Burning of Parliament

Burning of Parliament

Over the course of history there have been a number of parliament buildings engulfed by flames.

The United Kingdom Parliament

The 1834 Fire

The Palace of Westminster which houses the Parliament of the United Kingdom burned in 1834. The fire was caused by the destruction of tally sticks. The account of this event is due to the English novelist Charles Dickens, as described in a book by Tobias Dantzig. Speaking at a conference on governmental reform, Dickens told how counting devices destroyed "the halls of government". Long before Dickens' time, literate clerks of the Exchequer ceased to use tally sticks. In 1724, treasury officials commanded that tallies no longer be used, but they long remained valid.

Said Dickens:

:"... it took until 1826 to get these sticks abolished. In 1834 ... there was a considerable accumulation of them. ... [W] hat was to be done with such worn-out worm-eaten, rotten old bits of wood? The sticks were housed in Westminster, and it would naturally occur to any intelligent person that nothing could be easier than to allow them to be carried away for firewood by the miserable people who lived in that neighborhood. However [the sticks were no longer] useful and official routine required that they never should be, and so the order went out that they should be privately and confidentially burned. It came to pass that they were burned in a stove in the House of Lords. The stove, overgorged with these preposterous sticks, set fire to the panelling; the panelling set fire to the House of Commons; the two houses [of government] were reduced to ashes; architects were called in to build others; and we are now in the second million of the cost thereof."

The Palace of Westminster was rebuilt according to a design by Sir Charles Barry with neo-Gothic detailing by A.W.N. Pugin. It was opened in 1844. Though Dickens deplored the cost, the building is among the most familiar landmarks of London.

The English landscape painter, J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851), painted the burning of the Palace of Westminster from memory, having witnessed it firsthand.

The 1941 Fire

The Palace of Westminster was again badly damaged by fire during the London Blitz on the night of May 10 1941. During the air raid that night, German bombers attacked London with incendiary bombs, several of which set the Commons Chamber alight. The ensuing fire destroyed the interior and collapsed the roof, causing massive internal damage to the building, as well as killing three staff. Other areas were also badly hit, but the Lords Chamber and Westminster Hall survived with only slight damage. The building would also be damaged to a lesser degree on fourteen other occasions in the Second World War, the last coming in July 1944. The rebuilt Commons Chamber was based on the design of the old chamber, and was completed in 1950 by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.


* Number, the language of science, Tobias Dantzig, Free Press, New York, 1967.
* [http://www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_publications_and_archives/parliamentary_archives/archives___d_day.cfm Parliamentary Publications Archives]


Canada has lost two Parliament buildings. In the 1849 Montreal Riots, an angry mob torched the parliament buildings located in Montreal. In 1916 an accidental fire consumed the parliament buildings in Ottawa.


The 1933 Reichstag fire was a pivotal event in the establishment of Nazi Germany.


Christiansborg Castle, home of the Danish parliament (Folketinget), has burned several times, the last being in 1884.

In fiction

In the film and original graphic novel "V for Vendetta", the main character, V, blows up and burns down Parliament to accomplish what Guy Fawkes had attempted.

ee also

*Guy Fawkes - who failed to blow up the British Houses of Parliament in 1605, but is still commemorated each year with bonfires.
*List of historic fires
* [http://www.guardian.co.uk/fromthearchive/story/0,,1924922,00.html Manchester Guardian Report] on the 1834 fire at Westminster.

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