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Top Attractions in Palace of Westminster

Old Palace Yard

Old Palace Yard is a paved open space in the City of Westminster in Central London, England. It lies between the Palace of Westminster to its north and east and Westminster Abbey to its west. It is known as the site of executions, including those of Sir Walter Raleigh, Guy Fawkes and other conspirators of the Gunpowder Plot, and James Hamilton, 1st Duke of Hamilton, following the Battle of Preston. St Margaret Street / Abingdon Street divides Old Palace Yard into two parts, running diagonally from the north-west to the south-east. The eastern, larger part belongs to the grounds of the Palace of Westminster, the seat of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. To the north of the Yard is St Stephens Entrance, the public entrance into the Palace, as well as the great South Window of Westminster Hall. A bronze equestrian statue of Richard Coeur de Lion stands nearby, facing away from the South Window. Created by Baron Carlo Marochetti, the statue was completed in 1856 and installed in its present location in 1860. The eastern side of Old Palace Yard is defined by the West Front of the Palace, which is part of the precincts of the House of Lords; the carriage porch of the Peers Entrance marks the middle of this frontage, and the Victoria Tower its southern end. Access to this part of Old Palace Yard is restricted for security reasons by means of concrete barriers. For most of the year it is used as a car park for the House of Lords, but it is cleared of barriers and street furniture for the annual State Opening of Parliament, the formal opening of the legislative session by the British monarch. Conveyed from Buckingham Palace to Parliament in a horse-drawn carriage, the monarch passes through the Yard en route to the Sovereigns Entrance, at the foot of the Victoria Tower. The western part of Old Palace Yard is freely accessible to the public. To its west are located the Henry VII Chapel and the Chapter House of Westminster Abbey, while to its south stands 6–7 Old Palace Yard, the sole survivor of the row of houses that used to surround the Yard. The building is now part of the Parliamentary Estate. Close by is a statue of King George V, made of Portland stone. Sculpted by Sir William Reid Dick and unveiled in 1947, it stands on a pedestal by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and faces the Peers Entrance of the Palace of Westminster. In 2002 an analemmatic sundial was fitted into the Yards pavement in front of the statue, as a gift to Queen Elizabeth II from Parliament on the occasion of her Golden Jubilee.

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 pressed into service at various times as a wine cellar, dining room for Speakers and stables for Oliver Cromwell's horses. After a fire had destroyed St Stephen's Chapel in 1834, it 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 census night, 2 April 1911, suffragette Emily Davison hid overnight in a cupboard in the Chapel in order to be entered on the census form for the building as a way of ensuring her address on the night of the census was recorded as the House of Commons in claiming political equality with men. A commemorative plaque, unveiled by Tony Benn in 1999, is fixed to the cupboard. It is still used for worship purposes 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 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, Revd. 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 honour was also accorded for the body of Tony Benn, the long serving Labour politician, before his funeral in March 2014.

Richard Coeur de Lion

Richard Coeur de Lion is a Grade II listed equestrian statue of the 12th-century English monarch Richard I, also known as Richard the Lionheart, who reigned from 1189–99. It stands on a granite pedestal in Old Palace Yard outside the Palace of Westminster, facing south towards the entrance to the House of Lords. It was created by Baron Carlo Marochetti, an Italian sculptor whose works were popular with European royals and the nobility, though often less well regarded by critics and the artistic establishment. The statue was first produced in clay and displayed at The Great Exhibition in 1851, where it was located outside the west entrance to the Crystal Palace. It was well received at the time and two years later Queen Victoria and Prince Albert headed a list of illustrious subscribers to a fund that aimed to raise money for the casting of the statue in bronze. Although the money was duly raised and the bronze cast of the statue was finally completed in 1856, a lengthy dispute delayed its installation for several years. The original idea had been to erect the statue as a memorial to the Great Exhibition. This prompted opposition, as did proposals to place it outside Charles Barrys newly completed Palace of Westminster. Various other locations to display the statue were initially considered before agreement was reached that it would be placed in Old Palace Yard, Marochettis preferred location. It was installed in October 1860, though it was not until March 1867 that it was finally completed with the addition of bronze bas-reliefs on either side of the pedestal. The quality of the statues workmanship caused problems during its first half-century; the horses tail fell off the day after it was installed at the Great Exhibition, and forty years after its installation it was discovered to be riddled with holes and to have never been properly attached to its pedestal. It narrowly escaped destruction during the Second World War when a German bomb dropped during the Blitz landed a few metres away and peppered it with shrapnel. The pedestal and the horses tail were damaged and Richards sword was bent by the blast. In 2009, the Parliamentary authorities undertook a project to conserve and restore the statue.

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