When St Stephen's was first the meeting place of MPs, there's no indication that there was any public access at all to the chamber for anyone other than MPs. Some sources suggest that people gathered around the door to listen, but there wasn't any formal way for visitors to hear debates. This seems to have lasted through the sixteenth century. At some point, however, once the ceiling had been lowered to make it easier to hear, public access and a public gallery were added.
In 1647 the Commons felt they were being attacked by ‘riotous women' and ordered the Sergeant at Arms to remove all women ‘who clamour about the Houses, and speak any scandalous Words against the Parliament' and send them to prison. Clearly some women felt strongly about the wartime management of the Commons at a time when Parliament was fighting a war against the king, Charles I, and were able to make their presence felt at the doors.
In the eighteenth century, there are records of women being present in the public galleries, but there were efforts to exclude them and finally in the 1770s they were banned.
Women weren't allowed into the House of Commons in the nineteenth century. Unlike men, they could not watch the debates from the public gallery, as Charles Dickens did for the Morning Star newspaper in the 1830s. However, if they had one of twenty five tickets a day, they were allowed up into the attic and could listen around the ventilator with a highly restricted view. Visitors could only just about hear the speeches and might just catch a glimpse of a MP through the gaps and would probably only see his feet. Women thus were banished to the very edges of Parliament, hidden from view by the male MPs and visitors, not part of the process.
Last updated April 2017