Earlier this week, the Sixth Form historians visited the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey in London.

At Parliament, pupils were given a behind-the-scenes guided tour of the Robing Room, the House of Lords and the House of Commons, with interesting information imparted about the functions of each chamber and the role of Parliament in British democracy. In addition, we saw Central Lobby and Westminster Hall, the site of speeches by luminaries such as Nelson Mandela and the Pope and almost the only part of the ancient Palace of Westminster which survives. The tour also told us about the execution warrant of Charles I, Magna Carta and the monarch’s secret bathrooms in the Palace! This was followed by a workshop on Representation and Democracy in which pupils took the part of political parties and learned about voting systems and how a government is selected.

Pupils were also given the opportunity to hear from Dr Andrew Murrison, the Member of Parliament for South West Wiltshire, who told us about his experiences as an MP, and about what his job in Parliament involves. He kindly answered pupils’ questions about pressing political issues, including Brexit and his own political affiliation.

After a brief lunch stop, pupils were taken the short distance to Westminster Abbey for a tour of this impressive building. As one of the most well-known religious buildings in the UK, it was fascinating for pupils to see such areas as Poets’ Corner, the place where noteworthy writers such as Chaucer are buried or memorialised. Pupils also saw the tombs of Elizabeth I and ‘Bloody’ Mary, Mary Queen of Scots, and a host of medieval monarchs responsible for the Abbey and its development. The medieval Chapterhouse, which became a meeting place of the King’s Great Council and the Commons, the precursor to modern-day Parliament, showed off medieval floor tiles and spectacular wall paintings, bringing the history of the Abbey to life.

The day was a fantastic introduction for pupils to the history of Britain and its democratic principles from the Middle Ages to the present day, and gave pupils a valuable insight into the role of Parliament in contemporary society. Those who attended had an enjoyable and informative day, and even those who had visited previously found they learned something new and interesting. Definitely an experience to be repeated!

Dr Tom Horler-Underwood