Westminster Political Walk

Another London Appreciation Society walk. This one is called the Westminster Political Walk. Don’t panic! There’s not much in the way of politics in this walk. Just that it is around the area of the Houses of Parliament. As you will see below with the map, it isn’t a very long walk, and covers the area around Westminster Abbey. We had a very nice sunny, well partially sunny, day. We started from the Westminster Underground Station.

Upon surfacing from the underground train network. We come up to the Embankment, the bank of the Thames. From here you can see over the river to the London Eye.

Behind us, we saw this odd looking building (it isn’t curved, it is just that I took a panorama, and it came out that way). This building is apparently where the Members of Parliament (MPs) work. It is called Portcullis House. Originally, this site used to have houses here that were built around 1400. It is directly over the underground stations of the District and Circle lines. There was a need to provide more than 200 offices for the MPs. However it wasn’t until the proposal of the new Jubilee Line station that it would be necessary to clear this corner site, allowing for this new building to be constructed. Someone asked if the pipes on the top of the building was to let out all the built up hot air, apparently, the joke is actually true. They are vents. There is a courtyard in the centre that is covered with glass. It was opened in 2001.

After a brief discussion about Portcullis House, we then headed over to Westminster Abbey. En route, we saw this chappie playing the bagpipes. Had to get a pic.


Westminster Abbey, formally titled the Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster. It is known as a ‘Peculiar Church’ (actually Royal Peculiar). Not that it is ‘odd’ but more that it is ‘different’. Instead of the Cannon of the Church reporting to the Archbishop of Canterbury, as is the normal official route of the Church of England. But this is one of a few churches whose Cannon reports directly to the Queen. Other churches that are ‘Peculiar Churches’ include Chapel Royal (Edinburgh, Scotland), St George’s Chapel (Windsor Castle), The Chapel Royal (St Jame’s Palace, London), The Queen’s Chapel (St Jame’s Palace, London). There are a few more…

Next weekend if Memorial Sunday, so they already had the Poppies out. These are called the Westminster Abbey Field of Remembrance. Each area represents a Troup, or Service, and each poppy or tribute carries a personal message to someone who lost their life in the Service of our country. There are other Fields of Remembrance at: National Memorial Arboretum (Staffordshire), Cardiff (Wales), Royal Wootton Bassett (Swindon), Belfast (Northern Ireland), Gateshead (near Newcastle).

From the Royal British Legion website regarding the Field of Remembrance:

We take great care and attention in planting thousands of personal Remembrance tributes to create each field. Row upon row of tributes with their scarlet poppies, personal messages and photographs bring home to all of us why Remembrance continues to be such an important and personal event. It also shows that we will never forget the sacrifice made by so many on our behalf.

The very first Field of Remembrance was held in the grounds of Westminster Abbey in November 1928, when The Poppy Factory took a group of disabled veterans, a tray of poppies and a collecting tin to the grounds of St Margaret’s Church in Westminster. Only a handful of poppies were planted around a single cross, but it began a tradition that has grown over the decades.

Walking round to the North Entrance, I am not going to list who is buried in the Abbey, however, there is one tomb worth mentioning at this time. That is the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. This tomb is just inside the great west door, in the centre of the nave. It is an unidentified British Soldier who was killed on a European battlefield during the First World War. He was buried in the Abbey on the 11th November 1920. The graves within the abbey are flat stoned, and that means that you can walk on the graves, however, the grave of the Unknown Warrior, it is forbidden to walk on.

Above the Great West Door of the Abbey are 10 statues. Once can be forgiven in thinking that these are of long ago Saints, but no, they are Statues of the 20th Century Martyrs. Those commemorated are: Maximillian Kolbe, Manche Masemola, Janani Luwum, Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia, Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Esther John, Lucian Tapiedi, and Wang Zhiming.

Across the road from the Abbey, was this round building. I wasn’t sure what it was, and no one mentioned it. But having now looked it up it is the Central Hall, Westminster. It is used as conference meetings rooms, and is also a Methodist Central Hall.

In front of the Abbey, but to the side, is a little archway. This leads into Dean’s Yard. The entrance looks as though you are going through a Castle Entrance.

