Parliaments, Politics and People: Henrik Schoenefeldt, The challenges of designing the House of Lords’ nineteenth-century ventilation system – A study of a political design process, 1840-47.

At the ‘Parliaments, Politics and People’ Seminar on 7 November 2017 Dr Henrik Schoenefeldt (University of Kent) spoke on ‘The challenges of designing the House of Lords’ nineteenth-century ventilation system – A study of a political design process, 1840-47.’ Here he gives us an overview of his paper…

The earliest set of architectural drawings for the House of Lords were produced in Charles Barry’s office between 1836 and 1839. Starting in 1840, however, the plans had to be significantly modified to accommodate a new scheme for ventilation and climate control proposed by the physician David Boswell Reid. As the requirements of this system had not been anticipated in the earlier stages Barry’s team had to adapt their existing architectural plans. This was a complex, often challenging, process that led to serious delays. The delays were not the result of the immediate technical difficulties alone. The challenges of designing a ventilation system were further accentuated by the difficulties with successfully integrating the specialist skills and knowledge of a doctor within a process involving a large team of engineers, architects and draughtsman. Numerous studies have attributed the delays to insufficient cooperation between Barry and Reid and have dismissed the ventilation scheme as a failed endeavour. In his talk Dr. Schoenefeldt challenged this claim by retracing the evolution of their working relationship and its impact on the final design for the House of Lords, completed in 1847.

Combining the study of archival material, (e.g. original letters, drawings, sketches and diaries) with detailed building surveys inside the House of Lords, his research has allowed him to reconstruct the House of Lords’s original ventilation system and to uncover the extent of Barry and Reid’s respective contributions to its development. The original letters reveal that the pressure to reduce the risk of further delays, drove Barry and the Commissioners of Woods and Forests to trial new, more collaborative modes of working. These trials were based on the belief that Reid’s relative inexperience with engineering and architectural design could be compensated through a closer partnership between him and Barry’s team. Members of the House of Lords were also directly involved in the process of resolving the problems. The impact of Reid’s involvement on the design process became the subject of extensive reviews, conducted by several Select Committees and independent expert panels appointed by the Lords between 1843 and 1846. Neither the nature of the practical design challenges of incorporating the system within the architectural plans nor the role of Barry’s team in assisting in its development, have been investigated by historians in any depth before. This, however, is critical to fully understand the inherently political nature of the design process.


Aerial view of the Palace of Westminster c. 1905

Parliamentary Archives PAR/4/24

The talk is based on research conducted in conjunction with his current project within the Palace of Westminster Restoration and Renewal Programme, which is entitled ‘Between Heritage and Sustainability – Restoring the Palace of Westminster’s nineteenth-.century ventilation system‘ and is funded through a grant from the AHRC. Henrik’s recent publications include ‘ The Lost (First) Chamber of the House of Commons’, AA files, 72 (June 2016), pp. 161-173.


Join us tonight for our first seminar of the new term: Sonia Tycko of Harvard University will speak on ‘The politics of impressment, 1639-41: a Gloucestershire microhistory’. Full details here.

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Welcome to the History of Parliament blog!

Here we share posts about our current research projects, wider parliamentary history, highlights from our events, seminars and conferences, and future publications.

The History of Parliament’s core work lies in researching and writing series of volumes depicting Parliamentary life and proceedings throughout the past 700 years. These academically rigorous works contain detailed biographies of parliamentarians, studies of constituencies and introductory surveys. The Sections currently underway are: Commons 1422-1504, Commons 1640-1660, Commons 1832-1868, Lords 1604-29 and Lords 1715-1790. Follow the links for further information about the History of Parliament and our latest research.

All current published Commons volumes can be found in the research section at

Currently two of our Sections post independently as well as  part of the main blog: the Victorian Commons and the Georgian Lords. We are developing plans for other Sections to do the same, so watch this space for your area of interest.

