13 – 19 November 2017

5 things you probably didn’t know about Parliament

30 Apr 2015

By Gary Hart, Houses of Parliament Outreach Officer

An irreverent look at some entries from Parliament’s cabinet of curiosities

1. The Mace

HoC Mace

The Mace is carried into the House of Commons Chamber before each day’s sitting by the Serjeant at Arms. It was made in 1660 during the reign of Charles II. During dissolution (the end of a parliament) and prorogation (the end of a parliamentary session), the Serjeant at Arms returns the Mace to the Jewel Tower at the Tower of London and reverts to being a member of the Royal Household, rather than serving the Commons.

2. The cellars

checking the cellar

The cellars under the House of Lords are searched every year before the State Opening of Parliament – a legacy of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot, when conspirators attempted to blow up the King at the State Opening on 5 November 1605.

3. Emily Wilding Davison hides in a cupboard

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Emily Wilding Davison was a prominent suffragette. She hid overnight in the House of Commons so she could legitimately use it for her address during the 1911 census. Astonishingly, she was successful and was recorded on the census as being “found hiding in the crypt of Westminster Hall since Saturday”. In 1991 a plaque to commemorate the event was set in place by Tony Benn MP.

4. The whips

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The term ‘whip’ within Parliament refers to MPs responsible for parliamentary organisation and discipline. It has its roots in the 18th century hunting terminology ‘whipper-in’. It refers to a huntsman’s assistant who drives straying hounds back to the main pack using a whip.

5. Traffic lights exploding

taffic lights                                                                                                                               Image: J D Mack

The first ever traffic lights in the UK were installed in Parliament Square in 1868. Consisting of rotating green and red lanterns, it was a less-than-successful precedent as they exploded less than a year later injuring the police officer who was operating them.

The Parliamentary Outreach team promotes public understanding and involvement in the work of the Houses of Parliament. If you would like more information get in touch: parliamentaryoutreach@parliament.uk