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Great Britain

30 July 2020

Palace of Westminster

Great Britain: Palace of Westminster, 30 July 2020. Images from Royal Mail.

Technical Specifications:

Stamp format: Olympic landscape
Stamp size: 60mm x 30mm
Design: Steers McGillan Eves
Printer: International Security Printers
Print process: Lithography
Perforations: 14.5 x 14.5
Phosphor Bars: as appropriate
Gum: PVA

A collection of six Special Stamps commemorating 150 years since the rebuilding of the Palace of Westminster.

A set including images of this historic building’s ornate architecture and iconic features.

Three First Class stamps and three £1.68 stamps presented in two horizontal se-tenant strips.

First Class View from Old Palace Yard

The Palace of Westminster serves as the meeting place for both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Informally known as the Houses of Parliament after its occupants, the Palace lies on the north bank of the River Thames in the City of Westminster, in central London, England.

Its name, which derives from the neighboring Westminster Abbey, may refer to either of two structures: the Old Palace, a medieval building-complex destroyed by fire in 1834, or its replacement, the New Palace that stands today. The palace is owned by the monarch in right of the Crown and, for ceremonial purposes, retains its original status as a royal residence. Committees appointed by both houses manage the building and report to the Speaker of the House of Commons and to the Lord Speaker.

The first royal palace constructed on the site dated from the 11th century, and Westminster became the primary residence of the Kings of England until fire destroyed much of the complex in 1512. After that, it served as the home of the Parliament of England, which had met there since the 13th century, and also as the seat of the Royal Courts of Justice, based in and around Westminster Hall. In 1834 an even greater fire ravaged the heavily rebuilt Houses of Parliament, and the only significant medieval structures to survive were Westminster Hall, the Cloisters of St Stephen’s, the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft, and the Jewel Tower.

First Class River Thames view

In the subsequent competition for the reconstruction of the Palace, the architect Charles Barry won with a design for new buildings in the Gothic Revival style, specifically inspired by the English Perpendicular Gothic style of the 14th–16th centuries. The remains of the Old Palace (except the detached Jewel Tower) were incorporated into its much larger replacement, which contains over 1,100 rooms organized symmetrically around two series of courtyards and which has a floor area of 112,476 ² (1,210,680 sq ft). Part of the New Palace’s area of 3.24 hectares (8 acres) was reclaimed from the River Thames, which is the setting of its nearly 300-metre long (980 ft) façade, called the River Front. Augustus Pugin, a leading authority on Gothic architecture and style, assisted Barry and designed the interior of the Palace. Construction started in 1840 and lasted for 30 years, suffering great delays and cost overruns, as well as the death of both leading architects; works for the interior decoration continued intermittently well into the 20th century. Major conservation work has taken place since then to reverse the effects of London’s air pollution, and extensive repairs followed the Second World War, including the reconstruction of the Commons Chamber following its bombing in 1941.

The Palace is one of the centers of political life in the United Kingdom; “Westminster” has become a metonym for the UK Parliament and the British Government, and the Westminster system of government commemorates the name of the palace. Tsar Nicholas I of Russia called the new palace “a dream in stone”. The Palace of Westminster has been a Grade I listed building since 1970 and part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987.

First Class Elizabeth Tower

The Palace of Westminster has three main towers. The Elizabeth Tower, often referred to by the name of its main bell, Big Ben, has become an iconic landmark of London and of the United Kingdom in general, one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city, and an emblem of parliamentary democracy. It rises at the north end of the Palace. At 96 metres (315 ft), it is only slightly shorter than Victoria Tower but much slimmer. Originally known simply as the Clock Tower (the name Elizabeth Tower was conferred on it in 2012 to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II), it houses the Great Clock of Westminster, built by Edward John Dent on designs by amateur horologist Edmund Beckett Denison.

