A secret passage was found by the researchers in the Palace of Westminster, said the recent publication in Current Archaeology. During a research project on the Palace of Westminster, Parliament’s Architecture and Heritage Team discovered photographs and plans of the passageway among thousands of uncatalogued papers.
The recently discovered passageway was created in 1660-1661 as part of the processional route for Charles II’s coronation. According to the researchers, the passage was the main way to the old House of Commons. Actually, over the centuries, the doorway would have been used by many significant historical figures, including Samuel Pepys and William Pitt the Younger.
Results of the dendrochronological analysis showed that the chamber’s ceiling timbers suggested that the trees they came from were felled in spring 1659; this result was combined with accounts from 1660-1661 as evidence for the creation of the doorway and passageway.
The new data allow also to crush the myth that King Charles I used the passageway when he attempted to arrest five MPs in 1642.
A brass plaque erected in Westminster Hall in 1895 commemorates the place where the entrance once stood, but not much was known about the passageway, which was believed to have been filled during reconstruction work after the World War II.
Documentary evidence suggested the existence of a hinged flap in the panelling, secured by a small keyhole, and when this was located and opened, a small, stone-floored chamber was revealed. This space contained a bricked-up doorway and the original hinges for two 3.5m-high wooden doors, which would have opened into Westminster Hall.
Another interesting aspect of the rediscovered chamber is that it contains graffiti left in 1851 by a bricklayer working for Sir Charles Barry during the rebuilding of the Palace of Westminster after the medieval building had been largely destroyed in a catastrophic fire of 1834.
It states: ‘this room was enclosed by Tom Porter who was very fond of Ould Ale’. It also names some of the stonemasons who had restored the cloisters, and ends ‘Real Democrats’, suggesting that they may have been part of the Chartist movement, working-class advocates for male suffrage.
To avoid loss of the historical facts of the room’s rediscovery, all papers and documents will now be digitised to ensure that the memory of the doorway will not be lost again.