The fire of 1834 – stories from Parliament
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The fire of 1834 – stories from Parliament

November 24, 2019

>>Stories from Parliament: The Fire of 1834 [Music]>>Narrator – Mrs Wright: I keep coming back
to this dreadful spot. It’s so horrible to see it like this…
But you want to hear about the fire don’t you –
not listen to me rabbiting on! (Snuffles as she pulls herself together) So, first things first. I’m Mrs Wright,
Deputy Housekeeper at the Palace of Westminster – that is… sorry, was the
home of Parliament. Right here next to the River Thames in London. Way back in History
Kings and Queens lived here. Henry the Eighth was the last of them and
he thought the place was getting a bit run down so he gave the building to Parliament
– and why shouldn’t the people have a palace to make their laws in?
So, come the awful day, October 16th 1834, and two workmen arrived to speak
to the Clerk of Works.>>Workman: Come on, Matthew look sharp.>>Narrator – Mrs Wright: I knew what they
were about. The clerk of works had hired them to
burn a pile of old tally sticks; they were an old way of remembering if someone
owed money with a mark made on a stick. Parliament didn’t use the system
anymore and there was a huge pile of these old sticks cluttering up the basement
so they all had to be burned as the Clerk of Works explained…>>Clerk of works: So is that clear? Two of
you: two furnaces – get this pile of old wood out of the way once and for all.>>Workman: Burn the lot?>>Clerk of works: Exactly. Burn the whole
wretched lot. [Wood thrown into furnaces, flames grow. Grunts
of workers]>>Narrator – Mrs Wright: And so they did.
They worked all morning and into the afternoon and
when I took some visitors into the House of Lords…>>Visitor: (Coughs) My word… (Coughs)>>Narrator – Mrs Wright: Yes, well… I am
dreadfully sorry. (cough) Well, perhaps we’d better
move on. [Coughs as they retreat]>>Narrator – Mrs Wright: I was rather worried
and told the Clerk of Works about the smoke.>>Clerk of works: Fire makes smoke Mrs Wright
– but don’t fret; it will soon be over.>>Narrator – Mrs Wright: I retired to my
room with no idea what was going on beneath the
House of Lords. You see the fire had become so hot that it had set the floor alight… I must have dozed off because the next thing
I knew.>>Doorkeeper’s wife: [Scream] Fire! Fire
in the Lords. Help! Fire.>>Narrator – Mrs Wright: The doorkeeper’s
wife raised the alarm and now the Clerk of Works
had changed his tune.>>Clerk of works: Out, out! Everybody out
of the building. Oh my Lord! Quickly…>>Narrator – Mrs Wright: I hurried out along
with everyone else and stood a safe distance away. Boats began to stop along the river
as a great crowd gathered to watch on land and on the water. By seven that evening
the whole of the House of Lords was ablaze…>>James Braidwood: You men – Fetch water.
Form a chain. FETCH WATER!>>Narrator – Mrs Wright: Mr Braidwood Chief
of the London Fire Engine Establishment arrived on the scene.
>>James Braidwood: Man the pumps – get that engine closer – closer I say!>>Narrator – Mrs Wright: But it was no use… [Collapse of House of Lords’ roof.]>>James Braidwood: Look out!>>Narrator – Mrs Wright: At seven thirty
the roof caved in.>>James Braidwood: Back! Get back –NOW!>>Narrator – Mrs Wright: Then, at eight of
clock… The House of Commons caught fire and suddenly
it seemed like the whole of Parliament was burning.>>Voice: Oh no…>>Narrator – Mrs Wright: For a moment all
the frantic activity stopped as everyone looked up
in horror. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. Then James Braidwood
rallied his men…>>James Braidwood: I want every able bodied
man here now. You, get to the engine. You three over to the pump. I want
six men…>>Narrator – Mrs Wright: Everyone worked
as if there were no tomorrow – and for the old
Palace of Westminster there was no tomorrow. Just one part of the ancient
palace remained – the great, magnificent Westminster Hall. It was nearly 800
years old, and it had the most splendid huge wooden beamed roof – surely it
would survive. But then, at ten o’clock…>>Firefighter: We can’t stop it sir! Westminster
Hall has caught fire!>>Lord Melbourne: Don’t give up man. Point
your hoses at the roof. I don’t care what it takes; deluge that roof with water
– save Westminster Hall at all costs.>>Narrator – Mrs Wright: That was Lord Melbourne,
the Prime Minister himself!>>James Braidwood: You heard the Prime Minister.
All of you: bring ladders, water. Steer that engine round, quickly.>>Lord Melbourne: This is the fight of your
life men. Save Westminster Hall, do you hear me?
Do not let the whole of Parliament be destroyed!>>Narrator – Mrs Wright: Then, maybe the
Lord heard our prayers, because the wind shifted just a little, and maybe the thick old walls
of the Hall played their part – and there were ladders and scaffolding already in the
Hall from some repair work. Whatever the reason, the fire was finally beaten.>>Lord Melbourne: God be praised… [Cheers] [Music]>>Narrator – Mrs Wright: But oh! When the
sun came up the next day it looked down on a
charred landscape. And there, right in front of me, half buried and half burnt was
a single tally stick. Sticking out of the ground like it was mocking me for not
complaining more the day before! But Westminster Hall was saved! That
magnificent medieval masterpiece with its stunning wooden roof survived… [Music]>>Narrator – Mrs Wright: And now there is
to be a competition amongst architects to design a
new Palace of Westminster. There is talk of an enormous clock tower so that
people will be able to see their Parliament for miles around. I wonder if I will live
to hear that giant clock chime. [Chimes of Big Ben]

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