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THE HOUSE OF LORDS may be seen, free, when appeal cases are being heard. The sitting terminates at 4 P.M. To obtain admission to the stranger's gallery to hear debates, a peer's order is necessary. To hear debates in the House of Commons, a member's order must be procured. Ladies are only allowed to enter a gallery above the reporter's gallery, where they obtain an imperfect view of the House through a grating. The Speaker takes the chair at five o'clock. On Wednesday the House sits at noon and rises at six P.M.
The old Houses of Parliament, an unsightly pile of various dates, originally a royal palace, were destroyed by fire on the 16th of October 1834. As the best means of obtaining an edifice worthy of the age and nation, architects were invited to send in designs. From the designs then produced, that of Mr. (afterwards Sir) Charles Barry was unanimously admitted to be the
most striking, and it was accordingly selected. The first stone of the present magnificent structure was laid on the 27th April 1840, and the builders have been adding stone to stone ever since. Strange and lamentable to say, that although great expense was incurred professedly in ascertaining what was the best stone to employ, the stone actually used is already in a state of decay ; and the authorities have been called on to consider whether some method of arresting the decay cannot be adopted, hitherto we believe without success.
The present Houses of Parliament cover nearly 8 acres of ground, an area twice as great as that occupied by the old buildings. They include 11 courts, 100 stair-cases, and 1100 rooms, connected by 2 miles of lobby. Their cost, up to the 31st of December 1859, had been £2,198,099, a sum which did not include the fresco paintings and statuary, nor the cost of maintaining and repairing the buildings and furniture. These items, up to the last day of March 1860, amounted to £107,000. The style adopted is that of Henry the Eighth's time'; and all must admit that a very noble, if a very costly, Tudor palace now graces our metropolis, which we may point out to foreigners with satisfaction and pride. The finest façade is the river front, which rises from a simple terrace 940 feet in length, and 33 feet wide. It is richly decorated with statues of kings and queens and panelled sculpture, representing coats of arms and royal devices, with shafted windows, with two pinnacled towers at each end, and two in the centre. At the end next Westminster Bridge rises the tall Clock Tower, 40 feet square and 320 feet high, which carries an eight-day clock made under the direction of the Astronomer Royal. Each dial is about 30 feet in diameter. The hour is struck on a bell weighing upwards of 8 tons, and the quarters are chimed upon eight small bells. This tower has been in a great measure copied from the celebrated clock tower at Bruges. From the middle of the palace a spire, crowning an open stone lantern which surmounts the dome over the central hall, reaches the height of 300 feet. The grandest feature of all is the Victoria Tower at the south-west angle, 80 feet square and 340 feet high. The Sovereign's entrance is here, with a grand and richly-decorated archway 65 feet high. Inside the porch, in niches, are statues of St. George, St. Andrew, and St. Patrick. the patron saints of the three kingdoms ; as well as a statue of Queen Victoria, between figures representing Justice and Mercy.
A bed of concrete twelve feet thick underlies the whole foundation. The store of the river terrace is Aberdeen granite ; that of the exterior of the palace is magnesian limestone from Anston, Yorkshire ; that of the interior, Caen stone. The internal walls are of brick ; the bearers of the floors cast-iron. All the roofs are of wrought iron covered with zinced cast-iron plates. As little wood as possible has been employed, with a view to lessen the chance of destruction by fire. It was part of the plan that Westminster Hall should be retained, and it has accordingly been incorporated with the new palace, to which it forms a grand entrance for the public. The courts of law, which now stand on its west side facing St. Margaret's Church, will doubtless be removed, as their style of architecture is entirely different from the adjacent buildings, not to say anything of other reasons.
Whether we enter the palace by way of Westminster Hall, or by the Old Palace Yard entrance, we pass through St. Stephen's Porch,—a square-vaulted vestibule, containing the great south window removed from the south end of the old hall,-into St. Stephen's Hall, 95 feet by 30 wide, and 56 feet high, where statues of Hampden, Falkland, Clarendon, Selden, Sir Robert Walpole, Lord Somers, Lord Mansfield, Lord Chatham, Fox, Pitt, Burke, and Grattan have been placed. This hall is over the ancient crypt, to be mentioned presently. Thence we proceed into the Grand Central Hall, an octagon 70 feet across, and 75 feet high. In the sides, doorways and corridors alternate, the latter being filled with stained glass. The stone roof is groined, and contains more than 250 carved bosses, each four feet across, overhanging the encaustic-tile pavement. North and south from this hall corridors, adorned with fresco paintings, lead to the House of Peers and the House of Commons.