Striking the hour to within a second of the time, the Great Clock achieved standards of accuracy considered impossible by 19th-century clockmakers, and it has remained consistently reliable since it entered service in 1859. The time is shown on four dials 7 metres (23 ft) in diameter, which are made of milk glass and are lit from behind at night; the hour hand is 2.7 metres (8 ft 10 in) long and the minute hand 4.3 metres (14 ft). The Clock Tower was designed by Augustus Pugin and built after his death. Charles Barry asked Pugin to design the clock tower because Pugin had previously helped Barry design the Palace. In the 2012 BBC Four documentary, Richard Taylor gives a description of Pugin’s Clock Tower: “It rises up from the ground in this stately rhythm, higher and higher, before you reach the clock face, picked out as a giant rose, its petals fringed with gold. Medieval windows above that and then it hits the grey cast iron roof, its greyness relieved by those delicate little windows again picked out in gold leaf. And then rises up again in a great jet of gold to the higher roof that curves gracefully upwards to a spire with a crown and flowers and a cross. It’s elegant and grand and has fairy tale qualities.”

Five bells hang in the belfry above the clock. The four quarter bells strike the Westminster Chimes every quarter-hour. The largest bell strikes the hours; officially called The Great Bell of Westminster, it is generally referred to as Big Ben, a nickname of uncertain origins which, over time, has been colloquially applied to the whole tower. The first bell to bear this name cracked during testing and was recast; the present bell later developed a crack of its own, which gives it a distinctive sound. It is the third-heaviest bell in Britain, weighing 13.8 tonnes. In the lantern at the top of Elizabeth Tower is the Ayrton Light, which is lit when either House of Parliament is sitting after dark. It was installed in 1885 at the request of Queen Victoria — so that she could see from Buckingham Palace whether the members were “at work” — and named after Acton Smee Ayrton, who was First Commissioner of Works in the 1870s.

£1.68 Commons Chamber

The Chamber of the House of Commons is at the northern end of the Palace of Westminster; it was opened in 1950 after the Victorian chamber had been destroyed in 1941 and re-built under the architect Giles Gilbert Scott. The Chamber measures 14 by 20.7 metres (46 by 68 ft) and is plainer in style than the Lords Chamber; the benches, as well as other furnishings in the Commons side of the Palace, are coloured green. Members of the public are forbidden to sit on the benches. Other parliaments in Commonwealth nations, including those of India, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, have copied the colour scheme under which the Lower House is associated with green, and the Upper House with red.

At the north end of the Chamber is the Speaker’s Chair, a present to Parliament from the Commonwealth of Australia. The current British Speaker’s Chair is an exact copy of the Speaker’s Chair given to Australia, by the House of Commons, to celebrate the opening of Old Parliament House, Canberra. In front of the Speaker’s Chair is the Table of the House, at which the clerks sit, and on which is placed the Commons’ ceremonial mace. The Table was a gift from Canada. The dispatch boxes, which front-bench Members of Parliament (MPs) often lean on or rest notes on during Questions and speeches, are a gift from New Zealand. There are green benches on either side of the House; members of the Government party occupy benches on the Speaker’s right, while those of the Opposition occupy benches on the Speaker’s left. There are no cross-benches as in the House of Lords. The Chamber is relatively small, and can accommodate only 427 of the 650 Members of Parliament — during Prime Minister’s Questions and in major debates MPs stand at either end of the House.

By tradition, the British Sovereign does not enter the Chamber of the House of Commons. The last monarch to do so was King Charles I, in 1642. The King sought to arrest five Members of Parliament on charges of high treason, but when he asked the Speaker, William Lenthall, if he had any knowledge of the whereabouts of these individuals, Lenthall famously replied: “May it please your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here.” Since then, in the State Opening of Parliament, when Black Rod representing the monarch approaches the doors to the chamber of the House of Commons to make the summons, the doors are pointedly slammed in his or her face. Black Rod has to strike the door three times with a staff, to be admitted and issue the summons from the monarch to the MPs to attend. When repairs after the World War II bombing were completed, the rebuilt chamber was opened by King George VI on 26 October 1950 who was invited to an “unofficial” tour of the new structure by Commons leaders.

