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London: House of Commons, Palace of Westminster: unexecuted designs for a new House of Commons, 1825-1833 (29) and executed design for a library and committee rooms, 1825-1830 (53)

The first permanent home of the Commons was the Chapel of St Stephen established in 1348 by Edward III as a college for secular canons and granted to the Commons by Edward VI in 1547. The origins of the House of Commons left their mark so that, for instance, the arrangement of choir stalls facing each other across the aisle was kept. As was the west screen with double doors at its centre which the Commons use so that those voting in favour of a motion take the right-hand door and those against, the left-hand door. Again, the custom of bowing towards the end of the Chamber as Members exit or enter has its origins in the altar that once stood in St Stephen's Chapel. There were changes to the Chapel so that the wall paintings were panelled over, plain glass replaced stained glass and green was adopted for the furnishings. In 1692 Christopher Wren (1632-1723) classicised the Chapel, adding galleries to each side and inserting a roof below the old vaulted one. The Act of Union with Scotland in 1707 introduced 45 new Members of Parliament, the Union of Great Britain with Ireland in 1801 created a hundred more increasing the total number to 658. To provide extra seats, James Wyatt (1746-1813) removed the Chapel's medieval furnishings and took the opportunity to make extensive Gothick alterations to the exterior. Soane's designs for an entirely new House of Commons, as with those by Wren and William Kent, came to nothing. The great fire on the night of 16 October 1834 made the rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament essential.

Literature:
M. H. Port, The Palace of Westminster... 1834, 2011, pp. 525- 532; UK Parliament, <www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/building/palace/estatehistory/>

Jill Lever, February 2014
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