The Garden Guide

Book: London and Its Environs, 1927
Chapter: 4 The Houses of Parliament

Interior of Houses of Parliament 2

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The CENTRAL HALL, a handsomely decorated octagonal vestibule, 60 feet in diameter and 75 feet high, separates the precincts of the Lords from those of the Commons. On the floor is the text, in the Latin of the Vulgate: 'Except the Lord keep the house, their labour is but lost that build it.' The ceiling is inlaid, between the massive ribs of the vaulting, with Venetian glass mosaic, showing various royal badges. The patron saints of Great Britain and Ireland are represented in glass mosaic over the doorways leading from this vestibule: St. George (South) and St. David (North), by Poynter, St. Andrew (East), and St. Patrick (West), by R. Anning Bell. In niches around the hall are statues of English sovereigns of the Plantagenet line and their consorts; and on pedestals are statues of Lord John Russell (died 1878), by Boehm; Lord Iddesleigh (died 1887), by Boehm; Gladstone (died 1898), by Pomeroy; and Lord Granville (died 1891), by Thornycroft. When Parliament is sitting, visitors who have business with members are admitted to this hall, whence they 'send in their cards' to the House, through the medium of one of the policemen on duty. Ladies were at one time not admitted beyond St. Stephen's Hall. A corridor (not open to the public), decorated with frescoes referring to the Tudor period, leads to the Lower Waiting Hall. On the left: 1. Henry VIII. and Catherine of Aragon at Blackfriars (1529), by F. 0. Salisbury; 2. Laticoer preaching at St. Paul's Cross (1548), by east Bord; 3. Queen Mary and Princess Elizabeth entering London (1553), by Byam Shaw. On the right: 4. More and Erasmus visiting the children of Henry VII. at Greenwich (1499), by F. C. Cowper; 5. Henry VII. and John Cabot (1496), by P. Eden; 6. Dispute in the Temple Gardens, by H. Payn. In the LOWER WAITING HALL are a statue of John Bright (died 1889), by A. Bruce-Joy, and a Bust of Oliver Cromwell, ascribed to Bernini. On the landing of the Terrace Staircase, descending hence to the members' lower dining-rooms and smoking-rooms, is a reproduction of the Coronation of Edward the Confessor, a 13th century painting that adorned the Painted Hall of the palace. On the staircase are a painting by Sir John Gilbert of the Field of the Cloth of Gold and a case of mediaeval tally-stocks, and in the Terrace Lobby are reconstructions of wall paintings (13-14th century) that once existed in St. Stephen's Chapel. Another staircase ascends to the UPPER WAITING HALL, in which are damaged frescoes of themes from English poetry, now covered, with the exception of St. Cecilia (by Tenniel). In Committee Room 14, on the upper floor,' Field-Marshal Earl Kitchener, K.G., Secretary of State for War, spoke with members of the House of Commons on Friday, June 2nd, 1916. On Monday, June 5th, 1916 he died at sea.' The COMMONS' CORRIDOR leads to the north from the Central Hall. Like the Peers' Corridor it is decorated with frescoes, in this case by E. M. Ward. On the left: 1. Dame Alice Lisle concealing fugitives after the battle of Sedgemoor (1685); 2. Last sleep of the Marquis of Argyll (1661); 3. William and Mary at Whitehall (1689); 4. Acquittal of' the Seven Bishops (1687). On the right: 5. Monk declares for a free parliament (1660); 6. Charles II. landing at Dover (1660); 7. Execution of Montrose (1650): 8. Jane Lane assisting Charles II. to escape after the battle of Worcester (1651). The COMMONS' LOBBY, at the end of the corridor, resembles the Lords' Lobby in shape. The only statue here is one of Sir William Vernon Harcourt (died 1904), by W. Story. In the south-west and north-west angles are the Whips' offices, and on the west side is a post office for the use of members. The door on the east leads to the Commons' Library, which, like the Lords', overlooks the Thames. The door on the west admits to the Upper Cloisters. Beyond the lobby, on the north, lies the House of Commons, 75 foot long, 45 foot wide, and 41 foot high, the comparative plainness of which contrasts with the splendour of the House of Lords. The walls are panelled with oak and in the stained-glass windows are the armorial bearings of parliamentary boroughs. The Speaker's chair is at the north end of the chamber, facing the throne and the woolsack in the House of Lords. In front of the chair is the table of the House, on which the mace rests during the sittings of the House. When