Today, the House of Commons is celebrating 70 years of the chamber in its current form, after it was destroyed by a series of incendiary bombs during the Second World War.
During the nights of 10 and 11 May 1941, bombs were dropped on the House of Commons chamber and the roof of Westminister Hall was set ablaze. The blaze spread from the chamber to Members’ Lobby, causing the ceiling to collapse and leaving the site by the next morning as a smoking shell.
The House of Lords Chamber, the Clock Tower, Westminister Abbey and the British Museum were also damaged during the Luftwaffe attack.
In 1943, then Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill decreed that the Commons chamber must be ‘restored in all essentials to its old form, convenience and dignity’, with him insisting that the crowded intimacy of the old chamber must be replicated. Work began on the new chamber in May 1945 and it was completed in October 1950.
According to Hansard records, MPs met in the new Commons chamber at quarter past ten o-clock on 26 October 1950 – 70 years ago today.
At the opening of the chamber, then-Speaker Douglas Clifton Brown said;
‘May I, as your Speaker, welcome all my fellow Members back to their old home.
‘It will seem new to many, but nonetheless it is our true home – for here have been fought and will be fought, I trust, those Parliamentary battles which have so enhanced the fame of the British House of Commons.’
70 years on, current Speaker of the House of Commons Sir Lindsay Hoyle has hailed the endurance of the Commons and parliamentary democracy in the UK, saying;
‘Our parliamentary democracy has and will endure everything that is thrown at it, be it bombs or – as we are experiencing now – Covid.
’The challenges may be very different, but 70 years on – with our chamber filled with screens and tape to enable virtual participation and keep us socially distanced – we continue to demonstrate flexibility and resolve to ensure democracy continues.
The benches and other furnishings used in the Commons chamber to this day are based off customs which go back 300 years.