Historians have uncovered a secret passageway in the depths of Westminster.
A group of renovators were surprised to find the entrance to a 360-year-old secret entrance created for the Coronation of Charles II in 1660.
The route, which was briefly unmasked in 1950 when the government was assessing bomb damage, has been rediscovered and examined by historians, who have found rousing messages from the Chartist movement and 169-year-old graffiti daubed on its walls.
While a brass plate marks where the doorway had once been in Westminster Hall, historians believed it had been filled-in following reconstruction work after the palace was bombed during the Second World War.
However, following recent investigative work by Parliament’s Architecture and Heritage Team, working on research for the Palace of Westminster’s Restoration and Renewal Programme, the passage has been rediscovered.
Liz Hallam Smith, the team’s historical consultant, said: “We were trawling through 10,000 uncatalogued documents relating to the palace at the Historic England Archives in Swindon, when we found plans for the doorway in the cloister behind Westminster Hall.
“As we looked at the panelling closely, we realised there was a tiny brass key-hole that no-one had really noticed before, believing it might just be an electricity cupboard.
“Once a key was made for it, the panelling opened up like a door into this secret entrance. It is the way that the Speaker’s procession would have come, on its way to the House of Commons, as well as many MPs over the centuries, so it’s a hugely historic space.
“I was awestruck, because it shows that the Palace of Westminster still has so many secrets to give up,” said Dr Hallam Smith.
‘Enclosed by Tom Porter who was very fond of Ould Ale’
A series of finds have been made in the passageway, including a 70-year-old functioning lightbulb, and the impassioned scrawled pencil marks on the walls.
The notes, believed to have been left by men who helped block the passageway on both sides in 1851, read: “This room was enclosed by Tom Porter who was very fond of Ould Ale.”
Finally the graffiti notes: “These masons were employed refacing these groines…[ie repairing the cloister] August 11th 1851 Real Democrats.”
The historians believe the men were part of the Chartist movement, which campaigned for every man aged 21 to have a vote, and for would-be MPs to be allowed to stand even if they did not own property.
“Charles Barry’s masons were quite subversive,” said Dr Hallam Smith.
“They had been involved in quite a few scraps as the Palace was being built. I think these ones were being a little bit bolshie but also highly celebratory because they had just finished the first major restoration of these beautiful Tudor cloisters.”
The House of Commons Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle was one of the first senior parliamentarians to visit the find.
He said: “To think that this walkway has been used by so many important people over the centuries is incredible.
“I am so proud of our staff for making this discovery and I really hope this space is celebrated for what it is: a part of our parliamentary history.”
The discovery, the first of its kind made during the Westminster renovations, will hopefully be made public to eager visitors.
“We hope to share the story with visitors to the palace when the building is finally restored to its former glory, so it can be passed on down the generations and is never forgotten again,” the academic added.