|The Palace of Westminster: New Palace Yard and Black Rod's Garden||Westminster|
The importance of the Palace of Westminster as royal residence and seat of government dates back to medieval times. The oldest building today is the C11th Westminster Hall and the adjacent New Palace Yard has existed since that time, now laid out as a garden in commemoration of The Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977. The Palace of Westminster and Houses of Parliament that exist today date in the main from the mid C19th rebuilding, when Black Rod's Garden was also created. Reserved for private parliamentary use this garden adjoins Victoria Tower Gardens from which it is separated by railings and hedges. The Parliamentary estate also includes Speaker's Green by Westminster Bridge and Cromwell Green between Old Palace Yard and New Palace Yard, which both originated as medieval courtyards.
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The Palace of Westminster, now more widely referred to as the Houses of Parliament, has its origins in medieval times, when the construction of a royal palace was prompted by royal interest in the Benedictine Abbey that had been established here in the C10th, itself growing out of an C8th Saxon church dedicated to St Peter. The Danish King Cnut was the first monarch to build a palace at Westminster in the early C11th, and subsequently Edward the Confessor built both Westminster Abbey (q.v.) and his new Palace adjacent, dying just after the Abbey was completed in 1066. William the Conqueror also adopted the palace and abbey at Westminster, where he was crowned. In 1097-99 his son William II built the Great Hall, now known as Westminster Hall, which was used for important ceremonial events, and from thence Westminster gradually gained precedence as the centre of government over Winchester Castle, which had previously acted as the Anglo-Saxon capital of England. Westminster's importance was firmly established in the reign of Henry III who constructed new buildings, with a royal throne placed in Westminster Hall by 1245. From the C13th the palace was the meeting place of the Lords and the Commons, who from 1341 met separately, initially in various chambers and halls of the palace rather than purpose-built spaces. Westminster Palace became the permanent seat of Parliament in 1512 after Henry VIII moved his residence to the Palace of Whitehall. However, it remained a royal palace and was controlled by the Lord Great Chamberlain of the monarch until as late as 1965 when control passed to representatives of the two Houses. From medieval times until 1801 the Lords sat in the Queen's Chamber and then moved to the Lesser Hall. The Commons had a permanent meeting place for the first time in 1547 when Edward VI permitted them to use St Stephen's Chapel. Alterations were made to the parliament buildings in the late C18th and early C19th firstly by James Wyatt and then by Sir John Soane, but in 1834 a devastating fire destroyed much of the palace, including the Commons Chamber.
The Palace of Westminster and Houses of Parliament that exist today date in the main from the mid C19th rebuilding, designed by Sir Charles Barry (1795-1860) following a public competition in 1835. Barry worked on the designs with Augustus Welby Pugin (1812-1852) and construction of the new buildings began in 1840 but, although largely in place by 1860, it was not until 1870 that they were fully completed. The site of the parliamentary estate was extended to c.3.24 hectares by reclaiming land from the river.
The medieval palace had two main courtyards, Old Palace Yard and New Palace Yard, the latter named after William II's 'new' Westminster Hall, the oldest of the buildings on the precinct today, although much remodelled since that time. Other survivals from the medieval buildings are the Cloisters and Chapter House St Stephen's, the Chapel of St Mary's Undercroft and the C14th Jewel Tower adjacent to Abingdon Street Gardens (q.v.), which was once part of the site of Old Palace Yard. Bounded by extraordinarily ornate gates, railings and gate piers, New Palace Yard housed an early C12th conduit, over which Henry VI later constructed a large octagonal fountain in 1443, which was in existence until the late C17th. New Palace Yard was laid out as a garden with a fountain in the form of heraldic beasts supporting a crown to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee in 1977, beneath which an underground car park had been constructed in 1972-4. The central area containing the fountain is laid out with a lawn encircled by a path edged with espaliered trees, the drive around the garden paved with cobbles, and a line of very ancient trees is to the north.
South of this, in front of St Stephen's Hall, is a simple lawn known as Cromwell Green for its statue of the Lord Protector Cromwell by Hamo Thorneycroft (1899), set on a massive plinth.
Old Palace Yard to the south was once the site of cottages, one of which was rented by Guy Fawkes and his confederates, from where they initially began to tunnel to the House of Lords. At the failure of their Gunpowder Plot they were later hanged on a scaffold erected in Old Palace Yard. It now houses a bronze equestrian statue on a granite pedestal of Richard I, The Lionheart by Baron Marochetti, a model of which was first shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Black Rod's Garden dates from the mid C19th rebuilding of the Palace of Westminster and was laid out c.1858 and is shown on a map of 1888, indicating that it predates the creation of Victoria Tower Gardens (q.v.). The garden is visible through the railings by Victoria Tower and contains a number of good trees. It is named for Black Rod, a senior officer of the House of Lords appointed by the Lord Great Chamberlain, who is responsible for security, controlling access to and maintaining order within the House and its precincts. Black Rod is particularly well-known for his role at the State Opening of Parliament.
Harold Clunn, the Face of London (c1950), p.234; Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993), p.575-77. See history on http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/building/palace/