All Thorney Island visits are full of interest and our specially organised tour of The Palace of Westminster was as challenging as it was fascinating since it coincided with the first day of two weeks of protests by Extinction Rebellion. The streets and bridges around the Palace were occupied by protesters who laid down in the streets, made speeches, chanted and drummed. Loudly.

Our tour began in the grand medieval Westminster Hall and we looked up at the carved angels 'holding up the ceiling' and learned that their faces were modelled on the carpenters' own wives and sweethearts.  So many important historic events had taken place in the Hall including the meeting of Parliament and Simon de Montfort who led the rebels who defeated King Charles I in 1265.

We learned that the Parliamentary Estate has one thousand rooms, and that the architect Charles Barry gave the trade mark of the portcullis to Parliament. Jostling with school groups we visited both the Commons and the Lords chambers, passing through the 'nay' lobby and saw where we can petition our MP in the Central Lobby.  After the Second World War the Commons needed to be rebuilt and the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill insisted that not only should the bomb-damaged arch leading into the chamber be retained, but that the design of the chamber should be 'intimate and adversarial'.  We wonder whether he would do the same thing now? The coat of arms designed by the children of the murdered MP Jo Cox, hangs alone on the wooden panelling behind the seat where Jo Cox sat as a back-bencher. A moment when we all reflected.

What would be the same for a Prime Minister was for all MPs - the Division Bell which rings across the parliamentary estate, giving 8 minutes to get to the Commons to vote.  Said to be the time it takes for a PM 'to walk briskly' from Downing Street. Another quirky custom takes place to commemorate the Gunpowder Plot. In 1605 the plot was uncovered under the Princes Chamber and each year before the Opening of Parliament a search is made to make sure there is no repeat of the plot.

We heard so many details about the history of the buildings and finished by seeing the statue to which suffragettes chained themselves in pursuit of the vote and finally the inspiring art installation in recognition of the many organisations who fought for women's rights in the 20th century. The installation lights up with the ebb and flow of the Thames and makes up the symbol of the portcullis. A fitting end way to end an illuminating tour.

Then off across the road to The Jewel Tower, the only other medieval building of the Palace, built between 1365-6, under the direction of William of Sleaford and Henry de Yevele, to house the personal treasure of King Edward III.  We admired the wooden and stone roof and walls of the ground floor room and up the tiny staircase to further rooms above.  With thanks to all those who made these tours possible.


Visit to the Palace of Westminster & Jewel Tour