Before Big Ben there was Old Tom

As the restoration of the Palace of Westminster’s Elizabeth Tower reaches its final stages this summer, Dr Robin Eagles, editor of our House of Lords 1715-1790 project, takes a look at the clock tower that existed before ‘Big Ben’… The story of the at times fraught development of the clock tower of the palace of Westminster is well known. A late addition to Charles Barry’s … Continue reading Before Big Ben there was Old Tom

Queen Victoria and parliamentary ceremony

During her record-breaking 70 years of service, Queen Elizabeth II has become no stranger to parliamentary traditions like the State Opening of Parliament, and next weekend her milestone as the first British Monarch to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee will be celebrated with four days of festivities. But Her Majesty the Queen’s predecessor as a female monarch, Queen Victoria, also witnessed many ceremonies during her own … Continue reading Queen Victoria and parliamentary ceremony

Exploring parliamentary history through art

Today’s blog contains details of the Art UK online exhibitions that our researchers have curated during lockdown… The History of Parliament’s researchers have been trying out the Curations tool recently launched by Art UK, which enables anyone to create a digital exhibition from the artworks on its site. With art galleries and museums currently closed, it is an excellent way to visit their collections online. … Continue reading Exploring parliamentary history through art

Parliaments, Politics and People seminar – The ‘Gothic slum’: MPs and St Stephen’s Cloisters, 1852-2017

In May 2018, Dr Elizabeth Biggs and Dr Elizabeth Hallam Smith introduced the IHR Parliaments, Politics and People seminar to the early history of St Stephen’s cloister, Westminster, presenting recent findings from their research project (funded by the Leverhulme Trust, and conducted in association with the Houses of Parliament and the University of York). In June this year, we welcomed Elizabeth Hallam Smith back to … Continue reading Parliaments, Politics and People seminar – The ‘Gothic slum’: MPs and St Stephen’s Cloisters, 1852-2017

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.

HS

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.

Continue reading “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.”

Parliaments, Politics & People seminar: Miles Taylor, ‘Ritualism from below: St Stephen’s crypt, Westminster and its uses, c.1865-1955’

Our ‘Parliaments, politics and people’ seminar returned last week for a new academic year! Here’s our first report of the term… Professor Miles Taylor spoke about his work with the ‘Virtual St Stephens’ project, which explores the history of St Stephens Hall, Westminster. The subject of Professor Taylor’s paper was the crypt, now known as St Mary Undercroft, and its transformation after the fire of … Continue reading Parliaments, Politics & People seminar: Miles Taylor, ‘Ritualism from below: St Stephen’s crypt, Westminster and its uses, c.1865-1955’

Parliaments, Politics and People seminar: Rebekah Moore, ‘Contested spaces: temporary houses of Parliament and government, 1834-52’

At our last ‘Parliaments, Politics and People’ seminar, Rebekah Moore, holder of an AHRC collaborative doctoral award with the History of Parliament and Institute of Historical Research, gave a paper on the temporary Houses of Parliament after the fire of 1834. Here Rebekah gives an overview of her paper… From 1557, the House of Commons was situated in St Stephen’s Chapel, one of the medieval … Continue reading Parliaments, Politics and People seminar: Rebekah Moore, ‘Contested spaces: temporary houses of Parliament and government, 1834-52’