Once inside Dean’s Yard, it is like a rather large square. It comprises most of the remaining precincts of the former monastery of Westminster, not occupied by the Abbey Buildings. It is known to members of Westminster School as Green, and referred to without an article. The only people who are allowed to play football on the Green are the pupils of the Westminster School. Some say, that it might be possible that the Westminster School may have invented the game of football. Westminster School is an independent day and boarding school. The origins of which date back to before the 12th century. However the educational tradition of Westminster probably dates back as far as AD 960.

Continuing on our walk, we exit Dean’s Yard, at the opposite end from where we entered. Leading us to Great College St.

From Great College Street, we entered Barton Street. At number 14, we saw a blue plaque that mentioned that T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) lived there between 1888 and 1935.

Following Barton Street into Cowley Street, we saw another blue plaque. This one for Sir John Gielgud lived at number 15 between 1945 and 1976.

Cross the Great Peter Street, and into Lord North Street. This leads down to the St John’s Smith Square. This is used by the Westminster School for some of its musical performances.

Also in Lord North Street, we noticed that there were some signs on the walls of the houses there… “Public Shelter in basement Under Pavements in this street”, then another sign “S Shelter” arrow pointing down. Of course you can’t access the shelters now, but they were there in case of bombing during the Second World War.

Next, St John’s Smith Square. This Grade I listed church was designed by Thomas Archer and was completed in 1728. It is regarded as one of the finest works of English Baroque architecture, and features four corner towers and monumental broken pediments. It is often referred to as ‘Queen Anne’s Footstool’ because as legend has it, when Archer was designing the church he asked the Queen what she wanted it to look like. She kicked over her footstool and said ‘Like that!’, giving rise to the building’s four corner towers.

In one of the corners of the square, is Europe House. This is the home of the European Commission in the UK.

There are some other interesting architecture around the square too.

Exiting the square on Dean Stanley Street, we proceeded down to the Victoria Tower Gardens. Here there is the Buxton Memorial Fountain. This is a memorial and drinking fountain that commemorates the emancipation of slaves in the British Empire in 1834.

It was commissioned by Charles Buxton MP, and was dedicated to his father Thomas Fowell Buxton along with William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Henry Brougham and Stephen Lushington, all of whom were involved in the abolition. It was designed by Charles Buxton, who was himself an amateur architect, in collaboration with the neo-Gothic architect Samuel Sanders Teulon (1812–1873) in 1865, coincidentally with the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which effectively ended the western slave trade. The memorial was completed in February 1866.

It was originally constructed in Parliament Square, erected at a cost of £1,200. As part of the postwar redesign of the square it was removed in 1949 and not reinstated in its present position in Victoria Tower Gardens until 1957. There were eight decorative figures of British rulers on it, but four were stolen in 1960 and four in 1971. They were replaced by fibreglass figures in 1980. By 2005 these were missing, and the fountain was no longer working. Between autumn 2006 and February 2007 restoration works were carried out. The restored fountain was unveiled on 27 March 2007 as part of the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the act to abolish the slave trade.

A memorial plaque commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Anti-Slavery Society was added in 1989.

From here we get great views of the Victoria Tower of the Houses of Parliament.

And views over the River Thames.

Les Bourgeois de Calais is one of the most famous sculptures by Auguste Rodin. It commemorates an occurrence during the Hundred Years’ War, when Calais, an important French port on the English Channel, was under siege by the English for over a year. Calais commissioned Rodin to create the sculpture in 1884, and the work was completed in 1889.

England’s Edward III, after a victory in the Battle of Crécy, laid siege to Calais, while Philip VI of France ordered the city to hold out at all costs. Philip failed to lift the siege, and starvation eventually forced the city to parley for surrender.

Medieval writer Jean Froissart (and only he) tells the story of what happened next: Edward offered to spare the people of the city if six of its top leaders would surrender themselves to him, presumably to be executed. Edward demanded that they walk out wearing nooses around their necks, and carrying the keys to the city and castle. One of the wealthiest of the town leaders, Eustache de Saint Pierre, volunteered first, and five other burghers joined with him. Saint Pierre led this envoy of volunteers to the city gates. It was this moment, and this poignant mix of defeat, heroic self-sacrifice, and willingness to face imminent death that Rodin captured in his sculpture, scaled somewhat larger than life.

Although the burghers expected to be executed, their lives were spared by the intervention of England’s queen, Philippa of Hainault, who persuaded her husband to exercise mercy by claiming that their deaths would be a bad omen for her unborn child. (Her son, Thomas of Windsor, only lived for one year.)

