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Furniture History Society Visits Parliament

On Monday 13th February, the Furniture History Society visited the Houses of Parliament for a tour. Heritage Collections had the pleasure of hosting them.  The Society was founded in 1964.  Its aim is to “study furniture of all periods, places and kinds, to increase knowledge and appreciation of it, and to assist in the preservation of furniture and its records.”

The Palace of Westminster offers a unique opportunity for the Society to see an organic collection of historic furniture in use.  Our Historic Furniture and Decorative Arts Collection forms one of our three nationally-significant holdings in Heritage Collections.  It is home to nearly 11,000 items. The majority of these objects are in daily use across the Parliamentary estate.  Much of our historic furniture dates from the Palace’s rebuilding in the nineteenth century. It also includes Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s post-war designs.  The Collection therefore includes numerous items (from chairs to umbrella stands) designed by A. W. N Pugin and made by major Victorian producers and manufacturers, such as Gillows, John Hardman, Holland and Sons, and others. 

Carved gilt chair with X-frame base. Upholstered with red velvet and gold berry head nails. The chair’s uprights are topped with lions heads, with closed mouths, small ears and curly manes. The uprights and legs are carved with leaf ornaments, the front and back seat rails with rich foliage. A central octagonal stretcher has carved chevrons on both sides.
Historic Chairs by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin and John Webb © Historic Furniture POW 08034

Our specialist collections managers and conservators led small groups on a tour of the historic Palace.  They looked at Westminster Hall, Central Lobby, and the House of Lords and House of Commons chambers.  Our guests had a chance to see and hear more about the Sovereign’s Throne (Lords’ Chamber), the Speaker’s Chair (Commons Chamber), and the Commonwealth Gifts in the voting lobbies. 

As we walked round, the Society’s members were also able to study the extraordinary detail and craftsmanship of the Palace’s interiors. These range from meticulously-designed door hinges to hand-carved mouldings in yard upon yard of wall panelling.

The Society told us

Members of the Furniture History Society were lucky enough to receive a tour with members of the Heritage Collection team during the February 2023 recess. In small groups, we were led on an extensive tour and were able to examine close hand the furniture and fittings, benefiting from the team’s vast knowledge of both the items and their provenance, history, and day to day current use in the Palace of Westminster.

Mary-Jane Tsang, the Keeper of Historic Furniture at Westminster, said

It was a pleasure to show members of the Furniture History Society around the Palace. Their obvious knowledge and enthusiasm was infectious and the HCT team very much enjoyed sharing their passion for the collections and building.

March 2, 2023