Find us on Twitter at @HistParl




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‘The Second Reform Act of 1867: party interest or the road to democracy?’: A debate between Rt. Hon. The Lord Adonis and Kwasi Kwarteng MP


Leap in the Dark

Disraeli’s leap in the Dark, 18

Last Tuesday the History of Parliament hosted our annual lecture in Westminster – also our new Director, Dr Stephen Roberts’ first event. The event focused on the Second Reform Act of 1867 in the wake of its 150th anniversary in 2017. This year we approached proceedings differently to the traditional lectures of previous years, in that our chair of trustees, Gordon Marsden MP invited and chaired two speakers to debate whether the 1867 Reform Act was a matter of party interest or the inevitable next step towards democracy in the changing political climate of the nineteenth century. The crowd gathered in Portcullis House to witness the Labour peer, Rt. Hon. The Lord Adonis and Conservative member Kwasi Kwarteng MP state a case for each side.

Before the speakers took to the floor a brief introduction to the politics of Victorian reform was offered by our resident experts, Dr Philip Salmon, Editor of the History’s Victorian Commons 1832-1868 Section and Dr Kathryn Rix, Assistant Editor. Dr Philip Salmon argued that although the first ‘Great’ Reform Act 1832 was a significant piece of legislation, it was in fact ‘the second Reform Act that really began to alter the rules of the political game’ and lay the groundwork ‘for the modern system that we have today’. The Act added almost four times as many new voters to the electorate as the ‘Great’ Reform Act and in terms of franchise extension was the second largest in percentage terms of all the Reform Acts. He also highlighted rivalries between party leaders – would be Prime Ministers Benjamin Disraeli (Conservative) and William Ewart Gladstone (Liberal) – the fractured nature of internal party politics in the 1850s and 1860s, and the consequent failure of numerous reform bills pre-1867. Such factors led to parliamentary instability and frequent upheaval. He suggested that this, alongside growing reform movements – like the Reform League and the National Reform Union – and media criticism, caused increasing popular unrest with the government’s failure to further extend the franchise. Finally, he emphasised the importance of backbench politicians in shaping the final outcome of reform.

Dr Kathryn Rix followed on, exploring other aspects of the debates on reform. Firstly, concerning women’s suffrage, she highlighted John Stuart Mill’s unsuccessful motion to change the word ‘man’ in one of the Act’s clauses to ‘person’. Secondly, she addressed the requirement for anonymity for newly enfranchised working class voters, resulting in the (secret) Ballot Act in 1872, which it was also hoped would help to reduce electoral corruption. She then discussed an area in which the 1867 Act effected the least impact in comparison to the 1832 and the 1885 Reform Acts – redistribution of seats: ‘The system remained one which was based on representation of interests rather than of population’. She concluded that neither party implicitly benefited from the passing of the Act and that much work was to be done in winning the support of the urban working classes.

Next, Kwasi Kwarteng stated the case for the ‘road to democracy’. He posited that this Act was ‘necessary’ in response to the vast economic and societal changes that were progressing at breakneck speed following the 1832 Reform Act. He cited industrialisation, economic boom, urbanisation and the population boom as the driving forces behind reform. He suggested that the previous five attempts to reform the law relating to the electorate in the 1850s and 60s demonstrated a clear need and desire for reform. And, finally, that Disraeli was prepared to push this reform through the House of Commons and use it to the benefit of the Conservative party, assist his own political survival, and lead the change for a more broadly based electoral system.

Lord Adonis offered his reflections on this argument and considered how the contrasting characters of Disraeli and Gladstone influenced their politics and the road to reform in 1867. He challenged the notion of inevitable reform and contended that Disraeli, amid the political turmoil of party splits, internal quarrelling and hung parliaments, rather shrewdly outmanoeuvred Gladstone, then used his successful passage of reform to make himself and his party electorally competitive.

Unfortunately, after a short debate, Brexit divided the party. (No, we didn’t resort to arguing about the Brexit deal because we ran out of things to say!) The inevitable call of duty, the division bell, disrupted proceedings and our MPs had to race off and cast their votes in the House of Commons. At which point Lord Cormack, the former Chair of Trustees for the History, saved the day and fielded questions from the audience alongside Lord Adonis.

The event was rounded off by appreciative applause and a reception in the Attlee suite.


Keep up to date with the Victorian Commons research and activities on twitter @VictorianCommons and through their blog

See highlights from the event, which will be available on the BBC iplayer for the next few weeks.


