of Parliament for about 8 years when I was working in London and never once been in. It looks like such an intricately designed grand building. If I’m honest I didn’t realise it would be so interesting. I’m definitely going to go next time I’m there! #citytripping

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  3. OMG You totally had me glued to your every word!! I loved this post! I don’t think I have ever done a tour of the Houses of Parliament! As a kid I remember visiting Westminister Abbey. Now I NEED to do this tour!! I love British history!! #CityTripping

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    • Thanks so much for such a lovely comment! We love history too and this place was positively packed with brilliant stories and it was so much grander than we’d imagined too. It was far more like a palace than I’d imagined. Thanks so much for sharing.

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  4. What a fascinating tour! You were told so many interesting little bits of history – toilets, damaged tables, medieval tennis balls and more. I think the older I get, the more I am amazed by historic tales. It just baffles me that you can be standing in a hall built in 1098. I doubt that much of today’s architecture would even come close to surviving that long (but we will never know).

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    • I just love all the wonderful stories you find out when you wander around historical sites – they really make it come alive and the place becomes so much more interesting for children. Thanks so much for commenting and sharing.

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  5. We did the tour a couple of years ago and found it completely fascinating. Wish I’d read your post beforehand though Clare, I’d have known to look out for more things! Love the story about Churchill and his ring damaging the table.

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  6. Really fascinating – an amazing experience and so many wonderful facts . I love the tennis balls found in the roof. I often work in Westminster, passing the building frequently and would love to see inside. Great to hear it can be done for free through your MP. #citytripping

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    • It really was wonderful, Elizabeth. I think we were particularly lucky with our guide. My sister-in-law has been on the tour seven(!) times and she says she has learned something new each time. I love that you can do it all for free! Hope you’re having a great time in France.

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  7. Oooo… the thought of secret doors and secret panels totally excite me!! And to find a secret toilet worthy of Queens at the other side of it is… Frankly not quite what I expected. Haha… I shall stick to telling myself they are royal apartments. #CityTripping

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  8. Pingback: The August Chronicles | suitcases and sandcastles
  9. Oh this is a really fascinating post! I’ve been to the Houses of Parliament a few times, but just for free so I’ve just wandered around. It is pretty cool to sit down for the debates and question time as well, especially if the topic is interesting. It can get really heated ha ha. #citytripping

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  10. I LOVED this! English history fascinates me and we’re in London next weekend for the ‘Open House’ weekend and The Houses of Parliament is one of the buildings with free entry – I know what I’m doing next Saturday!!!
    PS. I loved the toilet details 😉
    #TheWeeklyPostcard

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  11. I was so engrossed in this post! As a Brit, I have toured most of London but haven’t actually managed to go into the Houses of Parliament. I am fascinated by the history and loved reading all that you had to say, thank you so much for sharing! #TheWeeklyPostcard

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  12. I really want to do this!!! It’s funny when you say the building are ONLY 150 years old, here in the US that is old but yes I know things are different in England. I learned so much from your post and really look forward to checking this out in person. Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard.

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  13. I spent a week in London and still didn’t have time to visit the Parliament. Too bad, from what you are describing I missed a lot. It must have been quite an experience to stand in the same spot where Charles I was sentenced to death.

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