The two red lines on the floor of the House of Commons are 2.5 metres (8 ft 2 in) apart, which, by apocryphal tradition, is intended to be just over two sword-lengths. It is said that the original purpose of this was to prevent disputes in the House from degenerating into duels. However, there is no record of a time when Members of Parliament were allowed to bring swords into the Chamber; historically only the Serjeant at Arms has been allowed to carry a sword as a symbol of their role in Parliament, plus Black Rod when summoning the Commons to the Lords, and there are loops of pink ribbon in the Members’ cloakroom for MPs to hang up their swords before entering the Chamber. In the days when gentlemen carried swords, there were no lines in the Chamber. Protocol dictates that MPs may not cross these lines when speaking; a Member of Parliament who violates this convention will be lambasted by opposition Members.

£1.68 Central Lobby

Originally named “Octagon Hall” because of its shape, the Central Lobby is the heart of the Palace of Westminster. It lies directly below the Central Tower and forms a busy crossroads between the House of Lords to the south, the House of Commons to the north, St Stephen’s Hall and the public entrance to the west, and the Lower Waiting Hall and the libraries to the east. Its location halfway between the two debating chambers has led constitutional theorist Erskine May to describe the Lobby as “the political centre of the British Empire”, and allows a person standing under the great chandelier to see both the Royal Throne and the Speaker’s Chair, provided that all the intervening doors are open. Constituents may meet their Members of Parliament here, even without an appointment, and this practice is the origin of the term lobbying. The hall is also the theatre of the Speaker’s Procession, which passes from here on its way to the Commons Chamber before every sitting of the House.

The Central Lobby measures 18 metres (59 ft) across and 23 metres (75 ft) from the floor to the centre of the vaulted ceiling. The panels between the vault’s ribs are covered with Venetian glass mosaic displaying floral emblems and heraldic badges, and the bosses in the intersections of the ribs are also carved into heraldic symbols. Each wall of the Lobby is contained in an arch ornamented with statues of English and Scottish monarchs; on four sides there are doorways, and the tympana above them are adorned with mosaics representing the patron saints of the United Kingdom’s constituent nations: Saint George for England, Saint Andrew for Scotland, Saint David for Wales and Saint Patrick for Ireland. The other four arches are occupied by high windows, under which there are stone screens—the hall’s post office, one of two in the Palace, is located behind one of these screens. In front of them stand four bigger-than-life statues of 19th-century statesmen, including one of four-time Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone. The floor on which they stand is tiled with Minton encaustic tiles in intricate patterns and includes a passage from Psalm 127 written in Latin, which translates as follows: “Except the Lord build the House their labour is but lost that build it”.

The East Corridor leads from the Central Lobby to the Lower Waiting Hall, and its six panels remained blank until 1910, when they were filled with scenes from Tudor history. They were all paid for by Liberal peers and each was the work of a different artist, but uniformity was achieved between the frescoes thanks to a common colour palette of red, black and gold and a uniform height for the depicted characters. One of the scenes is probably not historical: Plucking the Red and White Roses in the Old Temple Gardens, depicting the origin of these flowers as emblems of the Houses of Lancaster and York respectively, was taken from Shakespeare’s play Henry VI, Part 1.

£1.68 Lords Chamber

The Chamber of the House of Lords is located in the southern part of the Palace of Westminster. The lavishly decorated room measures 13.7 by 24.4 metres (45 by 80 ft). The benches in the Chamber, as well as other furnishings in the Lords’ side of the Palace, are coloured red. The upper part of the Chamber is decorated by stained glass windows and by six allegorical frescoes representing religion, chivalry and law.