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Women and Parliament in the Fifteenth Century

2018 is the centennial anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918 under the terms of which, for the first time in the history of the British Politics, some women were permitted to vote in Parliamentary elections. In order to mark this step in the progression of equality for women in our country’s political system we will be publishing a series of blogs about women’s engagement with Parliament and parliamentary politics. In the first of which our own Dr Simon Payling, Senior Research Fellow in the Commons 1422-1504 section, discusses fifteenth-century women’s relationship with Parliament…

It is one of the peculiarities of parliamentary history that the right of women to stand for election to the Commons predated the admission of hereditary female peers to the Lords by 45 years (1918 against 1963). From a fifteenth-century perspective, the second would have appeared closer than the first: the first was inconceivable, but the second was partly anticipated in the right of the heiress of a peer to transmit to her husband or son the right to a seat in the Lords. Yet, if a female member of the Lords was at least conceptually possible (one thinks here of the creation of Edward I’s granddaughter, Margaret of Brotherton, as a duchess in her own right in the Parliament of 1397), such membership did not lie within the realm of practical politics. This, however, is not to say that female engagement with the parliamentary proceedings was entirely lacking.

A study of those who turned to Parliament for help and redress provides numerous examples of women petitioning not jointly with their husbands but in their own right. Some of these petitioners, as one might expect, were the widows of great men, generally seeking some act of royal favour or protection for their rights against the claims of others. For such women Parliament was an obvious resort, not simply because they had kin in the Lords but because they might also have adherents in the Commons. When, for example, Anne Stafford, widow of Edmund Mortimer, earl of March, petitioned the Parliament of 1425 for an adequate provision for her widowhood out of the debt-burdened Mortimer estate, she could rely on the support of the Commons’ Speaker, Sir Thomas Waweton, a highly-paid Mortimer retainer. Other well-born women turned to Parliament in less advantageous circumstances. A petition presented in the Parliament of 1406 provides a vivid example: Elizabeth, widow of William, Lord Zouche, claimed that her stepson, the new Lord Zouche, had organised a campaign of oppression against her during which one of her servants had had an arm cut off and her daughter had been frightened into a premature birth. If her stepson attempted his place in the Lords to thwart her complaint, he failed, and he was summoned to answer before the royal council. Her petition, and others like it, reflect the disadvantageous position of women in family disputes, and Parliament could sometimes offer them better hope of remedy than litigation at common law. The same applies where the complaint related to sexual violence. To cite one of several examples, in the Parliament of 1439 Margaret, widow of Sir Thomas Malefaunt, complained that she had been raped and forced into marriage by a Welshmen, a former servant of her husband.

These three petitioners were all members of the social elite, as indeed were, to a greater or lesser degree, most of women who successfully brought petitions into Parliament. Yet there were the enough exceptions to form a significant sub-category. One such was Elizabeth Reynald, a recluse living in the cemetery of the church of St. Margaret, Westminster, who sought the help of the Commons in the 1422 Parliament to secure the restoration of the annuity her long-dead husband had once enjoyed as a royal serjeant-at-arms. Other women sought to overcome a lack of individual influence by coming together to advance a group cause. In the Parliament of 1394 the ‘widows of London’ complained that the city authorities had sought to tax them despite the customary exemption they enjoyed in respect of all taxes (save those imposed by parliamentary authority); and later the silkwomen of the city protected their monopoly of worked silk by successfully petitioning, between 1455 and 1504, for a series of temporary embargoes against imports. The routine presence of Parliament at Westminster no doubt gave the women of London both opportunity and incentive to organise themselves, and a curious reference in the chronicle of the abbey of St. Albans provides a striking incidence. The chronicler describes how a group of them, ‘respectfully attired’ (‘reverenter ornatis’), came ‘openly’ (‘palam’) into the Parliament of 1427 bringing letters to the Lords condemning Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, for abandoning his first wife, Jacqueline of Hainault, ‘as his love for her had gone cold’  (‘amore refrigerato’) in favour of one of her household servants, Eleanor Cobham, ‘to the ruin of himself, of the realm and of the strength of the institution of marriage’.