HOUSE OF PEERS. Turning south we cross a vestibule styled the Peers' Lobby, pass between its gates of massive brass, of rich floriated design, and then reach that gorgeous room where the Peers of England meet to deliberate. It is a double cube 91 feet long by 45 feet wide, with a height of 45 feet. At each side are six lofty windows containing stained glass, with portraitures of sovereigns. At night these windows are lighted from the outside. At each end are three archways with frescoes by different artists, viz., behind the throne, Edward III. conferring the order of the garter on the Black Prince, by C. W. Cope ; the Baptism of St. Ethelbert, the founder of St. Paul's Cathedral, by W. Dyce; and Prince Henry, afterwards Henry VI., submitting to the authority of Judge Gascoigne, by C. W. Cope. At the opposite end, over the Strangers' Gallery,– The Spirit of Justice, by D. Maclise ; The Spirit of Religion, by J. C. Horsley; and the Spirit of Chivalry, by D. Maclise. The niches in the walls hold statues of the barons who compelled John to sign Magna Charta. Under the windows is a light gallery of brass, and the cornice beneath carries arms of sovereigns, lords chancellor, and bishops. The ceiling is divided into compartments containing symbols, devices, and monograms, amongst which, as historically interesting, may be noticed the white hart of Richard II., the sun of the house of York, the crown on a bush of Henry VII, the pomegranate of Castille, the portcullis of Beaufort, the lily of France, the lions of England and Scotland. The throne stands at the middle of the southern end of the room, with a door at each side leading into the Prince's chamber. At the right hand is a state chair for the Prince of Wales. The woolsack, where the Lord Chancellor sits, is a seat covered with crimson cloth placed about the middle of the room. porters have been provided with a gallery at the north end, and behind it is the strangers' gallery. Underneath, on the floor of the house, is the bar at which counsel in law appeal cases plead, and where deputations from the Commons make their appearance. Beyond this bar strangers cannot pass.
HOUSE OF COMMONS.
Making our way back to the central hall, the corridor at the opposite side, and in a line with the one we have just traversed, leads to the House of Commons, a room 62 feet long, 45 feet wide, and 41 feet high, lighted by six windows at each side filled with stained glass, in which the arms of boroughs are represented. The walls are panelled with carved oak. At the north end is the Speaker's chair, over which is the reporters' gallery. Above the latter is a gallery for ladies, but the brass screen prevents their being seen from the house. Seats in the area, and in the side galleries, over the bar, are for the accommodation of 476 members out of the 656 composing the lower house of legislature ; the rest must manage as they can. The gallery to which strangers are admitted is at the south end of the ball, immediately opposite that for the reporters, and immediately below it are the seats reserved for the Peers who choose to visit the house, and for the sons of members attending schools. The ceiling is rich, but the other parts of the house are comparatively plain, as befits a place of business. The Ministerial side of the house is that on the Speaker's right, Ministers occupying the front bench, facing the leaders of the opposition, seated in the front bench on the other side. Outside the house are the lobbies into which members go on a division. In front of the Speaker's chair is the table where the clerks sit, and upon which is the Speaker's mace, which does not date earlier than the Restoration. The Serjeant-at-Arms, whose duty it is to take unruly members into custody, sits near the bar at the northern end. The floor is of cast-iron, perforated for the admission of fresh and warm air. The entrance into the house for members is by a doorway on the east side of Westminster Hall, and through the cloisters.
The entrance for the sovereign, who only attends the palace on state occasions, is at the Victoria Tower. In the Norman Porch, to which a flight of steps ascends, are statues of sovereigns of the Norman line, and frescoes commemorating events of their time. On the right hand of this porch are doorways into the Guard Chamber and into the Queen's Robing Room, which is adorned with frescoes by Dyce, representing the legends of King Arthur, and is otherwise splendidly decorated. When the ceremony of robing has been gone through, the Queen proceeds to the House of Peers through the longest room in the building, the Victoria Gallery, which has a length of 110 feet, with a width and height of 45 feet. Frescoes, the subjects taken from English history, adorn the walls; and the ceiling is panelled and richly gilded. To this gallery the public are admitted, by means of tickets issued at the Lord Chamberlain's office, to see the Queen pass on state occasions, such as the opening and prorogation of Parliament. Ladies are provided with seats, as far as practicable, in a gallery in the House, but as this is usually filled with peeresses or their kin, strangers must be content with a place in the grand gallery, where gentlemen are seated apart from the ladies. The room beyond is the Prince's Chamber, also splendidly fitted up; and containing a marble group by Gibson, representing the Queen between Justice and Mercy, bas-reliefs in oak of events connected with Tudor history, and a series of por