Across the road is 1 Millbank. An office complex that the House of Lords refurbished and spent £32 million doing it. This was only for 117 peers and their secretaries. It was a bit of a scandal on the cost of this, as it was estimated at the time, that this would equate to £271,800 per peer for their office.

Emmeline Pankhurst (née Goulden; 15 July 1858 – 14 June 1928) was a British political activist and leader of the British suffragette movement who helped women win the right to vote. There’s a lot more to the story, and I suggest you take a look at Wikipedia for the full story.

The House of Lords starting from Victoria Tower.

The House of Lords of the United Kingdom, also known as the House of Peers, is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster. Officially, the full name of the house is: The Right Honourable the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled.

Unlike the elected House of Commons, all members of the House of Lords (excluding 90 hereditary peers elected among themselves and two peers who are ex officio members) are appointed. The membership of the House of Lords is drawn from the peerage and is made up of Lords Spiritual and Lords Temporal. The Lords Spiritual are 26 bishops in the established Church of England. Of the Lords Temporal, the majority are life peers who are appointed by the monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister, or on the advice of the House of Lords Appointments Commission. However, they also include some hereditary peers including four dukes. Membership was once an entitlement of all hereditary peers, other than those in the peerage of Ireland, but under the House of Lords Act 1999, the right to membership was restricted to 92 hereditary peers. Very few of these are female since most hereditary peerages can only be inherited by men.

While the House of Commons has a defined 650-seat membership, the number of members in the House of Lords is not fixed. There are currently 797 sitting Lords. The House of Lords is the only upper house of any bicameral parliament to be larger than its respective lower house.

The House of Lords scrutinises bills that have been approved by the House of Commons. It regularly reviews and amends Bills from the Commons. While it is unable to prevent Bills passing into law, except in certain limited circumstances, it can delay Bills and force the Commons to reconsider their decisions. In this capacity, the House of Lords acts as a check on the House of Commons that is independent from the electoral process. Bills can be introduced into either the House of Lords or the House of Commons. While members of the Lords may also take on roles as government ministers, high-ranking officials such as cabinet ministers are usually drawn from the Commons. The House of Lords has its own support services, separate from the Commons, including the House of Lords Library.

The Queen’s Speech is delivered in the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament. In addition to its role as the upper house, until the establishment of the Supreme Court in 2009, the House of Lords, through the Law Lords, acted as the final court of appeal in the British judicial system. The House also has a Church of England role, in that Church Measures must be tabled within the House by the Lords Spiritual.

The Jewel Tower is a 14th-century surviving element of the royal Palace of Westminster, in London, England. It was built between 1365 and 1366, under the direction of William of Sleaford and Henry de Yevele, to house the personal treasure of Edward III. The tower, a three-storey, crenellated stone building, occupied a secluded part of the palace and was protected by a moat linked to the River Thames. The ground floor featured elaborate carved vaulting, described by historian Jeremy Ashbee as “an architectural masterpiece”. The tower continued to be used for storing the monarch’s treasure and personal possessions until 1512, when a fire in the palace caused Henry VIII to relocate his court to Whitehall.

At the end of the 16th century, the House of Lords began to use the tower to store its parliamentary records, building a house alongside it for the use of the parliamentary clerk, and extensive improvements followed in 1621. The tower continued as the Lords’ records office through the 18th century, and several sets of renovations and building work were carried out to improve its fire-proofing and comfort, creating the current appearance of the tower. In 1834, the tower was one of only four buildings to survive a terrible fire in Westminster, and in the aftermath the records were moved to a new, purpose-built archive.

The Jewel Tower was taken over by the newly formed Standard Weights and Measures Department in 1869, who used it for storing and testing official weights and measures. The rising levels of London traffic made the tower increasingly unsuitable for this work, and by 1938 the department had abandoned it in favour of other facilities. In 1948, the building was placed into the care of the Ministry of Works, who repaired the damage inflicted to the tower during the Second World War, and extensively restored the building, clearing the surrounding area and opening the tower for tourists. In the 21st century, the Jewel Tower is managed by English Heritage.

The statue of George V in Old Palace Yard, is a sculpture of George V, King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, and Emperor of India. The statue was sculpted prior to the Second World War and was hidden in a quarry during the war years. Other locations were suggested for the statue, including Parliament Square, but it was unveiled opposite the House of Lords in 1947.


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