Westminster: secret passageway discovery reveals 169-year-old graffiti | Politics

A secret passageway discovered in the Palace of Westminster has revealed 169-year-old graffiti from early Chartist stone masons and bricklayers claiming to be fond of “ould ale”.

The route into Westminster Hall was built especially for the procession to the coronation banquet of Charles II in the 17th century and was used afterwards to access parliament by political luminaries such as the first prime minister of Great Britain, Robert Walpole, and William Pitt the younger.

It was bricked up and the entrance was later hidden and forgotten about, and sometime after the second world war covered by wooden panelling.
During the ongoing restoration work of the Houses of Parliament the passage was rediscovered, as was a memento left by one of the men who helped block it with bricks.

In pencil, he had written: “This room was enclosed by Tom Porter who was very fond of Ould Ale.”

Historians have worked out that he appears to have been joined in his celebration of enclosing the passage by stonemasons employed by architect Sir Charles Barry, who rebuilt the Palace of Westminster after the devastating fire of 1834.

Another piece of graffiti reads: “These masons were employed refacing these groines … [ie repairing the cloister] August 11th 1851 Real Democrats.”

The Real Democrats were part of the working class male suffrage Chartist movement, which called for reforms to allow every man aged 21 to have a vote, and for would-be MPs to stand even if they did not have property.

The 1851 census return shows the stone masons were Richard Condon, James Williams, Henry Terry, Thomas Parker and Peter Dewal.

The House of Commons Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, who was the first senior member of the Commons to visit the find, said: “To think that this walkway has been used by so many important people over the centuries is incredible.

“I am so proud of our staff for making this discovery and I really hope this space is celebrated for what it is: a part of our parliamentary history.”

Mark Collins, Parliament’s estates historian, said he and his colleagues had been on a high ever since the discovery.

“To say we were surprised is an understatement – we really thought it had been walled-up forever after the war,” he said.

Liz Hallam Smith, the team’s historical consultant from the University of York, said: “We were trawling through 10,000 uncatalogued documents relating to the palace at the Historic England archives in Swindon, when we found plans for the doorway in the cloister behind Westminster Hall.

“As we looked at the panelling closely, we realised there was a tiny brass keyhole that no-one had really noticed before, believing it might just be an electricity cupboard.

“Once a key was made for it, the panelling opened up like a door into this secret entrance.”

In the passageway they discovered the original hinges for two wooden doors 3.5 metres high that would have opened into Westminster Hall – but also the graffiti from the workers.

“It’s quite incredible how this writing has survived and can be read so easily, despite having been scribbled in pencil,” said Dr Collins.

“We would love to hear from any descendants of Tom Porter or his colleagues and invite them to see where their relatives once worked.”

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”.

Collins said the reveal would now be digitised as part of Parliament’s restoration and renewal programme, so that the doorway would never disappear again.

Source link