Explore the Palace

Click on an area to find out more about some of the problems affecting the Palace.

Elizabeth Tower

Elizabeth Tower was completed in 1859. It was previously known as the Clock Tower but renamed in 2012 to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The Tower´s bell is called the Great Bell though it is better known by the name ‘Big Ben’.

The last extensive maintenance works to the Elizabeth Tower took place more than 31 years ago and areas for repair have now been identified. A feasibility study and survey work has recently been carried out in order to assess the condition of the building fabric, the clock mechanism, and the building services.

interior windows image

Roofs

The cast iron tiled roofs were installed on wrought iron structures in the mid-1800s and used innovative, cutting edge technology of its time. But now, 160 years on, the roofs are leaking, causing significant damage to the stonework and historic interiors of the Palace. To avoid further damage to the building, a phased programme of repairs is already underway, which will also ensure most of the building is watertight before any major restoration and renewal work begins internally. There are approximately 7,000 tiles on the roof, each weighing 75kg.

image of the the roofs

Cloister Court

Cloister Court, a beautiful hidden courtyard located in the centre of the Palace, is one of London’s ‘lost sights’ and one of the few surviving parts of the old Palace; it dates from around 1520 during the reign of Henry VIII. The outside stonework has suffered from the effect of pollution and rain damage and the windows need repair. Rainwater penetrates some areas of the concrete roof which was added after war damage and several pieces of stone decoration are missing and need replacement.

Deterioration of cast iron guttering

Much of the fabric of the building across the entire Palace is now also in need of repair or replacement. Part of Palace architect Charles Barry’s design saw the installation of cast iron guttering set into the stonework. While this achieved the clean lines Barry intended, it also makes it impossible to detect any deterioration of the guttering until damage to stonework or windows becomes visible, sometimes months or even years later. Then begins the long and difficult task of trying to trace its source and carry out repairs to both the pipes and the fabric of the building.

image of the central tower

Central Lobby

Central Lobby is one of the busiest areas of the Palace as it is the point where the corridors of the House of Commons and House of Lords meet; the centre point of Parliament. It was designed by Charles Barry as a meeting place for Members of both Houses, and where MPs can meet their constituents. It is a lofty stone octagon with an intricately tiled floor, a rich mosaic-covered vaulted ceiling and intricately carved stonework.

Due to leaking roofs and the humidity created by the sheer number of people passing through Central Lobby each day, the stone vault and the mosaic tiles are in urgent need of conservation and repair in some areas. The carved stonework is deteriorating due to the effects of rainwater damage and the mosaic tiles are under growing threat of detaching from the vault. Because of its central location and intense flow of people, appropriate access to carry out the necessary works during sittings of Parliament is not possible.

image of the central tower

Central Tower

The very distinctive Central Tower built over Central Lobby used to act as a flue for waste air and smoke from all parts of the Palace. The ventilation system originally devised for the Palace contained many cavities in the walls and beneath floors and did not satisfy the needs of Members who complained that it was either too hot or too cold; it took many years for the system to be modified. It is now essential to check the hidden voids which are disused in order to clear them of asbestos and carry out fire compartmentation work to minimise the risk of fire spread, and also to stop the collapse of their brickwork, ironwork and plaster.

image of the central tower

Basements

The basement corridors stretch two kilometres along the length of the Palace and house the building’s primary essential services, including

  • Steam-based heating, and
  • Electrical, water, cooling, drainage, ventilation, and communication systems.
These services, housed in 128 plant rooms, also run vertically up the Palace’s 98 service shafts (vertical risers), under the floors of the Palace’s upper storeys and between walls and panelling.

image of asbestos

Some pipes are up to 130 years old, and those installed during the post-war rebuild are more than 60 years old. Many have not been replaced, in part due to the difficulty in accessing them and the need to carry out repair works around sittings of Parliament. This has meant that any newer pipes or cables have been laid over old or possibly redundant ones. Existing records do not allow an accurate understanding of the true age of many of the systems.

Under the Restoration and Renewal Programme, all the mechanical and electrical systems would be replaced, whichever option is chosen, and both the House of Commons and House of Lords Chambers would need to close for 2-4 years.

image of asbestos

The presence of asbestos

One of the biggest problems affecting the Palace is the presence of asbestos, which was used extensively during the post-war rebuilding period. It is now found in many areas, such as lagging and gaskets of pipework and ductwork, within insulation boards and fire linings, even within some paint. The asbestos fibres spread to contaminate the huge and complex network of voids throughout the building, meaning that specialist and time-consuming asbestos removal procedures are necessary each and every time access to any spaces, such as behind wood panelling in the Chambers or committee rooms, for example, needs to be gained.

Asbestos fibres spread to contaminate the network of spaces throughout the building. Specialist and time-consuming asbestos removal methods are essential. They will need to access areas such as behind wood panelling in the Chambers or committee rooms.

