LONDON – A forgotten passageway in the British Parliament that was constructed for the 1661 coronation of King Charles II has been rediscovered during renovation work.
It was bricked up in 1807 and had not been accessed in more than 70 years, hidden behind a small wooden door.
The passage led out of Westminster Hall — the only building to survive a devastating fire in 1834 that destroyed the Houses of Commons and Lords.
It was created for the coronation banquet of Charles in 1661, and 17th-century wooden timbers still run across the ceiling.
Senior political figures such as the diarist Samuel Pepys and Britain’s first effective prime minister, Robert Walpole, would have likely used it.
“To think that this walkway has been used by so many important people over the centuries is incredible,” House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said.
The passage was reopened during the rebuilding of Parliament after the fire, but closed again in 1851. Workmen dealing with bomb damage from World War II were the next to find the passage. They installed an electric light and access door.
But the door, in wood paneling in a cloister formerly used as offices by the Labour Party, had only a tiny brass keyhole and it was soon forgotten.
Historians took a closer look when renovation work began across the whole parliamentary estate in 2018, according to Liz Hallam Smith, a historical consultant on the project. “We realized there was a tiny brass keyhole that no one had really noticed before, believing it might just be an electricity cupboard,” she said.
“Once a key was made for it, the paneling opened up like a door into this secret entrance.”
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