Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Houses of Parliament
Yesterday I helped chaperone a group of 8th graders on a field trip to the Houses of Parliament. I'd never before been inside Westminster Palace, so I was excited about the opportunity, and it was very interesting to see in real life so much of what I've seen on television.
The tour guide gave us a history lesson as well as walking us through the building, so it wasn't just a matter of seeing the architecture but understanding the development and context of British democracy. For example, we heard all about the Magna Carta, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, the Gunpowder Plot, the execution of King Charles I and the rise of Oliver Cromwell, and then his eventual execution and the ascendance of William and Mary. (Several hundred years are collapsed into that sentence.)
We also heard about all the elaborate traditions involved in the opening of parliament by the monarch -- like the messenger sent from the House of Lords to summon MPs. No monarch has entered the House of Commons since 1642, and to assert its superiority the door is traditionally slammed in the messenger's face. He has to knock three times before MPs will come to hear the monarch's opening address in the Lords. There's a visible dent in the door where the messenger always knocks with his staff.
You can't take photos in most places in Westminster Palace, so I didn't even bother bringing my big camera. I just took my iPhone. It looks about like you'd expect -- very ornate and gilded. The floors were quite elaborate!
Virtually the entire structure was destroyed in a fire in 1834, so most of what we see now as Westminster Palace really isn't that old. (Relatively speaking.)
We saw the House of Lords and the House of Commons, both smaller than they seem on television. We were not allowed to sit on the benches.
Afterwards, we took the students for a walk through Parliament Square (where we ate lunch -- I grabbed a sandwich and coffee from a nearby Cafe Nero) and then through St. James Park (above) and Green Park. Fortunately the weather cooperated, and the kids were very well-behaved so no disciplinary intervention was required on my part! (Another chaperone was with me as well.)
An interesting day and a nice break from the library!