Committee Corridor

The Palace’s 24 committee rooms are housed on the upper floors of the Palace, and are where both Houses’ select committee meetings and evidence sessions are held. The Palace’s secondary mechanical and electrical systems (such as heating, ventilation, power and communications) run the entire length of the river front and are hidden behind walls and panelling, and in old ventilation and smoke shafts within floor voids. They are connected back to the basement primary mechanical and electrical systems through long and circuitous routes through the Palace. Asbestos is also present throughout.

image of the corridor

Systems failure

A recent example of system failure involved a burst pipe on Committee Corridor which discharged 30,000 litres of water in 15 minutes. It flooded the corridor and leaked through to the Principal Floor below, causing damage to the historic Pugin-designed interiors and rare books housed in the House of Lords Library. The damage took three weeks to repair, all while the essential building services running through the floors had to be kept running.

All of these secondary systems will need to be accessed and replaced and asbestos removed, and all heritage and architectural finishes restored, whichever option is chosen for the Restoration and Renewal Programme.

Windows

There are around 3,800 windows in the Palace. Most are sash type made from bronze, with a small upper diamond pane which also opens for ventilation. Others are iron-framed, leaded diamond-pane or wooden. The vast majority do not close properly, letting water in and heat out. All are in need of repair or replacement to stop further damage and decay to the surrounding stonework and reduce heat loss and the running costs of the Palace. Wooden windows which were installed following war damage have now come to the end of their life and need replacing.

The bespoke nature of the windows, together with the complex mechanical devices used for opening them means that each will have to be removed from their frame and fixed by specialists using a time-consuming process taking several weeks off-site.

The 100 or so stained glass windows displaying heraldry and floral and animal emblems of the UK require careful repair of the leadwork and failing iron ties, as well as refitting into their stone frames.

interior windows image

Victoria Tower

The Victoria Tower designed as Parliament’s archive repository (record store), was completed in 1860, and refurbished in the 1950s.Continuing to run a modern archive service from inside this Grade-I listed Victorian building is causing a range of serious problems.
Access in and out of the 12 floors of the Tower is via one very small lift or a staircase with 553 steps.

In the event of fire or a water leak, the lift would not be big enough to evacuate the records quickly enough (mould starts to grow on water-damaged records within 48-72 hours). The layout and capacity of the Victoria Tower make records storage both highly inefficient and cramped, with similar problems in the nearby studios where records are repaired and digitised for preservation purposes and public use.

victoria tower exterior image

Access for the public

Although the Archives has a small searchroom for the public to consult its collections, space is extremely limited, severely restricting the number of visitors and activities which can be accommodated onsite.

During the planned Restoration and Renewal of the Palace, the Archives’ 4 million records (spanning 8.25 km), dating back to 1497, would need to be relocated to specialist temporary accommodation whichever option is chosen. In view of the potential disruption and damage, and the many already long-standing problems associated with the current location, both temporary and permanent relocation options are currently being explored.

Elizabeth Tower

Elizabeth Tower was designed and completed in 1859. Known as the Clock Tower, its name changed in 2012 to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The Great Bell is the Tower's main bell and is better known as 'Big Ben'.

It is more than 30 years since major maintenance work has been made to the Tower. Following a recent feasibility study a conservation works programme began in early 2017. It will:

  • repair problems identified with the Great Clock and the Elizabeth Tower. While the clock is in action, repair work cannot occur
  • conserve significant elements of the Tower
  • repair and redecorate the interior
  • improve health and safety standards
  • increase fire prevention measures and energy efficiency to reduce the Tower's environmental impact

The study showed that the Tower needed urgent attention. Work to the Tower must be completed before the start of the Restoration and Renewal Programme.

interior windows image
Basements

The basement corridors stretch two kilometres along the length of the Palace. It houses the building’s primary essential services, including:

  • steam-based heating, and
  • electrical, water, cooling, drainage, ventilation, and communication systems.
These services, housed in 128 plant rooms, run vertically up the Palace’s 98 service shafts (vertical risers). They also run under the floors of the Palace’s upper storeys and between walls and panelling.

image of asbestos

Some pipes are up to 130 years old, and those installed during the post-war rebuild are more than 60 years old. Many have not been replaced due to the difficulty in accessing the pipes.

Repair works also need to fit in with Parliament's schedule. This has meant that new pipes or cables were laid over old or redundant ones. Existing records do not provide an accurate understanding of the true age of many of the systems.

Under the Restoration and Renewal Programme, all the mechanical and electrical systems will be replaced.

image of asbestos

The presence of asbestos

Asbestos is one of the biggest problems affecting the Palace. Asbestos was used during the post-war rebuilding period. It is found in many areas such as:

  • lagging and gaskets of pipework and ductwork
  • insulation boards and fire linings
  • paint

Asbestos fibres spread to contaminate the network of spaces throughout the building. Specialist and time-consuming asbestos removal methods are essential. They will need to access areas such as behind wood panelling in the Chambers or committee rooms.

Central Lobby

Central Lobby one of the busiest areas of the Palace. It is the central point where the corridors of the House of Commons and House of Lords meet.

Designed by Charles Barry, it is a meeting place for Members of both Houses. It is where MPs can meet their constituents.

