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Experts investigate crumbling stonework and hidden cracks in the Houses of Parliament

Experts investigate crumbling stonework and hidden cracks in the Houses of Parliament

Crumbling stones, cracking ceilings and warping windows in the Houses of Parliament were the subject of several thousand hours of recent investigations by teams of experts from across the UK, as part of work to plan the essential restoration of the Palace of Westminster. 

Over 50 highly skilled engineers, architectural surveyors, acoustics and lighting specialists, and ecologists, spent a combined 4,700 hours over Parliament’s recent recess period investigating the building and continuing to build the most detailed record of the 150-year-old Palace of Westminster ever created.  

In total, 2,343 rooms and spaces were examined over the summer and conference recesses, with experts recording thousands of issues including cracks in stonework, widespread water damage, and analysing the complex network of outdated electrical and mechanical systems.   The investigations are an essential step in the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster. Parliament will be invited to approve the detailed restoration plan in 2023. 

Construction workers in the House of Lords

Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, Leader of the House of Commons, said: 

“The Houses of Parliament building is recognised the world over as a symbol of our nation, but this building requires a considerable level of care to keep it working and needs an essential programme of restoration work.    

“We must be able to justify this project to taxpayers. That's why it’s so important to understand and map out the restoration work needed to protect the building – so that the focus is on those essential works necessary to preserve the Palace for future generations.”   

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park, Leader of the House of Lords: 

"This preparation survey work of the Palace of Westminster is essential to understand the extent and complexity of the programme of works required.  In due course it will enable parliamentarians to properly scrutinise the proposed work and ensure value for money.” 

Sarah Johnson, CEO of the Houses of Parliament Restoration & Renewal Sponsor Body, said: 

“The essential programme to restore the deteriorating Palace of Westminster will protect our world-famous Parliament for generations to come. These critical and complex investigations are already informing our detailed restoration plan, which will for the first time set out a true sense of the costs and timescales of the much-needed work.” 

David Goldstone, CEO of the Houses of Parliament Restoration & Renewal Delivery Authority, said: 

“Our specialist investigators and surveyors are spending tens of thousands of hours building the most detailed record of Parliament ever created as we develop the plan for the essential restoration of one of the world’s most famous buildings.” 

Issues were recorded with many of the historic features, including original Victorian stained-glass windows which are warping and sagging due to age. Surveyors also studied the enormous basement and the miles of outdated and interweaving gas, electrics, water, sewage, and heating pipes to get up to date records on the problems that need fixing. 

Close up of detailed windows

The Palace of Westminster is one of the most loved and recognised buildings in the world, but despite a programme of maintenance works, it’s falling apart faster than it can be fixed and is in urgent need of a programme of essential restoration. 

Work was also done to understand the provenance of quirky candle and gas light fittings, some of which were discovered to have been turned upside down when converted to electric power over 100 years ago. Further investigation is ongoing but it is thought the Palace may contain the oldest still-in-use gas lighting system in the world. Several remarkable candle chandeliers that survived the great fire of 1834 which destroyed the original palace were also studied and recorded. 

Acoustics experts, considering how to improve audibility within the building, walked 240km, measuring 80 rooms, running 300 individual acoustics tests, taking 2000 measurements. 

Experts in ecology and door specialists from Manchester, window surveyors from Glasgow and architects and engineers from across London, in addition to historic surveyors and specialists from Cambridge, Suffolk and Hampshire were involved in the building investigations. 

A worker inspects a door

In winter and throughout next year, even more detailed surveys, including ‘intrusive’ surveys into the structure of the Palace, will be completed to continue building the most detailed record of the Palace ever created. 

Parliament’s repair teams run continual maintenance work to ensure people working and visiting the building are safe, but a larger programme of essential restoration work is needed to protect the building for the future. 

The Houses of Parliament Restoration and Renewal will create thousands of new jobs and apprenticeships, while boosting both traditional and cutting-edge skills, involving craftspeople and businesses from across the UK in a national effort.

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