15-21 November is Parliament Week– an annual event that raises awareness about Parliament and democratic life in the UK. This year, the theme is ‘Women in Democracy’, and I am pleased to support it.
My first job was at Barings bank in the 1980s and I was one of the first female executives to work there. At the time, staff were in temporary accommodation in Leadenhall Street while a new office was being built. The office that was being replaced, though, still had a separate entrance for women to enter and leave the building. This picture in the Parliamentary Art Collection reminded me of that.
Sketch of a ventilator in the Ladies Gallery Attic in St Stephens, 1834
It is a very rare drawing showing the roof space about the House of Commons which was, until the New Palace of Westminster was built – the building we have today – following the 1834 fire, the only way women were allowed to view the proceedings of the House of Commons. The women gathered in the attic above the ceiling of the Chamber, around the ventilator shaft, which is shown. They were provided with chairs but only had a restricted view of what was going on. I imagine it as being rather like being in the “Gods” at the Royal Albert Hall.
As a painting I like the movement in the sketch and the focus on the lantern in the middle. And the attic looks structurally appealing.
It reminds me, too, of the awful damage done by fire to London in the past. But on the other hand we wouldn’t have St. Paul’s Cathedral without the Great Fire . . .
For anyone interested in the Parliamentary Art Collection, you can visit it here