The Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Westminster Bridge

Parliament Square is arguably the nerve centre of the nation. On one side of the square are the Houses of Parliament and on the other side lies Westminster Abbey. The buildings housing the Treasury, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence line Whitehall, the road leading north. Downing Street lies just off Whitehall and Buckingham Palace, the official residence of the monarch, is only half a mile to the west.

This page deals with the immediate environs of Parliament Square. Westminster was effectively founded here, on what was then a marshy island in the estuary of the river Tyburn, to the west of the old Roman walled city of London some time between 1042 and 1066. The monarch of the time, Edward the Confessor, built a monastery dedicated to St Peter, and adjacent to it on the banks of the Thames he began work on a royal palace (the Palace of Westminster). St Peter's monastery was rebuilt in 1245 by Henry III and has had many additions and renovations since then, but what we now know as Westminster Abbey is essentially the same structure. It is the scene of most the nation's greatest ceremonial occasions such as royal coronations and weddings, and is also the traditional burial place of past queens and kings as well as other prominent citizens.

The adjacent palace, the official residence of the Monarch up until the time of Henry VIII, was rebuilt by William the Conqueror soon after he defeated Edward the Confessor at Hastings in 1066. His son William added Westminster Hall, the oldest part of the present building still in existence, and probably one of Europe's largest and grandest structures at the time. The rest of the original palace grew up around it but was largely destroyed by fire in 1834. The present building, a very flamboyant Gothic structure, was built from a design by Charles Barry and August Pugin shortly afterwards, has a river frontage of some 850 meters and covers an area of eight acres. Parliament has sat here since around 1590. The present building houses two chambers, the House of Lords (the upper house, formerly of hereditary peers but now composed of elder statesmen and political appointees) in the south of the building and the House of Commons (the lower house, formed of elected MPs) in the northern half. To the north of the House of Commons is the 336 ft Clock Tower, known the world over as Big Ben, although this name properly applies to the bell which tolls the hour.

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The Palace of Westminster (a.k.a. the Houses of Parliament) in silhouette

Westminster Bridge is a nineteenth century replacement of the original bridge, which itself was erected in 1750 and was only the second bridge over the Thames; for nearly 1700 years previously the river's only crossing had been London Bridge two miles downstream. The original bridge, by Charles Labelye, was a handsome stone structure. The present bridge was constructed in 1862.

The Embankment from Westminster Bridge; the BA London Eye and County Hall;  the bridge

The BA London Eye and County Hall from Westminster Bridge

At present this page contains views from Westminster Bridge only, but other scenes will be added at a later date.

Back to City of Westminster index page

This page last updated 23rd October 2002