How a Bad Decision and 3 Careless Workers Caused the Destruction of London’s Palace of Westminster

The Houses of Parliament, also known as the Palace of Westminster, have been the home of the UK's government for over 900 years.

The current Palace of Westminster was built in the mid-19th century after a devastating fire destroyed most of the original buildings, in 1834.

But how did that happen?

On October 16th of 1834, the treasury faced a problem of disposing two cart-loads of wooden tally sticks, which were remnants of an obsolete accounting system. The Clerk of Works suggested burning them in the underfloor stoves in the basement of the House of Lords. Workmen arrived to carry out the task, which caused the floor to become hot and smoke to seep through it.

Visitors to the House of Lords noticed the heat and smoke, but were assured by the workmen that everything was under control. However, a fire broke out at 6 pm, and quickly spread to the rest of the Palace, destroying both Houses of Parliament and most of the other buildings on the site.

Fortunately, Westminster Hall was saved thanks to the heroic firefighting efforts -- a silver lining in otherwise an incredibly heartbreaking event.

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Content from the ‘Westminster Self-guided Tour’ on the Guidee app.