As the UK processes the results of last night election results and its consequences it seem an apt time for me to write up my recent trip to Westminster with @Twirlingteacups and @Jew_Lia last month.
We went on a guided tours but there is an option for audio guides with you can go at your own pace and is cheaper. I might as well say here and now this is the option I would do if I ever did it again.
After collecting our tickets and going through airport style security we made our way to Westminster hall that was the starting point of the tour. here is my first complaint it is not overly clear were tour guides people should go. after tracking down a persona and asking we discovered we were part of a very large group. considering we paid extra to hear the so called expert I would have hope they would have limited the number of people per group. more about our “interesting guide” later.
Westminster hall one of the largest and oldest building in the UK has witnessed some massive moments in history. when you consider how old it is and then see the size of the hall it is amazing! the roof is beautiful as is the carved stone. on the floor there were brass plaques commemorating some of the events that have happened within these old walls. Charles I was tried and sentenced to death there, Churchill was laid in state there, Thomas more was tried and sentenced there …..
At the far end of the hall is a stained glass window given to the Queen from parliament to celebrate her latest Jubilee.
we head through st Stephens Chapel and we are no longer allowed to take pictures. we stop in a room that the queen uses once a year at the state opening of parliament. we also stand in the oldest part of parliament a stair case that was part of the original Westminster.
The Lords common room was lovely and ther art on the walls depicting battles and victories were grand and magnificent. the handiwork of Pugin is seen in the tiles and the furniture. I found the guide moved to fast and I wanted to look at the art and fixtures in more detail.
Part of the tour we were allowed to see a select committee room with reconstructed carpets designed by the V&A it was a sterile room that were allowed to sit in but even the art work on the wall was on loan.
We walked though crowded corridors that are familiar from our TV screens and as a historian I found the experience rushed I wanted to be able to stop and savour the history.
the second highlight was seeing the Lords Chamber where the state opening of Parliament happens and the Lords Sit when in session. the biggest surprise was how small the room was, I have seen bigger school halls. the detail and design is breath taking. It felt a real privilege to be able to stand in there and see it.
The last highlight was the Commons chamber with the familiar green benches and dispatch box and benches are the biggest surprise is just how small the space is.
In many ways the experience of all that should have been enough however the whole thing was greatly dampened by our guide. If ever a person was pro republican and anti Charles I as well as biased this woman was it. Sadly it was patronising and rushed from beginning to end. I found the size of the group too big. All in all not worth the extra money so that you can see a back room committee chamber.
I understand that the information they give has to be basic as there will be people that have less knowledge of our history or political system but biased history is not what I would have expected. May I suggest Visit Parliament maybe have guided tours with more detail and less basic history for people who have better grasp of the history and the parliamentary system. If I am honest I learnt more from the BBC2 documentary on Parliament than I did on the tour.
The gift shop is tiny crowded and over expensive. If you want to get something less than £5 make sure you have cash! The café that could be a show case for the best of food on offer in the UK instead sold over priced Greggs style pastries.
what has great potential to be excellent was let down by logistics in the form of the facilities and the tour guide. I highly recommended that you see this part of the UKs democratic history but opt for the audio guide rather than the guided tour.