Pictures from the past

Queen Victoria at state opening.

A new parliamentary exhibition about the great fire of 1834, which destroyed the medieval Palace of Westminster includes some fascinating material - not least this view of Queen Victoria in procession at a State Opening, using Sir John Soane's now vanished processional route.

The route survived the Great Fire - Victoria did not take the throne until 1837 - but its classical splendour clearly didn't fit in with the Charles Barry's romantic gothic replacement building.

The Lord Chancellor leading the procession is probably Charles Christopher Pepys, 1st Earl of Cottenham, who served under the Whig Prime Ministers Lord Melbourne and Lord john Russell.

Soane reshaped the ramshackle complex of medieval and later buildings that formed the old Palace of Westminster in 1822. He created a new Library for the Commons and the logical and convenient processional route for the Sovereign in this picture. But, because of the Great Fire, his redesign, didn't last long enough to become imprinted on the public mind - and pictures of the blaze feature an almost completely unfamiliar set of buildings.

Besides that glimpse into a lost Westminster, there are some glimpses of the Painted Chamber, which was converted into a temporary chamber for the House of Lords after the fire. Its magnificent medieval wall-paintings were mostly concealed by whitewash, but a series of paintings show it in various incarnations - with the same configuration of medieval windows looming over its occupants. Equally striking are the pictures of the ruins - with the great gothic core of the old Palace revealed by the destruction of the timber buildings which had clustered around it. And you can see some of the pictures at the Parliamentary website.

Mark D'Arcy Article written by Mark D'Arcy Mark D'Arcy Parliamentary correspondent

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