These examples may not be enough to show that, beyond the obvious fact of disqualification from membership, fifteenth-century women existed in a different relationship to Parliament than men, although the chronicler’s curious story is perhaps suggestive in this regard. They do, however, show that Parliament offered a potential source of aid for women outside the high aristocracy.


In September this year we are co-organising ‘A Century of Women MPs‘ with UK Parliament’s Vote 100 project and the University of Westminster, a conference which will explore the experiences, contributions and achievements of women MPs since 1918. The Call for Papers is out now and closes on 31st January. Full details on how to submit your paper are available here.

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‘By God my Lord, if you can bear this you are the strongest man in England’: the appointment of ‘Harley’s Dozen’ new peers in the winter of 1711/12

Current rumours suggest that the government may be on the point of boosting the numbers of Conservative peers in the House of Lords. In the winter of 1711/12 the administration of the earl of Oxford also turned to bolstering its membership of the upper chamber by offering peerages to a number of prominent politicians to ensure it was able to get its business through Parliament. At this point the Lords was a more powerful chamber than the current House, peerages were hereditary and governments often relied on their numbers there to offset problems in the less predictable Commons. Dr Robin Eagles, Editor of the Lords 1715-90 section considers the reasons for the move and the characters promoted…

Robert Harley, earl of Oxford by Sir Godfrey Kneller, oil on canvas, 1714: National Portrait Gallery, London, © NPG 4011

In the winter of 1711 the administration of the earl of Oxford found itself under severe pressure. The ministry, broadly Tory in character, was faced by a resurgent Whig opposition battling hard to counter the ministry’s efforts to bring to an end Britain’s participation in the War of the Spanish Succession (1702-13). Through December 1711 Oxford suffered a series of reversals over the handling of the peace negotiations, not least over the opposition’s determination to ensure that the power of Bourbon France was severely limited by any treaty.

On 22 December Parliament was adjourned for the Christmas break, but pressure remained directed on the Lords as they voted to return to their places early on 2 January, ahead of the Commons, who intended to resume sitting on the 14th. During the adjournment Oxford worked to bolster his forces in the Upper House. He had found the Scots representative peers and the bishops unreliable and had struggled to encourage even needy ‘pensioner’ peers (poor Lords who received government pensions in return for their votes) to rally to the cause. Faced with disaster, he needed to find new allies to help improve his position. Reluctantly, Queen Anne gave way to his request to create a dozen new peers to add to his numbers in the Lords.

The creation of the dozen caused widespread unease. When they took their seats in the new year, the earl of Wharton queried sarcastically whether Oxford’s new ‘jury’ would speak singly or through a foreman. Others raised more serious constitutional points about the legitimacy of such a mass creation. Earlier in Anne’s reign there had been a ‘mass creation’ of half a dozen new peers, and coronations were normally the occasion for a number of Lords being created, or promoted to higher ranks as part of the celebrations (14 men received new peerages on 19 October 1714 to celebrate George I’s accession, but most of these were promotions). Nominating such a large cohort for ministerial convenience was, though, if not unique sufficiently out of the ordinary to generate considerable comment.

Aside from questions of constitutional propriety, questions were also raised about the men selected, though most were acknowledged to be deserving of their titles – in the sense that they were far from inappropriate candidates through wealth and noble connexions. In some cases they were heirs to peerages and merely accelerated to the Lords. Indeed, rather than a dozen there were in fact only ten new creations. Lord Bruce was heir to the earldom of Aylesbury, so was able to be summoned in his father’s barony of Bruce, and Lord Compton was heir to the earldom of Northampton so called up by the same mechanism as Baron Compton. Henry Paget, created Baron Burton, was heir to another barony (Paget) and Viscount Dupplin, created a British peer as Baron Hay, was heir to a Scots earldom (Kinnnoul): he was happened to be Oxford’s son-in-law. The man created Baron Mountjoy was already an Irish viscount (Windsor) and uncle to the earl of Plymouth. The remaining eight new peers were all men of wealth and status. Even Samuel Masham, husband of Queen Anne’s favourite, Abigail, and whose promotion was the most derided of all was, if poor, heir to a baronetcy. He had been something of an afterthought, only offered the peerage because another candidate turned one down. In spite of this, the greatest bar to his promotion was Anne’s dependence on his wife, who held a place in the queen’s bedchamber and was expected to perform fairly menial functions generally believed beneath the dignity of a peeress. Abigail’s willingness to remain in the queen’s service helped smooth the way for Masham’s promotion.

