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Surviving the 1834 fire

On the night of 16 October 1834, almost all the records of the House of Commons (with the vital exception of the Commons Journals) were destroyed in the €˜tally stack€™ fire which left most of the Palace of Westminster a smoking ruin.

Lords archive survives fire

However, the archive of the House of Lords survived the fire. This was in part due to the isolated position of the Jewel Tower where the main series of records had been preserved, but also in part owing to the efforts of a Lords clerk, Henry Stone Smith, who threw out of the blazing windows of the main building into Old Palace Yard many hundreds of bundles of other Lords papers that had not been transferred to the Jewel Tower.

For several decades after the fire, these bundles of records led a confused existence, virtually forgotten by those outside the Parliament Office. But from 1860 onwards, once work on the Victoria Tower had been completed, the records of the House of Lords were gradually transferred into its purpose-built repository rooms.

Royal Commission reports

In 1870, the newly-formed Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts began to issue regular reports on private collections of historical records. In these reports, the commissioners drew attention to the extent and variety of manuscripts preserved in the House of Lords, and emphasised their value and historical interest.

Their first report brought to light a packet of letters which had been abandoned by Charles I at the battle of Naseby, the "annexed" Book of Common Prayer of 1662, the Declaration of Breda, and other "public muniments" which had "just been untombed from this mausoleum of historical remains" (as Thomas Duffus Hardy and his fellow commissioners described it).

The succeeding reports of the commissioners, continued from 1900 onwards by calendars published by the House of Lords itself, presented researchers with rich catalogues of then almost unknown material.

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The archives' current home, The Victoria Tower, was built after the fire of 1834. It was the first, and only, purpose-built home of the Parliamentary Archives.