HOUSE OF COMMONS. (Page 270.)
THE House of Commons, since the reign of Edward the Sixth, has held its sittings in this room, which was formerly a chapel dedicated to St. Stephen the Protomartyr. It was originally built by King Stephen, and rebuilt in 1347 by King Edward the Third in a very magnificent manner; some curious remains of which were discovered on the House being enlarged, occasioned by the Union with Ireland, the walls appearing to be most richly ornamented with illuminated paintings.
The Plate represents the House sitting. The Speaker's chair stands at some distance from the wall at the upper end of the room. It is of oak, slightly ornamented with gilding, with the King's Arms at the top. The Speaker is usually dressed in a train black silk gown, with a full-bottomed wig. On occasions of state, he wears a robe, similar to the state robe of the Lord Chancellor. Before him, with a small interval, is a table, at which three clerks of the House are seated, with their backs to the Speaker, whose business it is to take minutes of the proceedings of the House, read the titles of bills in their several stages, hand them to the Speaker, &c. They are dressed in plain black silk gowns, and tie wigs. On this table, in front, the Speaker's mace always lies when the House is sitting; except when the House is in a Committee, and then it is placed under the table, and the Speaker leaves the chair, there being a perpetual Chairman to the Committee of the Whole House. In the centre of the room, between the table and the bar, is an extensive area. The members' seats occupy each side, and both ends of the room, with the exception of the passages, in the form seen in the Plate. There are five rows of seats, rising above each other, with short backs and green morocco cushions.
The seat on the floor, on the left of the Print, is that which is called the Treasury Bench, on which the chief members of the administration sit; and the opposite seat is usually occupied by the leading members of Opposition. The Speaker sits with his hat off, except on particular occasions. All the members must be seated, except him who is addressing the Chair; but they wear their hats or not, at pleasure, except when speaking. A gallery, supported by very elegant pillars of iron, with gilt Corinthian capitals, runs along the two sides and the west end of the room. That part which crosses the west end is the strangers' gallery, and will hold about one hundred and thirty persons. The gallery on each side is reserved for members. Sometimes a member speaks from the gallery. The walls are lined with wainscot; and the gallery and the backs of the seats are also of wainscot. The House, when full, presents a very pleasing coup-d'œil; and it is admirably adapted to the purposes of debate, as a very moderate voice may be distinctly heard in every part.