One further complication that needed attending to was the question of precedence. At a time when such matters were of particular importance in a Lords chamber where members sat according to precedence rather than grouped by party, this needed careful handling. Lord Hay’s patent of creation was dated 31 December 1711, so was clear enough, but the remaining nine new peers’ patents were all ushered in on New Year’s day 1712. To differentiate between them the documents were not just dated but also timed. First in honour, then, was the new Baron Mountjoy (Viscount Windsor) whose patent bore the time stamp of 7am. This was followed an hour later by Baron Burton with the process continuing down to 4pm, the time at which Allen Bathurst was formally raised to the peerage as a baron.

Each of the twelve then took their seats on 2 January, the first sitting day after the recess, and helped the ministry win its first significant victory: a further adjournment to sidestep the Whigs’ intention of stealing a march on the Commons’ investigation into the duke of Marlborough’s affairs. Oxford’s gamble had, at least in the short term, paid off. Whether he would be able to maintain the loyalty of his new allies was a question for the future.


Further reading:

  • Clyve Jones, ‘Lord Oxford’s Jury: the political and social context of the creation of the twelve peers, 1711-12’, Parliamentary History xxiv (2005)
  • Ruth Paley and Paul Seaward, eds., Honour Interest and Power: an illustrated history of the House of Lords, 1660-1715 (History of Parliament/Boydell, 2010)
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Introducing…our new Director

Today’s blog is the first from Stephen Roberts in his new position as Director of the History of Parliament…

It is a privilege to be taking over as Director of the History of Parliament, which has for many decades now been one of the UK’s leading historical research organisations, and which is currently engaged in a range of projects, some of long standing and others new.

My own historical specialism is that of Britain in the mid-seventeenth century, a turbulent period in the life of the country. It was also a period when Parliament played the widest range of parts in the life of the nation: some Parliaments met only for weeks and others were purged of Members, including by force, but one, the Parliament of the Commonwealth, wielded executive power and ran the country as supreme authority. The period provides an interesting vantage point from which to look retrospectively at earlier Parliaments before 1640 and forwards to those which followed a return to a measure of political stability after 1660.

Before I came to the History of Parliament in 1997 as editor of the House of Commons 1640-1660 volumes, I worked for many years as a tutor and organiser for the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA), the country’s largest voluntary adult education body, and have played a part in the governance of a number of historical societies, including the Worcestershire Historical Society and the Dugdale Society. I am president of the Devon and Cornwall Record Society and a vice-president of the Cromwell Association. I am proud of my roots and heritage in South Wales, and have authored or edited a number of publications on Welsh history.

This is a busy and exciting time here at the History of Parliament. We have some major academic projects coming to fruition over the next few years: our volumes on the House of Commons 1422-61 and on the House of Lords 1604-29. The House of Commons 1640-60 will follow closely on these. We are developing our programme of events and activities aimed at the public at large, and this year these include a series of events with Parliament as the venue. Among these are a debate on the 1867 ‘Second Reform Act’, a flavour from our recent conference on popular sovereignty and, with our partners at UK Parliament Vote 100, events around the legislation extending the vote to women a hundred years ago.

Preparatory spadework has been in progress for a while now on a new project which will add to our series of volumes: on the House of Lords 1715-90. We begin 2018 with the appointment of an editor for this Section, which marks the shift up into another gear into what becomes our third major project on the history of the House of Lords.

Meanwhile, we have also been strengthening our team involved in reaching the widest possible public. We now have an Assistant Director responsible for Communications and Publications, and have recently appointed to the team a Public Engagement Officer, in recognition of our obligations to the taxpayers who fund our work. We hope to be opening up some new ventures in social media, and we look forward to keeping those who follow our activities, whether in traditional print or online, posted with future developments.