At the south end of the Chamber are the ornate gold Canopy and Throne; although the Sovereign may theoretically occupy the Throne during any sitting, he or she attends only the State Opening of Parliament. Other members of the Royal Family who attend the State Opening use Chairs of State next to the Throne, and peers’ sons are always entitled to sit on the steps of the Throne. In front of the Throne is the Woolsack, an armless red cushion stuffed with wool, representing the historical importance of the wool trade, and used by the officer presiding over the House (the Lord Speaker since 2006, but historically the Lord Chancellor or a deputy). The House’s mace, which represents royal authority, is placed on the back of the Woolsack. In front of the Woolsack is the Judges’ Woolsack, a larger red cushion that used to be occupied during the State Opening by the Law Lords (who were members of the House of Lords), and prospectively by the Supreme Court Justices and other Judges (whether or not members), to represent the Judicial Branch of Government. The Table of the House, at which the clerks sit, is in front.

Members of the House occupy red benches on three sides of the Chamber. The benches on the Lord Speaker’s right form the Spiritual Side and those to his left form the Temporal Side. The Lords Spiritual (archbishops and bishops of the established Church of England) all occupy the Spiritual Side. The Lords Temporal (nobles) sit according to party affiliation: members of the Government party sit on the Spiritual Side, while those of the Opposition sit on the Temporal Side. Some peers, who have no party affiliation, sit on the benches in the middle of the House opposite the Woolsack; they are accordingly known as crossbenchers.

The Lords Chamber is the site of nationally televised ceremonies, the most important of which is the State Opening of Parliament, which is held formally to open each annual parliamentary session, either after a General Election or in the autumn. At this occasion every constitutional element of the government is represented: the Crown (both literally, and figuratively in the person of the Sovereign), The Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and The Commons, (who together form the Legislature), the Judiciary (although no judges are members of either House of Parliament), and the Executive (both Government Ministers, and ceremonial military units in attendance on the Sovereign); and a large number of guests are invited to attend in the large Royal Gallery immediately outside the Chamber. The Sovereign, seated on the Throne, delivers the Speech from the Throne, outlining the Government’s programme for the year and legislative agenda for the forthcoming parliamentary session. The Commons may not enter the Lords’ debating floor; instead, they watch the proceedings from beyond the Bar of the House, just inside the door. A small purely formal ceremony is held to end each parliamentary session, when the Sovereign is merely represented by a group of Lords Commissioners.

Following the Blitz, which destroyed the chamber of the House of Commons, the Lords’ chamber was occupied by the Commons. The Lords temporarily used the Robing Room during the reconstruction. The State Opening Of Parliament was carried out as normal, with the new rooms being used. Evidence can still be seen of this today, with damage clearly visible on one of the doors where they were struck by Black Rod.


Sheets:


Miniature Sheet:

Technical Specifications:

Stamp format: Square
Stamp size: 34.7mm x 34.7mm
Design: Steers McGillan Eves
Printer: International Security Printers
Print process: Lithography
Perforations: 14.5 x 14.5
Phosphor Bars: as appropriate
Gum: PVA

Four stamps including interior views of the spectacular architecture and design of the Palace of Westminster.

The stamps are set within a drawing by the architect Charles Barry who won the competition to rebuild the Palace of Westminster in 1836.

Includes two First Class stamps and two £1.63 stamps.

First Class Norman Porch

The grandest entrance to the Palace of Westminster is the Sovereign’s Entrance beneath the Victoria Tower. It was designed for the use of the monarch, who travels from Buckingham Palace by carriage every year for the State Opening of Parliament. The Imperial State Crown, which is worn by the sovereign for the ceremony, as well as the Cap of Maintenance and the Sword of State, which are symbols of royal authority and are borne before the monarch during the procession, also travel to the Palace by coach, accompanied by members of the Royal Household; the regalia, as they are collectively known, arrive some time before the monarch and are exhibited in the Royal Gallery until they are needed. The Sovereign’s Entrance is also the formal entrance used by visiting dignitaries, as well as the starting point of public tours of the Palace.

From there, the Royal Staircase leads up to the principal floor with a broad, unbroken flight of 26 steps made of grey granite. It is lined on state occasions by sword-wielding troopers of the two regiments of the Household Cavalry, the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals; these are the only troops allowed to bear arms inside the Palace of Westminster, which officially remains a royal residence.

