Visit to the Houses of Parliament 12th October
There’s an old adage ‘It’s not what you know, but who you know’, that was certainly true about arranging our trip.
I had tried, unsuccessfully to fix a ‘tailor made’ tour until I spoke to two special friends, Fr Roderick Hingley and Mary Moore. Andrew Rosindell MP, who represents Romford, worships at St Alban’s Church, Romford, where Fr Hingley is Vicar. Fr Hingley spoke to him – and Mr Rosindell agreed to be our guide; suggesting the Guild should make a donation to St Alban’s Restoration Fund. (The Church is beautiful and well worth a visit if you find yourself in Romford). Mary accompanied us as an invited guest.
I had arranged with the very helpful landlord, Peter, at the Red Lion in Parliament Street that we should meet there before the tour. He had connections with the City and very kindly allowed us to use the Cellar Bar, free of charge; he also kept his chef on to provide very tasty bar meals. Seeing how busy the upstairs was we were delighted we had room to sit, chat and eat in comfort.
We had been told security at Parliament was stringent, and indeed it was! Very like going through an airport. After this check in, we found ourselves in Westminster Hall, where we were greeted by Mr Rosindell and his aid Mr Coleman. Westminster Hall was completed in 1099. It was designed to host great state occasions and to impress. It certainly still does that. It is one of the largest mediaeval spaces in existence. Today it is used for ceremonial events, President Obama addressed both Houses when he visited, and it was here HM The Queen Mother lay in State.
Mr Rosindell took us in to the breathtaking Augustus Pugin Crypt. It was decorated in rich reds greens and gold. Every surface was decorated and glinted in the light.
Mr Rosindell was so informative, he told us about the building, how it functioned etc and as we walked along was full of revealing stories and anecdotes.
We walked through the Central Lobby, a familiar place as it is where political correspondents stand to report on Parliament on television.
Charles Barry won the competition to redesign the houses of Parliament in 1834; it is built in the neo-gothic style. This makes you feel as if you are walking through some great cathedral. This is particularly apparent in St Stephen’s Hall with it’s massive stained glass windows. It is flanked on both sides by statues of statesmen.
We went in to the Commons with it’s green leather bench seats; as we faced the Speakers chair the Government would sit on the left and the opposition on the right. We saw close up, the Dispatch Boxes and the Mace. No one was allowed to sit down, one of those conventions – only MPs could squat on the green leather!
We were very fortunate to be taken up into the gallery of the Lords where we listened to part of a debate. As we faced the Woolsack we could see bishops, government members, the opposition and of course the crossbenchers. It was not full and the Lords lounged on the deep red benches, with dark blue carpet.
From there we moved on to the Terrace. It was a warm night for October; the Thames was smooth and hardly appeared to be moving. It was a magical moment, standing, looking across the river in the night sky, and also seeing The Palace of Westminster and Big Ben fully illuminated. It was a view few would see from this angle and we felt extremely privileged.
We walked through Speakers Court – where we saw the grand house where Mr Speaker lives. We conjectured which window his wife would have stood at when she posed for those notorious photographs!
We returned to the Great Hall where our photographs were taken to mark such a special occasion and where Mr Rosindell presented each one of us with splendid certificates to enable us to remember our visit.