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Review of the year 2017

It’s been another hectic, but excellent year here at the History of Parliament. We have been making many organisational changes after our Director, Dr Paul Seaward, won a prestigious Wolfson/British Academy scholarship. Paul will leave us for three years to undertake his new research project: ‘Reformation to Referendum: A new history of Parliament’. Paul has blogged about it here.

Whilst Paul is away researching, Dr Stephen Roberts, the current editor of the Commons, 1640-60 section, will become Director – you’ll be hearing from Stephen soon about his plans for the HPT. We’ve had some corresponding changes of personnel around the building: Dr Vivienne Larminie will become Assistant Editor of Commons 1640-60 project, and Dr Robin Eagles Editor of the Lords, 1715-90 project. Behind the scenes, we’re appointing a new Assistant Director and Public Engagement Officer: so expect to hear more from them in 2018!

Mr Speaker introducing our first panel discussing the impact of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act in July

We’ve had a very busy year in terms of events, despite our plans being upset slightly by the snap election! In February we introduced our recently-published Lords 1660-1715 volumes to current peers; in July a prestigious panel of Parliamentarians looked back on the 1967 Sexual Offences Act; September saw collaborations with the Parliamentary Archives on Parliament and WWI; October a celebration of the life of the first Indian MP, Dr Dadabhai Naoroji. We held two collaborative events for Parliament Week: at one Dr Philip Salmon explored the 1867 Reform Act; another Dr Robin Eagles discussed the reporting of trials and impeachments in the early years of George I 1715-1717 in Oxford’s Bodleian library. Thanks also to the Speaker for hosting another schools prize-giving for us back in July, and we look forward to awarding our dissertation competition winner early in the New Year.

Dr Philip Salmon and Dr Martin Spychal at our ‘Parliaments & Popular Sovereignty’ conference in November

On the academic front, in November we made our way to Manchester to the People’s History Museum for an excellent conference in collaboration with Richard Huzzey and Henry Miller at Durham: ‘Parliaments & Popular Sovereignty: Political Representation in the British World, 1640-1886’. Blogs from speakers we hope will feature here in the New Year. We were also pleased to see Alistair Hawkyard’s publication, earlier this year, of ‘The House of Commons 1509-1558: Personnel, Procedure, Precedent and Change’ based closely on the research in the 1509-1558 volumes of the History of Parliament.

Our researchers have had a busy year: some away in archives, others revising texts ready for upcoming publications. We’ve still been able to keep you up-to-date on social media. Our Lords 1715-90 section have launched their own ‘Georgian Lords’ blog and twitter feed, sharing insights such as the background to the 1772 Royal Marriages Act following Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s recent engagement. The Victorian Commons are going strong: this year’s most popular post told the story of Lily Maxwell, the woman who managed to cast her vote in a November 1867 by-election. Over on his Director’s blog, Paul Seaward has been exploring the A-Z of Parliament, amongst other things helping everyone understand Henry VIII clauses.


On this blog, the Victorian Commons’ Kathryn Rix has continued her series on MPs who died in the First World War. We’ve also been keeping up with another interesting year in current politics, with a series on the General Election; perspectives on modern day Brexit dilemmas from viewpoints as varied as relations between medieval Commons and Lords to Gladstone; and a look into ‘Fake News’ for this year’s Parliament Week blog series.

There’s been good news as well for our oral history project, as the British Library have begun to put our 150-plus interviews online in full for anyone to access. More will follow in the New Year, with, we hope, a special release of our interviews with former women MPs to help mark the centenary of women getting the right to vote. A big thank you to all at the Sound Archive for getting them online, and to our wonderful volunteers who keep the interviews coming! Special mention for the completion of our longest interview to date: Jonathan Aitken, who our volunteer (Alex Lock) began interviewing back in October 2015.

There’s a lot already planned for 2018: our first event a debate on the 1867 Reform Act, and a conference with Parliament’s Vote 100 project and the University of Westminster on A Century of Women MPs in September – you have until the end of January to get your paper proposals in!

A very Happy New Year to you all, and here’s to another great year in 2018.


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