The staircase is followed by the Norman Porch, a square landing distinguished by its central clustered column and the intricate ceiling it supports, which is made up of four groin vaults with lierne ribs and carved bosses. The Porch was named for its proposed decorative scheme, based on Norman history. In the event, neither the planned statues of Norman kings nor the frescoes were executed, and only the stained-glass window portraying Edward the Confessor hints at this theme. Queen Victoria is depicted twice in the room: as a young woman in the other stained-glass window, and near the end of her life, sitting on the throne of the House of Lords, in a copy of a 1900 painting by Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant which hangs on the eastern wall. The sixteen plinths intended for the statues now house busts of prime ministers who have sat in the House of Lords, such as the Earl Grey and the Marquess of Salisbury. A double door opposite the stairs leads to the Royal Gallery, and another to the right opens to the Robing Room.

First Class Chapel of St Mary Undercroft

The Chapel of St Mary Undercroft is a Church of England chapel in the Palace of Westminster. It had been a crypt below St Stephen’s Chapel and had fallen into disuse, being used at various times as a wine cellar, dining room for Speakers (who had holes bored into the wall to accommodate two kitchen chimneys) and (now unconfirmed by records) stables for Oliver Cromwell’s horses.

After a fire had destroyed St Stephen’s Chapel in 1834, the undercroft returned to its former use as a place of worship. Although much stonework was damaged in the fire, it was decorated in the 1860s by Edward Middleton Barry with gilded, painted and stenciled designs in rich colours to cover the walls, floor and vaulting. The backdrop of the altar depicts royal British saints.

On the census night of 2 April 1911, suffragette Emily Davison hid in a cupboard overnight in the Chapel in order to be entered on the census form for the building as a way of ensuring her address was recorded as the House of Commons. A commemorative plaque, unveiled by Tony Benn in 1999, is fixed to the cupboard.

It is still used for worship today. In particular, children of peers, who possess the title of “The Honourable”, have the privilege of being able to use it as a wedding venue. In addition, members of Parliament and peers have the right to use the chapel as a place of christening in the baptistery and font (whose basin was made from a single slab of alabaster) designed by Barry.

It is a Royal Peculiar chapel – outside the responsibility of any diocesan bishop. The building is administered through the Lord Great Chamberlain and Black Rod and it has no dedicated clergy: by convention services were conducted by the Rector of St Margaret’s, Westminster, a member of the Chapter of Westminster Abbey. In 2010 the Speaker of the House of Commons used his right of appointment to nominate an outsider, Rev’d Rose Hudson-Wilkin, as the Speaker’s Chaplain.

The body of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was kept in St Mary Undercroft on the night before her funeral in April 2013. The honor was also accorded for the body of Tony Benn, the long-serving Labour politician, before his funeral in March 2014, as well as that of PC Keith Palmer who was fatally stabbed carrying out his duties on the palace grounds during the 2017 Westminster attack.

£1.63 St Stephen’s Hall

St Stephen’s Chapel, sometimes called the Royal Chapel of St Stephen, was a chapel in the old Palace of Westminster which served as the chamber of the House of Commons of England and that of Great Britain from 1547 to 1834. It was largely destroyed in the fire of 1834, but the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft in the crypt survived.

The present-day St Stephen’s Hall and its porch, which are within the new Palace of Westminster built in the 19th century, stand on exactly the same site and are today accessed through the St Stephen’s Entrance, the public entrance of the House of Commons.

The fire of 1834 totally destroyed the main body of the chapel, with the crypt below, and the adjoining cloisters, barely surviving. Amongst the few furnishings rescued from the flames was the Table of the House, which is now kept in the Speaker’s apartments at the palace. Although it was demolished shortly after the fire, the surviving stone shell of the chapel, with all its later additions burned away, attracted many visitors and antiquaries who came to view the original medieval decorations which had become visible once again. The historical importance of the chapel was realized in the design of the new palace in the form of St Stephen’s Hall, the lavishly decorated main public entrance hall built on the same floor plan as the old chapel, with the position of the Speaker’s chair marked out on the floor.

