Inside Parliament: What’s underneath Parliament?

Exploring Parliament

Central Lobby Basement – directly below Central Lobby, at the central point of the building, is a complex system of ventilation was designed to direct fresh air sucked down the Towers at either end of the Palace, up into the chambers above. During the Second World War this area was transformed into a munitions workshop. Set up in 1943, it was run under the direction of the Ministry of Supply, with volunteers recruited from Members, staff and their friends.

Machinery was installed here beneath Central Lobby and the passages radiating from this vault were used for stores, a paintshop, inspection and assembly shops and first aid. The workshop produced detonator holders for priming fuses and also parts for a predictor unit – a mechanical computer which provided firing angles for anti-aircraft guns. The canteen served up to 150 meals a day. Over two million shell fuse parts were inspected here and the technical skills of the volunteers were such that the workshop stayed open until the end of 1945 to complete a contract for oxygen supply in submarines.

In the early 20th century three basement chambers below the Palaces river front used to contain a complex system of air purification. Air was brought in through a series of vents and passed through water jets to be cooled and cleansed. If the air needed to be cooler still it then went through shelves stacked with ice followed by damp canvas sheets to remove any remaining smuts. During a real pea-souper London fog this air was then sent through an ingenious filter consisting of pads of cotton wool.

On the 5 November 1605 Guy Fawkes stood watch over 36 barrels of gunpowder he had concealed under bundles of firewood in the cellars. His intention was to blow up King James I and Parliament the following day, during the State Opening of Parliament. The Gunpowder Plot failed when, after a tip-off, Fawkes was arrested in the cellars. Contrary to popular belief, the current Palace basements are not the ones used by Guy Fawkes. This basement storeroom, shown above as the dark room beneath the throne in the House of Lords, was actually at ground level and was destroyed in 1822, following Sir John Soanes remodelling of the Palace. An official search of the basements by the Yeoman of the Guard still takes place every year on the morning of State Opening.

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All Illustrations – © Fun Kids. Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament.

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