History of Parliament - Frequently Asked Questions

When was the current Palace of Westminster built?

The new Palace of Westminster was built in the years following the fire of 16 October 1834 which destroyed nearly all the Old Palace. Work began in 1840 and was substantially completed by 1860, although only in 1870 actually finished. It was formally opened in 1852.

When was the Old Palace built?

The origins of the Old Palace can be traced to the middle of the 11th century. The Palace was the principal residence of the kings of England until 1512 when the building was damaged by fire. During the Middle Ages, it was often not possible to accommodate the whole of Parliament within the Palace and the House of Commons did not have a permanent meeting place of their own before 1547. Edward VI handed over the royal Chapel of St Stephen in the Palace of Westminster to the Commons for their use in 1547. The Commons assembled here until the fire of 1834.

What is the oldest remaining part of the Old Palace?

Westminster Hall, which was built between 1097 and 1099 by William Rufus. The Hall has been altered over the centuries and its famous hammer-beam roof was built between 1394 and 1399. The Hall is now used for major public ceremonies. Other buildings to survive are the Crypt of St Mary Undercroft (built between 1292 and 1297) and the Jewel Tower on Abingdon Street (administered by English Heritage).

Who designed the new Palace of Westminster following the fire in 1834?

The architect Sir Charles Barry who won a public competition. Barry was assisted by Augustus Welby Pugin.

How tall is the Clock Tower?

96.3m (316 ft)

How much does Big Ben (the Great Bell) weigh ?

Big Ben weighs 13.8 tonnes.

What is the origin of the name 'Big Ben'?

There are two theories of how the bell got its name. The first suggests that it was taken from the nickname of a champion heavyweight boxer of the time called Ben Caunt. The second and more probable explanation, is that it was named after the bulky Welshman Sir Benjamin Hall, who was First Commissioner of Works from 1855 to 1858 and whose name was inscribed on the bell.

When was the Commons Chamber destroyed during the Second World War?

10 May 1941 - the Chamber was destroyed by bombs and a subsequent fire. It was rebuilt after the war by the architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.

What are the dimensions of the Commons Chamber?

The Chamber is 20.7m by 14m at floor level (68 ft by 46ft), rising to 31.4m by 14.4m across the galleries (103 ft by 48ft). The height of the Chamber is 14m (46 ft).

What other buildings make up the parliamentary estate?

The House of Commons has taken over nearby buildings as its functions and staff have increased. These include the Norman Shaw North Buildings and 35-37 Parliament Street, renamed the Parliament Street Building in 1991. A new Parliamentary building, designed by Michael Hopkins and called Portcullis House, was completed in August 2000. You can find more information about the new building on the Portcullis House website.