the House is 'in Committee' the mace is placed 'under the table.' On either side of the table are the 'front benches,' the ministerial on the Speaker's right, the opposition on his left. Besides the benches on the floor, the two side-galleries also are reserved for members; but even including these galleries there are seats for only 460 of the 615 members. The house was purposely kept small for acoustic reasons. At the end of the chamber, above the Speaker's chair, are the Reporters' Gallery and, at a higher level the Ladies' Gallery. The brass grille once in front of the latter was removed in 1917. At the other end of the hall, facing the Speaker, are the Peers' Gallery (right) and the Ambassadors' Gallery and seats for Distinguished Strangers (left), and behind these is the ordinary Strangers' Gallery. At the back of the Strangers Gallery is the Sergeant-at-Arms' Gallery. On the front of the gallery facing the Speaker's chair are memorial shields to members who fell in the War. The House of Commons is flanked on each side by Division Lobbies, into which the members file when a vote is being taken, 'Ayes to the right (West), Noes to the left' (East). Apart from its rules of procedure, the House of commons observes various points of Etiquette, any breach of which is hailed with cries of 'Order, Order,' sometimes a little puzzling to the uninitiated stranger. Members may wear their hats in their seats and, until comparatively recently, were not expected to move about the precincts of the House uncovered, unless they were official members, when a member raises a point of order, after a division has been called, he does so seated and covered. Newspapers may not be read in the House. Members desiring to speak endeavour to 'catch the Speaker's eye' by rising in their places. The Speaker calls by name the member who is to speak; but in their speeches members refer to each other only under the names of the constituencies they represent. All members are 'honourable members,' those who are privy councillors are 'right honourable members'; military and naval members are 'honourable and gallant,' barristers are 'honourable and learned.' No two members may be on their feet together to address the House, and no member may remain standing when the Speaker rises to speak. No one is supposed to pass between the Speaker and a speaking member, if the latter be in one of the two front rows of benches on either side of the House. A member speaking from the foremost row of benches may not advance his foot beyond a red line on the carpet which marks the limit supposed to keep him out of sword's reach of the occupants of the benches opposite. We now return to the Central Hall and, passing through the south door, enter ST. STEPHEN'S HALL, the walls of which 'precisely correspond with the ground plan of St. Stephen's Chapel, founded by King Edward I. and completed by King Edward III. A.D. 1292-1364' (see tablet on the north wall). In this chapel, the chapel royal of the Old Palace of Westminster, the House of Commons met from 1547 till the destruction of the palace by fire in 1834, and to this day the name 'St, Stephen's' is often used as equivalent to 'House of Commons.' The exact positions of the Speaker's chair and of the table are indicated by brass studs on the pavement near the east end. In the angles of the hall are figures of the early Norman kings, and on pedestals by the walls are statues of British statesmen. The pictures on the walls to the left and right represent the Speaker being forcibly held in his chair by Denzil Holles and others (1629), by Gow; and the Escape of the Five Members (1642) by Seymour Lucas. The panels beneath the windows are to be filled with paintings depicting the 'Building of Britain.' The subjects and artists are announced as follows: 1. King Alfred's fleet defeating the Danes off Swanage (877), by Colin Gill; 2. Richard I. sails for the Crusade (1189), by Glyn Philpot; 3. Magna Charta (1215), by Charles Sims; 4. Wycliffe's Bible read in secret (1400-30), by George Clausen; 6. The Speaker (Sir Thomas More) refusing to grant a royal subsidy without debate (1523), by Vivian Forbes; 6. Queen Elizabeth commissions Raleigh to discover unknown countries (1584), by A. K. Lawrence; 7. Sir Thomas Roe as envoy to the Mogul emperor, Jehangir (1614), by Witt Rothenstein; 8. Queen Anne giving assent to the Union with Scotland (1707), by west J. Monnington. From this hall we descend a few steps to ST. STEPHEN'S PORCH, whence we command a fine view of Westminster Hall.