A forgotten door built for festivities surrounding the coronation of King Charles II in 1661 has been rediscovered in the Houses of Parliament. 

The door, hidden behind panelling in cloister formerly used as offices by the Parliamentary Labour Party, was originally constructed to allow guests at the coronation to make their way to his celebratory banquet in Westminster Hall.

It was subsequently used by the likes of Robert Walpole, often referred to as the first Prime Minister as well as architect-led rivals Charles James Fox and William Pitt the Younger, and diarist Samuel Pepys.

The door and passageway behind it survived the fire which destroyed much of the Palace of Westminster in 1834 but it was thought the passage had been filled in during restoration works after the Palace of Westminster was bombed in World War II.

Liz Hallam Smith, an historical consultant from the University of York who is working with the team undertaking the renovations, said they were trawling through “10,000 uncatalogued documents relating to the palace at the Historic England Archives in Swindon, when we found plans for the doorway in the cloister behind Westminster Hall”.

“As we looked at the paneling closely, we realised there was a tiny brass key-hole that no-one had really noticed before, believing it might just be an electricity cupboard,” she said. “Once a key was made for it, the paneling opened up like a door into this secret entrance.”

In the small room behind the door, the team discovered the original hinges for two wooden doors some three-and-a-half meters high that would have opened into Westminster Hall. They also found graffiti, scribbled in pencil by bricklayers who worked on the restoration of the palace in 1851 following the 1834 fire.

One section reads “This room was enclosed by Tom Porter who was very fond of Ould Ale” and another, “These masons were employed refacing these groines…[ie repairing the cloister] August 11th 1851 Real Democrats”, the latter a reference suggesting the men were part of the working class male suffrage Chartist movement.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the House of Commons Speaker, described the find as “part of our parliamentary history”: “To think that this walkway has been used by so many important people over the centuries is incredible.”

PICTURE: Sir Lindsay Hoyle and the door (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

 

Berkeley-Square

Located in the south-west of Mayfair in London’s West End, Berkeley Square was originally laid out by architect William Kent in the mid 1700s.

It takes its name from the Berkeley family of Gloucestershire (the first Lord Berkeley of Stratton was a Royalist commander in the Civil War) whose London residence, Berkeley House, stood on what is now the south side of the square until it was destroyed in a fire in 1733 (Devonshire House, whose residents included the 5th Earl of Devonshire and his somewhat notorious wife Georgiana, was subsequently built on the site and remained there until it was demolished in the 1920s).

The gardens, which feature some of the city’s oldest London Plane trees (dating from 1789), have a pump house at the centre which was built in 1800 and is now Grade II listed (it stands on the site of an earlier equestrian statue of King George III). Other features including the statue Lady of Sumaria (Water Carrier) – pictured above – which was made by Pre-Raphaelite sculptor Alexander Munro in 1858 and stands at the garden’s southern end.

Among notable buildings which face onto the square are Lansdowne House – located on the south-west corner of the square, it was designed by Robert Adam and now home of the Lansdowne Club – and number 50 Berkeley Square, home of short-lived early 19th century PM George Canning (and said to be the most haunted house in London). The square was also the home of society favorite, Gunter’s Tea Shop, which dated from the mid-1700s.

Famous residents have included wartime PM Sir Winston Church (he lived at number 48 as a child); Horace Walpole, some of the first Prime Minister Robert Walpole (he lived at number 11 during the 1700s), Robert Clive (more famously known as Clive of India, he committed suicide in number 45 in 1774), and the fictional Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves (creations of author PG Wodehouse). The square also featured in the famous wartime song, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.

The square is open from 8am daily with closing times varying based on the season.