Visitors to London this summer will be disappointed by the sight of one of the world’s most iconic buildings covered in scaffolding.

The current work on the roof and on Big Ben is part of the ongoing “patch and mend” repairs at the seat of power.

But plans are underway for the biggest and most complex renovation works ever carried out on a single building in this country.

The Members of Parliament have agreed to move out in the mid 2020s. An estimated £4 billion of renovations will be carried out on their iconic grade 1 listed home.

For the Palace of Westminster is a vast and complex building, with parts dating back to different ages and in varying states of repair.

Around 8,000 people work inside and about one million visitors pass through each year.

But in the next few years, MPs and Lords will move out of Parliament while work on the heating, drainage, water, electrical system, stonework and fire safety takes place.

The Commons will go into a temporary chamber to be created in a redevelopment of nearby Richmond House on Whitehall.

History of the Palace of Westminster

Dating back to the Middle Ages, the crumbling buildings with their infestations of rodents and layers of asbestos have been under constant repair for decades.

Parliament has also been the target of repeated bombing attacks.

This has ranged from the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605, to explosions by the Irish Fenians in 1885 which ruined the Commons chamber.

During the Blitz, the Commons chamber was again burnt to the ground. And in more recent years there have been further bomb attacks causing lesser damage to Westminster Hall.


But it was the devastating inferno of October 1834 which caused the worst damage to Parliament.

Painter JMW Turner captured the dramatic scenes. It was the biggest fire in the capital since the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Hundreds of people joined in the firefighting efforts and saved the magnificent Westminster Hall, which dates back to Norman times.

But much of the palace, including St Stephen’s Chapel – meeting place of the Commons – and the Lords Chamber were destroyed.

Architects Augustus Pugin and Charles Barry were commissioned and the rebuild of 1,100 rooms was completed in 1870.


The Palace’s Medieval origins

However the story of Westminster as a power base stretches back to the early 11th century.

Viking King Canute was the first to build a royal residence on the north side of the Thames. But it burnt to the ground.

Edward the Confessor rebuilt the palace, as well as building Westminster Abbey.

William the Conqueror began a new palace which his son William Rufus would continue. This included Westminster Hall, built between 1097 and 1099.

By 1245 the king’s throne itself was in place in the palace, signifying the epicentre of royal administration.

Edward I summoned the first English representative assembly, the Model Parliament, to Westminster in 1295.

It was Henry VIII’s son Edward VI who finally gave the Commons a permanent home in St Stephen’s Chapel.

In the following century Sir Christopher Wren, Master of the King’s Works, added viewing galleries for the public to watch the Commons in action.

Today, we can watch Parliament on TV. But cameras were not allowed to film inside the chamber until as late as 1989.


To find out more about the history of Parliament in the Victoria magazine read here.