It is a lofty stone octagon structure, with an ornately tiled floor. It has a rich mosaic-covered vaulted ceiling with carved stonework.

The stone vault and the mosaic tiles are in urgent need of conservation and repair in some areas. This is due to leaking roofs and humidity created by large numbers of people passing through Central Lobby.

Rainwater has damaged the carved stonework, and the mosaic tiles are at risk of detaching from the vault.

Getting access to necessary areas of work is not always possible due to its central location.

image of the central tower


Central Tower

The very distinctive Central Tower built over Central Lobby used to act as a flue for waste air and smoke from all parts of the Palace. The ventilation system originally devised for the Palace contained many cavities in the walls and beneath floors and did not satisfy the needs of Members who complained that it was either too hot or too cold; it took many years for the system to be modified. It is now essential to check the hidden voids which are disused in order to clear them of asbestos and carry out fire compartmentation work to minimise the risk of fire spread, and also to stop the collapse of their brickwork, ironwork and plaster.

image of the central tower
Cloister Court

Cloister Court is a beautiful hidden courtyard located in the centre of the Palace. It is one of London’s ‘lost sights’ and one of the few surviving parts of the old Palace. It dates from around 1520 during the reign of Henry VIII.

The exterior stonework has suffered from the effects of pollution and rain damage. The windows also need repairing.

Rainwater penetrates some areas of the concrete roof, which was added after war damage.

Several pieces of stone decoration are missing and need replacing.

Deterioration of cast iron guttering

Much of the fabric of the building across the Palace is now also in need of repair or replacement.

Charles Barry had designed for the cast iron guttering to be set into the stonework. Due to its design, it’s impossible to detect how much damage has been made to the guttering.

This has resulted in damage to stonework or windows on the buildings. Tracing the source of the damage and carrying out essential repairs is a long and difficult task.


image of the central tower

Committee Corridor

The Palace’s 24 committee rooms are on the upper floors of the Palace. This is where committee meetings and evidence sessions are held for both Houses.

The Palace’s secondary mechanical and electrical systems (such as heating, ventilation, power and communications) run the length of the river front.

The system is hidden behind walls and panelling, and in old ventilation and smoke shafts within floor spaces. They connect to the basement's primary mechanical and electrical systems through long and circuitous routes through the Palace. Asbestos is present throughout.

image of the corridor

Systems failure

An example of system failure involved a burst pipe on Committee Corridor which discharged 30,000 litres of water in 15 minutes. The corridor flooded, and water leaked through to the Principal Floor below. This caused damage to the historic Pugin-designed interiors and rare books in the House of Lords Library.

It took three weeks to repair. The essential building services system had to continue working throughout the repair period. All the secondary systems will need to be accessed and replaced. Asbestos will also need to be removed, and all heritage and architectural finishes restored.

Roofs

The cast iron tiled roofs were installed on wrought iron structures in the mid-1800s. It used innovative and cutting-edge technology, but 160 years on, the roofs are leaking.

Leaks have caused damage to the stonework and historic interiors of the Palace.

A programme of repairs is underway to ensure the building is watertight. This is necessary before major restoration and renewal work begins. There are approximately 7,000 tiles on the roof, each weighing 75kg.

image of the the roofs
Victoria Tower

The Victoria Tower, designed as Parliament’s archive, was completed in 1860. The Grade-I listed Victorian building was refurbished in the 1950s. There are a range of serious problems in running a modern archive service from the building. Access in and out of the 12 floors of the Tower is via one very small lift or a staircase with 553 steps.

In the event of fire or a water leak, the lift would not be big enough to evacuate the records fast enough. If archive material gets wet, mould can grow within 48 to 72 hours causing damage.

The layout and capacity of the Victoria Tower makes records storage inefficient. Records are repaired and digitised for preservation and public use. They are stored in studios which have similar problems.

victoria tower exterior image

Access for the public

Although the Archives has a small searchroom for the public to consult its collections, space is extremely limited, severely restricting the number of visitors and activities which can be accommodated onsite.

During the planned restoration and renewal of the Palace, the Archives’ four million records (spanning 8.25 km), dating back to 1497, would need to be relocated to specialist temporary accommodation whichever option is chosen. In view of the potential disruption and damage, and the many already long-standing problems associated with the current location, both temporary and permanent relocation options are currently being explored.

Windows

There are around 4,000 windows in the Palace. Most are sash type made from bronze, with a small upper diamond pane which also opens for ventilation. Others are iron-framed, leaded diamond-pane or wooden. The majority do not close properly, letting water in and heat out.

Wooden windows installed following war damage have come to the end of their life. All the windows are in need of repair or replacement. This will stop further damage and decay to the surrounding stonework. It will also reduce heat loss, reducing the running costs of the Palace. The bespoke nature of the windows means they will need to be fixed by specialists.

The complex mechanical devices used for opening the windows means each window will have to be removed from its frame. This is a time-consuming process that will take several weeks off-site.

The 100 stained glass windows that display heraldry, floral and animal emblems of the UK need careful repair and refitting.

interior windows image