#1 London. We have a mission: to follow the route of an old 1940s board game around Great Britain, sticking to the instructions as closely as we possibly can. Along the way we will look at the history of the places we visit, with a particular focus on how things have changed since the tour was created around 70 years ago.
So it was time to start our tour and the first location on the board is No. 1: London. The illustration is of the Houses of Parliament, but beyond that we had no specific instructions to follow for this square.
On 25th August 2015 we began our tour. This was in fact to be the only square on the board we covered until 2016. Knowing that it was impossible for us to do the whole tour in one go, we might as well take our time and enjoy it, and try to visit things during the months of better weather. Having said that, predictably it rained on our Day One.
Thinking we might as well do this thing properly, we booked a tour of the Houses of Parliament. There is a choice between guided tours or audio tours, but both my wife and I are people who prefer to look at places at our own pace, so we opted for the audio tour. The cost of this is £18.50 per adult, at the time of writing (£16 concessions, one child free, extra children £7.50 each). They limit numbers of visitors and control how many people are there at any one time by providing a time slot for entry. Eager not to miss our time slot we arrived ridiculously early, and tried our luck to see if we could get in at a different time. We were kindly allowed in early. As it was just starting to rain (a lot) this was a stroke of luck!
I am not a huge fan of audio tours but the Houses of Parliament one is very informative and doesn’t get too tedious like some can. Actually setting foot in the Commons and Lords was quite an experience, and both are surprisingly small. The Commons does not have sufficient seating for all the MPs, which is why at important times they can be seen crowded in and standing. But the real treat is all of the various rooms behind the scenes, such as the lobbies, and the Royal Gallery is truly magnificent.
The Houses of Parliament (also known as the Palace of Westminster) is a relatively modern building, at least by British standards, as the old palace was destroyed by a fire in 1834. The building that stands today was constructed during the 1840s, 50s and 60s, with the Lords Chamber completed in 1847 and the Commons in 1852.
As part of our tour I am making a comparison of each location today, with how things would have been for a visitor at the time the board game was created (around 1948). The Houses of Parliament is obviously one location where little has changed during that time, although the Commons Chamber was destroyed by a bomb during the war, so in the late 1940s rebuilding was still underway. Today’s chamber is a simplified version of the original, and was completed in 1950. The Member’s Lobby also had to be rebuilt after the bombing, and now contains busts and statues of Prime Ministers, which were quite fascinating to see.
London itself of course has changed enormously since 1948, although the population is at similar levels. Having declined after the war, it has now returned to pre-war levels. Developments in the intervening seventy years are numerable and beyond the scope of this blog.
In the next post we are off to square 2 on the board: Dover!
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The photos that accompany this post were taken during our visit. Please do not reuse them without permission.