Leslie Mitchell

Fiery Debates

The Day Parliament Burned Down

By

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According to The Times, on 16 October 1834 London was visited by an ‘afflicting accident’, which was a ‘spectacle of terrible beauty’. Quite simply, the Houses of Parliament burned down. For over 600 years after its foundation, the Exchequer, the forerunner of today’s Treasury, had kept its accounts on wooden tallies. These bundles were not regarded as a superb archive of medieval administrative practice but as an embarrassing nuisance. Accordingly, two Irish labourers were instructed to burn them in the boilers situated immediately below the Chamber of the House of Lords. They worked with a will and achieved a result that exceeded all expectations. At a subsequent inquiry, both men expressed surprise at what their handiwork had caused.

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