Now that’s what I call open government

The catastophic fire that consumed the original Palace of Westminster in 1834. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

The catastophic fire that consumed the original Palace of Westminster in 1834. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Archives Book of the Month: The Houses of Parliament: history, art architecture by Christine Riding (London: Merrell, 2000)

The weekend of 18 September sees the return of Open House London when hundreds of great buildings of all types and periods open up their doors to visitors, free of charge. Open House provides the opportunity to view some of London’s most famous buildings, including the Palace of Westminster or Houses of Parliament as it is more commonly known.

Turreted Gothic towers reflected in the Thames and, of course, Big Ben: such images are instantly recognisable around the world as icons of London and of British culture. But the famous buildings we know and love today are actually the “new” Houses of Parliament. The original medieval structures were sensationally destroyed by a catastrophic fire in 1834. The new buildings, designed by the architects Barry and Pugin, were mostly completed by 1860, although construction was not finished until a decade afterwards.

The “new” Houses of Parliament. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

The “new” Houses of Parliament. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

The history of the buildings, including their destruction and rebuilding, is described in fascinating detail in The Houses of Parliament: history, art architecture by Christine Riding, which is currently featuring in the Archives Centre’s ‘Book of the Month’ display. The text offers new insight into these famous, celebrated and complex buildings, placing them within a broad historical, political and cultural context.

A photograph of Parliament Square, taken in the 1950s. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

A photograph of Parliament Square, taken in the 1950s. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

If Riding’s book leaves you interested in further researching the history of the Palaces of Westminster (old or new), you can find out more at Westminster City Archives. We offer access to a wide range of historic material on the Houses of Parliament, including photographs and prints, maps and reference volumes.

If you’re interested in investigating London’s architectural history further, why not come over to the Archives Centre for our own Open House event? On Saturday 18 September we will once again be opening our doors for free guided tours of the Archives building, including a chance to see some treasures from our stores. More information can be found on the Archives Centre website. We hope to see you there!

[Michelle]

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