Exploring Voice & Vote at the Houses of Parliament
100 years ago, the first UK women won the right to vote with the passing of The Representation of the People act. The Houses of Parliament is honouring this historic moment with its free exhibition Voice & Vote, open until October. We went along to explore.
Voice & Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament is housed inside Westminster Hall. It’s thrilling to step beyond the gates of the Houses of Parliament, despite much of it currently being covered in scaffolding (including Big Ben).
The exhibition has been built inside a temporary structure which stands underneath Westminster Hall’s dramatic, carved-wood ceiling. You’ll see historic documents, photographs, paintings and artefacts, as well as areas that reconstruct long-lost rooms in Parliament.
The first reconstruction is The Ventilator, which was in the roof of the old House of Commons (destroyed by a huge fire in 1834). Women discovered this secret space in 1818 and sat up there to listen to the politicians debate below (pictured above).
Next is the tiny Ladies Gallery, which was built as part of the new Palace of Westminster from 1840-1852. It was called ‘The Cage’, because women were forced to sit behind a metal grill, so they didn’t ‘distract’ male politicians (above). Some of the actual grill is on display – which the suffragettes chained themselves to during the years of their protests (below).
Nancy Viscount Astor was the first woman to sit in the House of Commons, in 1919. The business-like outfit she wore for the occasion is here, as well as a reconstruction of the Lady Member’s Room, which was the first-ever office provided for female MPs – it was small, cramped and soon nicknamed ‘The Tomb’.
Finally, you’ll arrive at The Chamber, which represents the modern-day House of Commons and displays 491 names on the wall. These are the names of every female MP who has so far been sworn in to serve the UK government – so you can decide for yourself how much progress has been made.
Voice & Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament is open 9am-5.30pm, Mon-Sat until 6 Oct (from 10am on Mondays). Tickets are free but advance booking is essential, via visit.parliament.uk/HouseofParliament, +44 (0)20 7219 4114 or in person from the Ticket Office at the front of Portcullis House. We suggest arriving at least 15 minutes early due to the Houses of Parliament’s airport-style entrance security.