|The Palace of Westminster: Abingdon Street Gardens, Jewel Tower and Old Palace Yard||Westminster|
Abingdon Street Gardens, also known as College Green, was laid out in the 1960s when C18th houses along Abingdon Street were demolished after WWII. The land was once part of the Old Palace Yard of the Palace of Westminster. A strip of lawn bisected by a path, the Green contains Henry Moore's sculpture 'Knife Edge Two Piece' (1967). To the north is the C14th Jewel Tower with a fragment of moat and medieval quay, beyond which is another remnant of Old Palace Yard, laid out as a simple lawn with 2 mature plane trees and a memorial Portland stone statue of George V by Sir William Reid Dick, set on an imposing base designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1947). This area of garden abuts the rear of Westminster Abbey's octagonal C13th Chapter House. It is overlooked from the south by two fine C18th stone-fronted houses in Palace Yard.
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/06/2012
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The Palace of Westminster, now more widely referred to as the Houses of Parliament, has its origins in medieval times, when the construction of a royal palace was prompted by royal interest in the Benedictine Abbey that had been established here in the C10th, itself thought to have grown out of an C8th Saxon church dedicated to St Peter. The Danish King Cnut was the first monarch to build a palace at Westminster in the early C11th, and subsequently Edward the Confessor built both Westminster Abbey (q.v.) and his new Palace adjacent, dying just after the Abbey was completed in 1066. William the Conqueror also adopted the palace and abbey at Westminster, where he was crowned. In 1097-99 his son William II built the Great Hall, now known as Westminster Hall, which was used for important ceremonial events, and from thence Westminster gradually gained precedence as the centre of government over Winchester Castle, which had previously acted as the Anglo-Saxon capital of England. Westminster's importance was firmly established in the reign of Henry III who constructed new buildings, with a royal throne placed in Westminster Hall by 1245. From the C13th the palace was the meeting place of the Lords and the Commons, who from 1341 met separately, initially in various chambers and halls of the palace rather than purpose-built spaces.
Westminster Palace became the permanent seat of Parliament in 1512 after Henry VIII moved his residence to the Palace of Whitehall. However, it remained a royal palace and was controlled by the Lord Great Chamberlain of the monarch until as late as 1965 when control passed to representatives of the two Houses. From medieval times until 1801 the Lords sat in the Queen's Chamber and then moved to the Lesser Hall. The Commons had a permanent meeting place for the first time in 1547 when Edward VI permitted them to use St Stephen's Chapel. Alterations were made to the parliament buildings in the late C18th and early C19th firstly by James Wyatt and then by Sir John Soane, but in 1834 a devastating fire destroyed much of the palace, including the Commons Chamber. The Palace of Westminster and Houses of Parliament that exist today date in the main from the mid C19th rebuilding, designed by Sir Charles Barry (1795-1860) following a public competition in 1835. Barry worked on the designs with Augustus Welby Pugin (1812-1852) and construction of the new buildings began in 1840 but, although largely in place by 1860, it was not until 1870 that they were fully completed. The site of the parliamentary estate was extended to c.3.24 hectares by reclaiming land from the river.
The medieval palace had two main courtyards, Old Palace Yard and New Palace Yard, both of which remain in some form, the areas to the west of the main road having public access, and those to the east, also including Black Rod's Garden, Cromwell Green and Speaker's Green (q.v.), having restricted or no public access. There were once cottages on Old Palace Yard, one of which was rented by Guy Fawkes and his confederates, from where they initially began to tunnel to the House of Lords. At the failure of their Gunpowder Plot they were later hanged on a scaffold erected in Old Palace Yard. New Palace Yard was named after William II's 'new' Westminster Hall, the oldest of the buildings on the precinct today, although much remodelled since that time. Other survivals from the medieval buildings are the Cloisters and Chapter House of St Stephen's, the Chapel of St Mary's Undercroft and the C14th Jewel Tower adjacent to Abingdon Street Gardens.
Abingdon Street Gardens, also known as College Green, once formed part of Old Palace Yard and now provides a long rectangular public garden to the west of the Palace of Westminster, from which it is separated by Abingdon Street. In 1750 the row of houses was built here along what was once an ancient lane, which had been widened and renamed Abingdon Street as part of the Westminster Bridge Approach improvements but which was largely destroyed by bombing in WWII. After the war the remaining houses were demolished and the public garden, essentially a manicured lawn, was created in 1963-66 to disguise an underground car park built beneath the site. To the rear of the garden is an ancient ivy-covered wall, behind which is the College Garden of Westminster Abbey (q.v.). Abingdon Street Gardens are separated from the busy road by a low shrubbery edged with stone, and provide the setting for a sculpture, 'Knife Edge Two Piece' by Henry Moore of 1967, a second cast made from the original of 1962. Maintained as part of the Parliamentary Estate, while the public may use the garden there are no public rights of access to this area, which may be closed at any time, and a notice announces that 'Any activity including assemblies, demonstrations, filming, games, camping, parties or the like are prohibited unless prior approval by the Parliamentary authorities is given.'
During the excavations for the car park below Abingdon Street Gardens the remains of a medieval quay that once served the Palace of Westminster were uncovered. These now form part of the grounds around the Jewel Tower, which was built in 1364-66 on land encroached from the abbey in the south-west corner of the royal palace and its privy garden. Designed by the architect Henry Yevele, the tower was built to house the royal treasure of Edward III and was known as 'the King's Privy Wardrobe'. The moat and quay would have safeguarded the tower from intruders and fire. When Henry VIII left the palace, the Jewel Tower provided a wardrobe for his clothes, and from 1621 until the mid C19th it was used to store the records of the House of Lords. Now managed as a museum by English Heritage, it contains a permanent exhibition about the history of Parliament, and its small garden area is accessible to visitors, with views of the moat and medieval quay.
To the north of the Jewel House, another remnant of Old Palace Yard provides an area of publicly accessible green space opposite the Houses of Parliament. Laid out as a simple lawn with 2 mature plane trees, this garden contains a memorial statue in Portland stone of George V by Sir William Reid Dick, set on an imposing base designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1947). This public garden abuts the rear of Westminster Abbey's C13th octagonal Chapter House (q.v.), and is also overlooked from the south by a pair of fine C18th stone-fronted houses in Palace Yard that were built as residences and offices of the Clerks of the Parliaments. Built in c.1754-6 their design was traditionally attributed to architect John Vardy, but has now been identified with an elevation in a folio of drawings associated with Isaac Ware and other Office of Works architects. Alterations in 1793-4 were by Sir John Soane. The largest part of Old Palace Yard is the area to the east adjacent to the Houses of Parliament, a cobbled area that now houses a bronze equestrian statue on a granite pedestal of Richard I, The Lionheart by Baron Marochetti, a model of which was first shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Harold Clunn, the Face of London (c1950) p.232; Simon Bradley and Nikolaus Pevsner, 'The Buildings of England London 6: Westminster', (Yale University Press, 2003), p.276; Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993), p.2; See history on http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/building/palace/