Party, Politics and Religion
After Sir Christopher Wren's alterations in the 1690s it would have been hard to spot that the Commons was meeting in a former chapel, although the name of the building survived as a reminder of its former history.
St Stephen's saw the arrival of the party system to British politics with Robert Walpole, usually credited as the first Prime Minister. All the major parliamentary orators of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries spoke in St Stephen's, including the anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce and his great friend William Pitt. It was at St Stephen's that the slave trade was abolished in 1807 and the Great Reform Act was passed in 1832, which allowed more people than ever before to vote in elections.
Violence erupted in St Stephen's in 1812 when Spencer Perceval became the only British Prime Minster to be assassinated, shot dead in the lobby by bankrupt insurance broker John Bellingham.
Demands for reform began to focus on St Stephen's itself. The radical MP William Cobbett asked why the Commons were ‘squeezed into so small a space'. One shocked visitor compared the Commons to the Black Hole of Calcutta. The Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke in defence of the current chamber, apparently unconcerned that he had to sit on the floor during the debate.
The argument was taken out of their hands when a devastating fire destroyed St Stephen's in October 1834.
Find out more about how the medieval chapel was later adapted.
Last updated April 2017