Parliament Square in London
Surrounded by many famous and imposing buildings, including Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, Parliament Square’s bit of greenery offers sightseers and Westminster workers alike a chance to sit in the shade or sun (London weather permitting) and catch their breath.
For the tourist, Parliament Square provides a comfortable spot in which to consult the guide books as well as to look around at some of the lesser-known edifices and monuments that are found in Westminster.
The Square itself features statues of several prominent British and world statesmen including Winston Churchill, Benjamin Disraeli, Jan Christiaan Smuts, and Abraham Lincoln. Be forewarned: Parliament Square can also be a site for political rallies and peace demonstrations.
The Middlesex Guildhall, located on the southwest corner of the Square, may look medieval with its gargoyles and towers, but most of the building dates back only to the early 1900s. The building was designed by J. S. Gibson and includes relief sculptures by Henry Charles Fehr.
Having served as a location for the Middlesex County Council and for the Crown Court, the building is being renovated and will become the home of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.
St. Margaret’s Church
St. Margaret’s Church is often referred to as the “parish church of the House of Commons. “The portcullis, which is the symbol of the House of Commons, is found throughout the church. St. Margaret’s was consecrated in April 1523; although the church has undergone many restorations, it retains many of its Tudor features.
Methodist Central Hall Westminster
The nearby Methodist Central Hall Westminster opened in 1912. The fundraising and construction of the building were part of a larger effort to mark the centenary of the death of John Wesley, who was the leader of the Methodist movement. The building does not look like a church; that was one of the rules of the architectural competition from which Central Hall’s design was chosen. The Baroque style building (another contest rule stated that the design could not be Gothic) was the location of the first General Assembly of the United Nations in 1946.
As its inscription reads, the somber Cenotaph (the word means “empty tomb” inGreek) honors “The Glorious Dead” of World War I. The Cenotaph was built to commemorate the first anniversary of the Armistice that ended the Great War. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens to be a temporary monument built of wood and plaster, public reaction and support were so overwhelming that a permanent monument was created out of Portland stone and installed in 1920.
Each year a Remembrance Service is held at the Cenotaph on the Sunday nearest to November 11 to honor the British and Commonwealth men and women whohave lost their lives in military service.
Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms
The Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms are just north of Parliament Square. This once-secret underground facility was built in 1938 to provide a safe haven in the event of aerial bombardment. That bombardment, of course, came, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill held more than 100 cabinet meetings with his ministers and advisers here during World War II.The underground facilities, which include a map room and Churchill’s private bedroom, are shown as they looked during the war.
A museum dedicated to the life and times of Winston Churchill opened in 2005. This museum, which is still expanding, promises to document Churchill’s private as well as his public life.
Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill Museum
The Cabinet War Rooms and the Churchill Museum are operated by the Imperial War Museum, and a combined ticket gives you entry to both. A short walk from Parliament Square will take you to No. 10 Downing Street, the official home of the Prime Minister. Higher levels of security, recently enforced, may prevent you from venturing very close.
by Katie Calvert