London Walking Tours    with Joanna Moncrieff

A privileged visit

As Visits Organiser for the Westminster Guides Association it’s my privilege to organise visits for wherever I want to go, dependent of course on access being granted to us.

A few months ago my Dad, Chris Moncrieff suggested a visit to the Speaker’s House as he had attended several dinners there and thought it would be of interest which of course it was.

Our visit earlier this month was an amazing experience.  It started with us viewing the Speaker’s Procession which occurs before every Commons sitting and passes through the Central Lobby.  It is well worth seeing.  Amongst those in the procession are the Serjeant at Arms carring a mace which is the symbol of Royal authority and the Speaker’s trainbearer who doesn’t this time have a train to bear.  John Bercow has chosen not to wear the traditional dress preferring instead to wear a simple black gown over a suit which makes him look rather like an old-fashioned headmaster.

We were welcomed into the state rooms of the Speaker’s House by noneother than the Trainbearer, Ian Davis MBE who was dressed in the traditional costume of breeches, buckled shoes, frock coat etc.  Ian had been Trainbearer to Betty Boothroyd and Michael Martin before the present incumbent so must have some stories to tell.

The first room we were shown was the Speaker’s study.  Here we were told something of the history of the Speaker’s role but Ian had expected us to have prepared for our visit as tested us with a number of questions ie when had the first Speaker taken office (1377), what was his name (Thomas Hungerford) and how many Speakers had there been since then (amazingly John Bercow is only the 157th Speaker).

In the study is a glass display case containing lots of silver and in the centre a priceless Faberge plate.  Up until the 1800s Speakers weren’t given a very good salary and were allowed to purchase a set of silver whilst in office and then keep it when they left office!  In the mid 1800s the salary was put up and the silver had to stay.

The second room we entered was the Crimson Drawing Room also known as the Red Room for obvious reasons.  Most of the portraits in this room hailed from the 17th Century.

The Corner Room also decorated in red was where portraits of most of the more recent speakers hang, with an empty space opposite the mirror (so it would dominate the room) for John Bercow’s portrait which should be finished later this year. 

Each Speaker has his/her own coat of arms designed for them by the College of Arms if they don’t already have one.  Michael Martin’s coat of arms was a very busy affair which included a locomotive wheel, the martin bird, a metal rule, bagpipes and a galleon.  Ian told us that Bernard Weatherill who was a tailor and always carried a piece of tailor’s chalk around with him was refused the saying “A stich in time” for his coat of arms as being too frivolous so decided to leave it blank.

The Dining Room was next where we were told 40 people can be seated for dinner.  The 19th Century candelabras were regularly used for dinners although we were surprised to find out that the large one was worth around £4m! 

The final room we were shown was the State Bedroom which was a smaller dining room dominated by an enormous bed.  The bed had traditionally been used by the monarch-to-be on the night before a coronation when such monarch could sleep in the Speaker’s House if they so wished.  During the 2nd World War the bed had been put into storage but somehow it was forgotten and later sold. 

In 1979 after an article in the Daily Telegraph about lost treasures which included a picture of the State Bed a family living in woollen mill in Dyfed recognised their bed which they had bought from a Northampton auction room for £100 and got in touch with the paper. Two years later it was back in its rightful place.
Our visit finished with Ian showing us out the grand main entrance into Speaker’s Court. 

We all felt very privileged to be given such a fascinating tour. I just hope my next arranged visit (The Garrick Club) lives up to this one!