18 things you probably didn't know about the Palace of Westminster

Written by
Luke Abrahams

Gunpowder plots, raging fires, two world wars and Brexit – it's safe to say that the Palace of Westminster has been through some pretty tough shit. Sadly, all this drama has finally taken its toll. After 200 years of neglect and lack of investment, the building needs an estimated £4 billion of restoration work to keep it standing. In fact, things have gotten so bad, that our mate Big Ben is about to be covered up for the next three years (sad times). 

But while a programme for its renewal gets underway, there's still plenty worth celebrating about this iconic gothic beauty that has over a thousand years of royal, political and architectural history under its belt.

Here are 18 awesome things you probably didn't know about the Palace of Westminster. 

1. The original Palace of Westminster was commissioned by Edward the Confessor in 1045 to be a royal residence. But today's palace was built specifically for Parliament and modern democracy, and completed in 1870 by architects Charles Barry and his gothic-obsessed assistant, Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin. 

© UK Parliament

2. Inside the palace, you'll find a hair salon, pub, rooftop hideaway, gym and this cutesy post office.

© UK Parliament/Mark Duffy

3. Built in 1099, Westminster Hall survived a huge fire that destroyed two-thirds of the original Palace of Westminster on October 16, 1834. It's the oldest part of palace and is home to the largest medieval wooden roof in northern Europe.

© UK Parliament/Mark Duffy

4. The Grade I and UNESCO-listed palace houses some of the finest examples of Neo-Gothic architecture and interiors in the world.

© UK Parliament/Mark Duffy


© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor


© UK Parliament

5. It's also home to 4,000 stained glass windows (the modern beauty below commemorates the Suffragette movement) and countless hand-carved statues, heraldic shields and sculptures.


A photo posted by UK Parliament (@ukparliament) on

Copyright House of Lords 2016. Photography by Roger Harris.

6. The palace displays lots of important historical art and cultural collections including a copy of the Magna Carta and hundreds of royal and parliamentarian portraits.  

© UK Parliament

7. The House of Lords is the most lavishly decorated chamber inside the Palace of Westminster, and at the time of its construction, went millions of pounds over budget.

Copyright House of Lords 2016. Photography by Roger Harris.

8. The extremely pomp throne in the centre of the house, is surmounted by a gilt crown, several angels, heraldic shields and knights, and is upholstered in the finest scarlet velvet. If that's not glitzy enough, the whole thing is gilded in 24-karat gold - no wonder Michael Jackson wanted to buy it #truestory. 

Copyright House of Lords 2016. Photography by Roger Harris


9. There are purple ribbons attached to the coat-hangers in the members' cloak room, so MPs can hang up their swords as well as their coats. In fact, a few insiders say that some of the floor markings in the House of Commons were specifically designed to be two swords apart, just in case MPs found themselves in a duel. 


10. The custom of having green benches in the House of Commons goes back 300 years. In fact, Westminster Bridge, which leads to the palace, was painted in the exact same green to mimic the colour of the Common's benches.

UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

11. Prayer cards are used by MPs to reserve a seat during debates. They have to get in by 8am and insert the prayer card in the place they would like to sit. Once they've got their seat, all sittings in the House of Commons begin with prayers which last for about three minutes. 

UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

12. Smoking is not allowed inside the entire building (remember that big fire?), but you will find a snuff box inside the House of Commons for those stressful days.

Snuff Box Credit: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

13. Aside from being a royal hangout during State occasions, The Victoria Tower is also home to the Parliamentary Archives. Over 3 million records dating back to 1497 are held here and are spread over five miles of shelves. 

Death Warrant of Charles I/Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/10/1/297A

The archives house the most important constitutional records in the country, including the Petition of Rights (1628), the Death Warrant of Charles I (1649), the final Bill of Rights (1689), the Slave Trade Act (1807) and the Great Reform Act of 1832.  

14. The Elizabeth Tower took 34 years to build. It's 96 meters tall and its elaborate spire is decorated with an orb and cross showered with thousands of stars. And yes, it's all painted in golf leaf – only the best for our dear icon.  


A photo posted by Luke Abrahams (@labrahams19891) on

15. Big Ben's clock faces are cleaned about every five years by a team of adrenaline junkie window cleaners. They climb the tower's 334 steps and abseil from the belfry to the dials and wash each one (at a very good price apparently) with buckets of soap and water until they look brand spanking new. 

© UK Parliament/Stephen Pike


©UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

 16. It is illegal to die inside the Palace of Westminster. Why? Because under current UK law, anyone who drops dead within the walls of the palace is entitled to a state funeral. 


A photo posted by Matt Scutt (@mattscutt) on

17. Despite a supposed massive mouse infestation, no animals (except guide dogs) are permitted throughout the entire palace.


A photo posted by Doug The Pug (@itsdougthepug) on


18. Yeomen still check underneath the House of Lords Chamber every Bonfire night just in case any other naughty Londoners are planning to blow up the Houses of Parliament. After the coast is clear, they reward themselves with a drop of a brandy (because, why not?).


A photo posted by UK Parliament (@ukparliament) on

If you want to know more about the palace's fate and what you can do to help save it, head to this free event at the Speakers House, Palace of Westminster happening tonight as part of UK Parliament Week.

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