Destruction by fire, 1834

The Palace of Westminster on fire in 1834

The main hazard for the Palace over the centuries was fire.

The Palace of Westminster on fire in 1834

Serious damage

The original decorations of the Painted Chamber were destroyed by a fire in 1263. Flames also laid the Palace waste in 1298, and it was a large fire in 1512, destroying much of the residential part of the palace, which caused Henry VIII to move the royal family out to Whitehall Palace just a few hundred yards away.

Twenty years after the fire, most of the damaged buildings were demolished, and their materials carted away as rubble.

Colossal disaster predicted

Towards the end of the 18th century, a committee of MPs charged with examining the state of the buildings reported that if the Palace caught fire there would be a colossal disaster.

In 1789, a report signed by fourteen architects, including John Soane and Robert Adam, similarly complained about the danger of fire at Westminster.

Few precautions taken

In 1828, John Soane again drew attention to the fire risk, pointing out that much of the Palace was constructed of timber covered with plaster. However, few precautions were taken over the subsequent years.

On the night of 16 October 1834, a devastating fire broke out in the Palace after two underfloor stoves used to burn the Exchequer's stockpile of old tally sticks ignited panelling in the Lords Chamber.

A great spectacle

The fire quickly swept through the entire Palace and destroyed many of its buildings. Turner and Constable, and probably Dickens, witnessed the fire, along with thousands of other sightseers - it was the largest conflagration in London apart from the Great Fire of 1666 and the Blitz in the Second World War.

Westminster Hall was saved, and the wind was blowing away from the Jewel Tower, which preserved the historic records stored inside it.

Also in this section

Explore documents in the Parliamentary Archives relating to the 1834 fire

Biographies

You can access biographies of

Henry VIII
John Soane
Robert Adam
JMW Turner
John Constable
Charles Dickens

from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for free, online, using your local library card number (includes nine out of ten public libraries in the UK) or from within academic library and other subscribing networks.

Art in Parliament

View images from the Parliamentary Art Collection of the fire and its' aftermath.