Illustration of the House of Commons


This image depicts the debating chamber of the ‘old’ House of Commons in the early 19th century. The chamber was used as the centre of parliamentary debates from the 16th century until its eventual destruction by fire in October 1834. Many of the features shown here are still familiar in the current arrangement for the Commons: the speaker and his chair, for example, the table on which lies the mace, the parliamentary clerks and the public gallery up above. Members of Parliament sit on benches opposite one another in the familiar adversarial style, while leading politicians make their speeches from a despatch box.

The fire that destroyed the chamber broke out on the evening of 16 October 1834 after a coal furnace underneath the House of Lords was over-filled with fuel by workmen, causing copper flues to overheat. At the time, much of the Palace of Westminster still contained medieval woodwork, panelling and ornate fabrics which assisted the rapid spread of the flames. The resulting inferno attracted an enormous crowd of spectators who watched firemen battle in vain to save the building for hours. Once the fire was eventually put out virtually the whole Palace lay in ruins, save for Westminster Hall and the medieval Jewel Tower.

Background to the Microcosm of London collection of prints

The Microcosm of London was published in three volumes between 1808 and 1810 as a result of an ongoing collaboration between publisher Rudolph Ackermann, cartoonist and illustrator Thomas Rowlandson, architectural draughtsman Auguste Charles Pugin, engravers John Bluck, Joseph Constantine Stadler, Thomas Sunderland, John Hill and Richard Bankes Harraden, anonymous hand-colourists and authors William Henry Pyne and William Combe.

The Microcosm of London tapped into the demand for highly-coloured prints of real-life subjects that proved something of a publishing sensation during the Regency period. As such, the prints stand as a fascinating historical record of London life in the early years of the 19th century. While Pugin’s fine architectural drawings capture the size and shape of the capital’s principal buildings (both externally and from within) Thomas Rowlandson’s keenly observed figures depict the sheer colour and vitality of late Georgian society, rich and poor alike.

Full title:
House of Commons from Microcosm of London
1808-10, London
Book / Illustration / Image
Rudolph Ackermann, W H Pyne, William Combe, Augustus Pugin, Thomas Rowlandson
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

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