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Tickets go on sale for tours of Speaker’s House

14 July 2022

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A special display marking 30 years since Betty Boothroyd became the first female Speaker of the House of Commons will feature in tours of a rarely seen part of the Palace of Westminster. 

Tickets go on sale today [Thursday, 14 July] for only the second time for visitors to see the magnificent State Apartments of Speaker’s House, which for over 160 years played host to Royalty and Heads of State.  

During the tours, history, art and politics enthusiasts will be able to view a unique set of 46 portraits of recent and past Speakers dating back to the 16th Century. 

Among them is a full-size painting of Baroness Boothroyd, who was elected as the first and only female Speaker in April 1992, alongside a display of her Speaker’s robe and archive photographs marking her eight years in the role. 

Current Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, said he was "an absolute fan’ of his predecessor and ‘wanted everyone to know how much she has achieved". 

"To be the first woman Speaker was truly ground-breaking and Betty Boothroyd certainly broke that glass ceiling with panache," he said. 

"Her election 30 years ago was historic, which is why it is important we celebrate that moment, which came with her characteristic no-nonsense style, humorous reprimands and complete command and respect of the House."

Some 2,400 tickets will go on sale for £18 - £10 for 16-24 year-olds - via this link at 1030 on 14 July. The tours run Monday to Saturday between 24 September to 15 October. 

Visitors will hear amusing anecdotes about how the State Bed went missing – and was found – after the Second World War; that a cheeky note by a workman was discovered behind the portrait of Speaker Charles Shaw-Lefevre - and it took so long to finish Speaker’s House after the great fire of 1834, that the architect of the Palace, Charles Barry, was not allowed to create the interiors, and it largely went to a different designer instead.   

Sir Lindsay said: "The beauty of the State Apartments really takes your breath away – not only because of the architecture, or the intricate wood carvings and panelling, but because of the history it represents.  

"The walls are adorned with the only images we have of my predecessor Speakers – the largest collection of its kind in the world – and there are so many stories about the people who visited here.  

"Previously these amazing rooms were only used in a limited way for state occasions, or functions involving MPs and charities. As soon as I could, I asked for Speaker’s House to be opened up so everyone has the chance to see this important part of our House of Commons history."

The 75-minute tour will take in:  

  • A huge painting on the Grand Staircase showing William Lenthall and his family – the brave Speaker famed for defying King Charles I in January 1642. 
  • A full-length portrait of Arthur Onslow – the longest serving Speaker - who was in office between 1728-1761. 
  • A Perpendicular fan-vaulted cloister, which was modelled on the surviving early 16th century cloister between Westminster Hall and the former St Stephen’s Chapel. 
  • The State Dining Room, which recently played host to Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, has also welcomed Royals, including the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, former Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Nancy Astor, the first woman seated as an MP. Other visitors to Speaker’s House included: Japan’s Crown Prince Hirohito, Italian PM Benito Mussolini, and Indian political leader Mahatma Gandhi. 
  • The Speaker’s study where Urgent Questions are selected by Mr Speaker, his Deputies and Clerks of the House.  
  • The full-length mirror that is borrowed for use by HM The Queen when she gets ready for the State Opening of Parliament. 
  • The role of the Speaker has existed since at least 1377 and has a long history of evolving responsibilities and traditions. 
  • The Speaker’s main purpose is to chair debates in the House of Commons Chamber, but his other role is to champion the rights of backbenchers and to represent the House of Commons in the wider world.