70th anniversary of House of Commons Chamber bombing

10 May 2011

Tuesday 10 May marks the 70th anniversary of the bombing of the House of Commons Chamber on the last day of the Blitz in 1941. A documentary about the Chamber's destruction and rebuilding is on BBC Parliament at 11.30pm tonight, repeated at 7pm on Sunday 15 May.

House of Commons Chamber destroyed

The Houses of Parliament were damaged by air raids on 14 different occasions during the Second World War. The raid on 10 May 1941 caused the most damage when the Commons Chamber was completely destroyed by fire that caused the ceiling to collapse. the roof of Westminster Hall's was also set on fire.

The image above shows the gutted Chamber, looking towards the Churchill Arch.

The glass in the Clock Tower's south dial was broken that same night by a small bomb. The Great Clock of Westminster was undamaged and Big Ben's chimes continued to be broadcast over the radio throughout the war.

Three people lost their lives at Parliament that night.

Find out more about the damage inflicted on the Palace of Westminster during the Second World War:

Fighting the blaze

As fire caused by incendiary bombs took hold it was clear it would not be possible to save both the Commons Chamber and Westminster Hall. A decision was made to concentrate efforts on saving the Hall, as the oldest part of the Palace.

Find out more about how Westminster Hall was rescued from destruction by fire:

Rebuilding the Chamber

While plans to rebuild the Commons Chamber were made and building work was carried out, the Commons sat briefly at Church House (Westminster). The Commons then moved to the House of Lords Chamber, while the Lords sat in the Robing Room.

A select committee set up to report on building plans recommended that the new Commons Chamber be rebuilt with all the essential features of the destroyed Chamber.

Sir Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister, made a plea for the bomb-damaged archway from Members Lobby into the Chamber to be retained as a reminder for future generations. His plea was heard and the archway remains today and is known as the Churchill Arch.

Read Churchill's speech and follow the MPs' debate on rebuilding the Chamber:

The architect, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, was appointed to design the overall architectural scheme and interior for the new Chamber.

Gifts from the Commonweath

A variety of gifts were provided by each of the Commonwealth nations to furnish the new Chamber, including the Speaker's Chair and the despatch boxes.

The new Chamber's foundation stone was laid by Speaker Clifton Brown on 26 May 1948 and it was officially opened on 26 October 1950 by His Majesty King George VI and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.

Learn more about the Palace of Westminster's history and architecture in our Living Heritage section:

Image: Parliamentary copyright

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