One of the most admired features of the old House of Commons were the galleries erected by Christopher Wren in the late seventeenth century. Much less attention has been paid to the ill-fated galleries that were intended for use in the House of Lords on three separate occasions in the eighteenth century. On each of these occasions, the galleries survived for just a short time before being torn down, or failed to be realized. Unlike in the Commons, the members never warmed to the additions, complaining that they took away their light, or encouraged non-members to invade what they considered to be privileged space. Robin Eagles will consider the circumstances under which these galleries were planned and constructed. He will assess the practicalities of tacking on new structures to a chamber of largely mediaeval design and the response to the innovation. At the heart of the paper, though, will be the concept of privilege. The construction of galleries revived the issue of the privileged space of the Lords and to what extent it was thought reasonable, or desirable, for non-members to observe the Lords’ proceedings.
Following on from this, Kathryn Rix will consider a major adaptation to the nineteenth-century House of Commons chamber: the creation of a second division lobby. This new parliamentary space – intended to facilitate the publication of official division lists – was added in 1836 to the temporary chamber which the Commons had occupied since the catastrophic fire of October 1834. After being successfully trialled there, it was incorporated into the new Palace of Westminster designed by Charles Barry. This paper considers the factors which prompted this development, looking in particular at the impact of the 1832 Reform Act on perceptions of MPs’ representative functions, and the opportunities which the 1834 fire presented for experimentation. It then assesses the impact which this innovation had on MPs’ behaviour, both within the confines of the Commons, and in their relationship with their constituents. By enabling the publication of authoritative division lists, the two lobby system focused greater attention on MPs’ levels of attendance and their voting record on particular subjects, opening them up to greater scrutiny by their constituents. This architectural adaptation therefore had important implications for the relationship between MPs and those they represented.
Robin Eagles is editor of the House of Lords (1660-1832) section at the History of Parliament. He has worked on seventeenth and eighteenth-century political history and has a particular interest in the upper House of Parliament, the role of the alternative court of Leicester House, and the radical MP John Wilkes. His publications include an edition of the Diaries of John Wilkes, 1770-1797 (2014).
Kathryn Rix is assistant editor of the House of Commons, 1832-1868 project at the History of Parliament. She is a historian of nineteenth and early twentieth-century electoral and parliamentary politics in Britain, with a particular interest in party organisation, electoral corruption, female participation in politics and the workings of the House of Commons. Her publications include Parties, agents and electoral culture in England, 1880-1910 (2016).
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