Westminster Palace, Westminster Abbey 
and St Margaret's Church (1987)
Great Britain

Back to index

Rebuilt starting in 1840 around striking medieval remains, Westminster Palace is an eminent example, coherent and complete, of the neo-Gothic style. With the small medieval church of Saint Margaret, built in a perpendicular Gothic style, and the prestigious Westminster Abbey, where all the sovereigns since the 11th century have been crowned, the historic and symbolic significance of this site is unmistakable. 

The Palace of Westminster was the principal residence of the kings of England from the middle of the 11th century until 1512. In medieval times kings summoned their courts wherever they happened to be. But by the end of the 14th century the court in all its aspects - administrative, judicial and parliamentary - had its headquarters at Westminster. 

Great Britain 1973. World Cultural Heritage. Westminster Palace seen from Millbank by night. Great Britain 1973. World Cultural Heritage. Westminster Palace seen from Whitehall by day.

Great Britain 1975. World Cultural Heritage. Aerial view of Westminster Palace, the Abbey and St. Margaret's Church.

Great Britain 1990. Allegorical depiction of London Skyline.

Although the Lords were accommodated in the Palace, the Commons originally had no permanent meeting place of their own, meeting either in the chapter house or the refectory of Westminster Abbey. After the Chantries Act 1547 abolished all private chapels, the Royal Chapel of St Stephen within the Palace of Westminster was handed over to the Commons. 

The Commons assembled in St Stephen's until 1834 when the Palace was burned down. This fire destroyed almost all of the Palace except Westminster Hall, the crypt of St Stephen's Chapel, the adjacent cloisters and the Jewel Tower. 

The present Houses of Parliament were built over the next 30 years. They were the work of the architect Sir Charles Barry (1795-1860) and his assistant Augustus Welby Pugin (1812-52). The design incorporated Westminster Hall and the remains of St Stephen's Chapel. 

  • Great Britain 1990. The London Skyline  Allegorical depiction showing from left to right: Westminster, The Nelson statue on Trafalgar Square, the Eros Statue on Piccadilly Circus, the Radio-TV tower, Big Ben, St. Paul's Cathedral, and Tower of London with Tower Bridge, all seen from the banks of River Thames. The stamp was issued for the International Stamp Exhibition '90 in London. 

The House of Commons Chamber was destroyed in a German air attack in 1941. It was rebuilt after the Second World War, taking care to preserve the essential features of Barry's building - the architect was Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. The new Chamber was completed in 1950. 

In 1989 Yugoslavia issued a very nice set of stamps featuring World Heritage, and dedicated to Great Britain and France. The "British" stamp is shown on the right. 

  • Yugoslavia 1989. World Heritage issue. Westminster Palace and Big Ben. Scan by courtesy of Miomir Zivkovic (Serbia). 

Yugoslavia 1989. World Heritage issue. Westminster Palace and Big Ben.

Every year on 5 November, the British celebrate Guy Fawkes Night (also known as Bonfire Night) marking the failed attempt by Guy Fawkes to blow up Parliament. Guy Fawkes (1570-1606) was an English conspirator, born in York. A Protestant by birth, he became a Roman Catholic after the marriage of his widowed mother to a man of Catholic background and sympathies. 

Guy Fawkes (1570-1606) was an English conspirator, born in York. A Protestant by birth, he became a Roman Catholic after the marriage of his widowed mother to a man of Catholic background and sympathies. In 1593 he enlisted in the Spanish army in Flanders and in 1596 participated in the capture of the city of Calais by the Spanish in their war with Henry IV of France. He became implicated with Thomas Winter and others in the Gunpowder Plot to blow up Parliament as a protest against the anti-Roman Catholic laws. On the night of November 4-5, 1605, he was caught in a cellar underneath the House of Lords and arrested. After severe torture he disclosed the names of his accomplices, and with them he was hanged. Guy Fawkes Day is celebrated on November 5 in the United Kingdom and some other parts of the British Commonwealth with bonfires and fireworks. 

Postmark of 16 April 1970, commemorating Guy Fawkes.

The date on the cancel above left is the 400 anniversary of his baptism 16th April, 1570. Both events can be seen as blows for freedom, especially religious freedom, and the Declaration of Arbroath is by many considered the first political statement ever on Human rights. 

The Declaration of Arbroath was a declaration of Scottish Independence, and set out to confirm Scotland's status as an independent, sovereign stateand its use of military action when unjustly attacked. It is in the form of a letter submitted to Pope John XXII, dated 6 April 1320. Sealed by fifty-one magnates and nobles, the letter is the sole survivor of three created at the time. The others were a letter from the King of Scots and a letter from the clergy which all presumably made similar points. The Declaration of 1320 was caused by the English king persuading Pope John to excommunicate all Roman Catholics in Scotland along with Robert the Bruce, leader of the Scottish rebellion. 

Fawkes' involvement in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, which he was placed in charge of executing because of his military and explosives experience. The plot, masterminded by Robert Catesby, was an attempt by a group of English conspirators to kill King James I of England, his family, and most of the aristocracy in one swoop by blowing up the House of Lords building in the Houses of Parliament during its State Opening. 

On 31 January, Fawkes and a number of others implicated in the conspiracy were tried in Westminster Hall, and after being found guilty, were taken to Old Palace yard in Westminster, and St Paul's Yard, where they were hanged, drawn and quartered. However, Fawkes managed to avoid the worst of this execution by jumping from the scaffold when he was to be hanged until nearly dead, breaking his neck before he could be cut open. 

Every year since, bonfire and fireworks' displays all over the country have been used to celebrate the failure of the plot, and traditionally on the opening of Parliament the basements of the House of Lords are checked before the arrival of the monarch. 

Sources and links: 

Other World Heritage Sites in Great Britain (on this site). Inactive links are not described on postage stamps. Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, United Kingdom Section, for further information about the individual properties. 

Back to index


Revised 05 apr 2007  
Copyright 1999 Heindorffhus 
All Rights Reserved