Researchers in the Palace of Westminster have discovered a long-forgotten doorway and passage running through the wall of Westminster Hall.
In February this year, a 360-year-old passageway once used by British monarchs was rediscovered inside Parliament, revealing a piece of history that was thought to have been forever covered up after the second world war.
The passageway was created in 1660-1661 as part of the processional route for Charles II’s coronation. As the main way to the old House of Commons–where St Stephen’s Hall now stands–the doorway would have been used by many significant historical figures, including Samuel Pepys and William Pitt the Younger.
Leading through to Westminster Hall, it was blocked up on both sides in the mid-19th century as part of renovation works after a fire in Parliament. The route lay untouched for close to a century until it was found by workers carrying out repairs after the building was bombed in World War II.
In an attempt to preserve the restored access, workers carved a small wooden door into the panelling in the adjacent hallway, but the result turned out to be too discreet. With the passing of time, the door was forgotten and historians thought that the 1950s repair job had blocked access entirely.
When historic consultants from the University of York were trawling through 10,000 uncatalogued documents relating to the palace at the Historic England archives in Swindon. They found plans for the doorway in the cloister behind Westminster Hall.
As they looked at the panelling closely, they realised there was a tiny brass keyhole that no-one had noticed before. Believing it might be an electricity cupboard. Once a key was made for it, the panelling opened up.
The team discovered it led to a small room. Inside they found the original hinges for two wooden doors — 11 feet tall and 6 feet wide, that would have opened into Westminster Hall. They were stunned when they found graffiti dating to 1851 on one of the walls.
When the door was blocked up in the 19th century, the Victorian laborers who laid the bricks left behind a personal mark. Scribbled on the wall and still legible today was a note. Part of which read, ‘This room was enclosed by Tom Porter who was very fond of Ould Ale.’
There was another surprise for the team when they entered the passageway–they were able to light the room. A switch, probably installed in the 1950s following restoration work after the second world war, not only worked, but illuminated a large Osram manufactured bulb marked ‘HM Government Property.’
Westminster Hall dates to the 11th century, though most of the Houses of Parliament, also called the Palace of Westminster, was constructed in the mid-1800s. The palace no doubt still has many more secrets to give up.
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