In the early evening of 16 October 1834, to the horror of bystanders, a huge ball of fire exploded through the roof of the Houses of Parliament, creating a blaze so enormous that it could be seen by the King and Queen at Windsor, and from stagecoaches on top of the South Downs. In front of hundreds of thousands of witnesses the great conflagration destroyed Parliament’s glorious old buildings and their contents. No one who witnessed the disaster would ever forget it – yet today this national catastrophe is a forgotten disaster.
Caroline Shenton is Clerk of the Records at the Parliamentary Archives, and a former senior archivist at The National Archives, where her interest in the fire of 1834 was first kindled. She has worked in and around collections relating to the old Palace of Westminster for over 20 years, and is a Fellow of both the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Historical Society.