The crypt below St Stephen’s Hall, the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft, which had fallen into disuse some time before the fire and had seen a number of uses, was restored, and returned to its original use as a place of worship. It is still used for this purpose today. Children of peers, who possess the style of “The Honourable”, have the privilege of being able to use it as a wedding venue. Members of Parliament and peers have the right to use the chapel as a place of christening.

£1.63 Royal Gallery

Immediately north of the Robing Room is the Royal Gallery. At 33.5 by 13.7 metres (110 by 45 ft), it is one of the largest rooms in the Palace. Its main purpose is to serve as the stage of the royal procession at State Openings of Parliament, which the audience watch from temporary tiered seating on both sides of the route. It has also been used on occasion by visiting statesmen from abroad when addressing both Houses of Parliament, as well as for receptions in honour of foreign dignitaries, and more regularly for the Lord Chancellor’s Breakfast; in the past it was the theatre of several trials of peers by the House of Lords. Documents from the Parliamentary Archives are on display in the Royal Gallery (including a facsimile of Charles I’s death warrant), and the tables and seating offer a workspace for members of the Lords that is conveniently close to their debating chamber.

The decorative scheme of the Royal Gallery was meant to display important moments in British military history, and the walls are decorated by two large paintings by Daniel Maclise, each measuring 13.7 by 3.7 metres (45 by 12 ft): The Death of Nelson (depicting Lord Nelson’s demise at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805) and The Meeting of Wellington and Blücher after the Battle of Waterloo (showing the Duke of Wellington meeting Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815). The murals deteriorated rapidly after their completion due to a range of factors, most importantly atmospheric pollution, and today they are almost monochrome. The rest of the planned frescos were cancelled, and the walls are filled with portraits of kings and queens from George I onwards. Another decorative element with military undertones are the eight statues of gilded Caen stone that flank the three doorways and the bay window of the Gallery, sculpted by John Birnie Philip. Each depicts a monarch during whose reign a key battle or war took place. They are: Alfred the Great and William the Conqueror; Richard I and Edward III; Henry V and Elizabeth I; William III and Anne. The paneled ceiling, 13.7 metres (45 ft) above the floor, features Tudor roses and lions, and the stained-glass windows show the coats of arms of the Kings of England and Scotland.


Presentation Pack:

A compendium of stamps, stories and images sharing the history of one of the world’s most important and recognisable landmarks.

Author and former Palace of Westminster assistant curator Dr Jacqueline Riding explores key areas and reveals how the design and rebuild of the Palace in the aftermath of the 1834 fire introduced architectural features that remain 150 years later.

Your fact-packed fold-out souvenir includes all six Special Stamps and the Miniature Sheet.


First Day Covers:

A unique collectible commemorating 150 years since the rebuilding of the Palace of Westminster was completed.

The London SW1 postmark references the Palace of Westminster’s location and includes an illustration of the Elizabeth Tower clock face displaying the time the clock stopped for the first and only ever major breakdown at 3.45am on 5th August 1976.

The illustrated information card contains a brief history of one of the world’s most famous and significant buildings.

Your First Day envelope features the collection’s title set against a pattern from wallpaper that lines one of the Palace of Westminster’s rooms.

Three First Class stamps and three £1.68 stamps presented in two horizontal se-tenant strips.

As a result of Covid-19 and the restrictions that were placed on individuals’ movements, Royal Mail took the decision at the end of March to extend its postmarking facilities for all Special Stamp issues until further notice. We promised that we would announce at the appropriate time when this extension would end and give customers sufficient notice of the cut-off period for accepting covers retrospectively. With these restrictions now being gradually eased throughout the UK we will revert to the normal postmarking rules from Thursday, 1st October. This means that the Palace of Wesminster Royal Mail First Day Covers will come off sale at midnight on that day.


PHQ Cards:

A collection of 11 postcards featuring enlarged images of all six Special Stamps and the four Miniature Sheet stamps – plus the composite Miniature Sheet.

The Palace of Westminster’s most impressive and iconic features are brought to life in rich detail.

Perfect for collecting, framing or sending as postcards.

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