The Victoria Tower of the Houses of Parliament. Architects: Sir Charles Barry and Augustus Welby Pugin. 1840-60. The most famous landmark of the Palace of Westminster is the Elizabeth Tower, originally called the the Clock Tower (renamed in honour of the present Queen in 2012), which carries the hour bell, Big Ben, and is popularly known as Big Ben itself. A light shines from the top of it when either the House of Lords or the House of Commons happens to be in session at night. But the tower to the south, which rises above Millbank, is the one that carries the flag whenever parliament is sitting, and also on special occasions (and on some sad occasions is, of course flown at half mast). Three sizes can be flown, according to the strength of the wind on any particular day, and instead of the Union Jack, the Royal Standard is flown for the state opening of parliament.

This tower is particularly precious because it houses parliaments' records since 1497 — all the master copies of the acts are kept here from that date. Like the rest of the external façade, it owes its spatial proportions to Barry, and its detailing mainly to Pugin. As Robert Wilson says, "Barry created the overall design of the palace and dealt with planning and construction — a great technical feat in itself. Pugin supplied a flood of drawings for every part of the building, which Barry did not hesitate to alter with an eye to the scale and overall effect" (6-7; see also Hill 147). This tower is actually taller than "Big Ben," at 323' to Big Ben's 316' (see Wilson 7).

Photograph on left by Laurence Cooke (2021), and on right by George P. Landow (2007). Text by Jacqueline Banerjee. [You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

Related Material


Hill, Rosemary. God's Architrct: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britan. London: Penguin, 2008.

Wilson, Robert. The Houses of Parliament. Pitkin, latest reprint 2007.

Last modified 4 August 2021 (photograph and commentary added)