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A purpose-built home

When the medieval Palace of Westminster burned down in 1834, the Government competition for its rebuilding stipulated that the new building should contain fireproof repositories for papers and documents.

The prize-winning design submitted by the architect Charles Barry had as its culminating feature a tower over the Royal Entrance, in which every storey included record rooms. The Tower was originally named the King's Tower after William IV. The draughtsman Augustus Welby Pugin produced most of the architectural designs and elevations for the project and also its interior design.

A record-breaking Tower

The first stone of the Tower was laid on 22 December 1843. The proposed height of the Tower was about 200ft in Barry's original plan, but the height of the tower steadily increased during its construction.

In 1860, when the wrought iron flagstaff (itself 22.3m, or 73ft high) was at last put into position, the Tower was proclaimed not only as "the grandest feature of the building", but also the largest and highest square tower in the world. It soared 98m (323ft) to the base of its flagstaff and 120m (395ft) to the top of the crown at its summit, and was renamed the Victoria Tower.

Winding turret staircase

The Tower was approached by a winding turret staircase of 100 steps, which led from the bottom floor over the State entrance. From there, a remarkable cast-iron spiral staircase of 553 steps linked 12 floors, and on most of the floors there were eight strong rooms with heavy iron doors - accommodation so ample at that time for the Parliamentary records that, at one stage, the Tower was even intended to hold the principal collections of the Public Record Office. The records were gradually installed in these rooms from 1860 onwards following the Tower's completion.


You can access a biography of

Charles Barry

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.