Protection from fire

After the old Palace of Westminster was largely destroyed by fire, Charles Barry put fire safety firmly at the centre of his designs for the new Palace by using cast iron and stone. However, when it came to the magnificent interiors, he and Augustus Welby Pugin used vast quantities of combustible materials. This and the huge network of ventilation shafts and floor voids they created to aid ventilation, had the unintended effect of creating ideal conditions for fire and smoke to spread throughout the building.

Fire safety today

Fire safety systems are in place throughout the Palace to ensure the building is safe to use, but they are antiquated. Significant work needs to be done to bring these systems up to modern day standards. A fire safety improvement programme is underway but given the constraints around access, prevalence of asbestos, and the need to carry out work around sittings of Parliament, the scope of this work is limited.

Following the Windsor Castle fire in 1992, improved compartmentation was one of the measures recommended for all the Royal Palaces. Compartmentation slows the spread of fire or smoke by containing it within a single area or ‘compartment’ of a building. This work was begun in the 1990s but is incomplete due to its extremely invasive nature and because the building is in constant use.

Factsheet

Protection from fire