November 29, 2017

In 1940, Churchill was worried that the Chambers might be bombed while the Houses were ‘sitting’ and between 1940 and 1941, both Houses of Parliament took place in Church House in Westminster. And in fact, during the Second World War, the Palace of Westminster was damaged by air raids on fourteen different occasions.

The incendiary bombs which fell on the nights of 10 and 11 May 1941 caused the most damage. The Commons Chamber was bombed and the roof of Westminster Hall was set on fire. The fire service said it’d be impossible to save both, so it was decided to concentrate on saving the Hall. The Commons Chamber was entirely destroyed by the bomb and resulting fire which spread to the Members’ Lobby and caused the ceiling to collapse. By the following morning, all that was left of the Chamber was a smoking shell.

A select committee set up to report on building plans recommended that the new Commons Chamber be rebuilt with all the essential features of the destroyed Chamber. Churchill was strongly in favour of this, as he liked the crowded and adversarial nature of the old Chamber.

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Churchill, as Prime Minister, made a plea for the bomb-damaged archway from Members Lobby into the Chamber to be retained as a reminder for future generations. The archway duly remains today and is known as the Churchill Arch. The statue of Churchill by Oscar Nemon has been placed in Members Lobby outside the arch in recognition of this.

A brief BBC film clip describes how touching Churchill’s foot was regarded by politicians to bring them luck as they entered the Chamber.

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