Fact Checking the Westminster Palace Fire of 1834

Posted on Posted in Storytelling

The_1834_destruction_of_both_Houses_of_Parliament_by_fireLet me tell you a little fact checking story.

So, some of you may know that in addition to a wildly successful career as a tech blogger :), I’m also a wife and a novelist.

Don’t worry. I won’t plug my book right now. I’m rather private about this side of my literary interests probably because literary writing carries a slight taint in some quarters.

The only reason I’m choosing to discuss it now is to share a hard lesson I learned yesterday.

My story’s set in 1843, during the early days of Queen Victoria’s reign. In it, the main character rubs elbows with members of Parliament. It makes for an interesting tale, but silly me, I hadn’t checked one important detail. I assumed that the Parliament building had been there for millennia.

Even those who have visited could well make that mistake. I’ve been there twice. Westminster Abbey, which sits across the street boasts parts dating back to 1066.

To me, Parliament had to be medieval–or at least from a period earlier than the Victorians.

I mean, look at the facade. The flying buttress was a mainstay of the cathedral. It’s not just a wild guess. I studied art history in college. I’ve studied scores of pictures cataloguing masonry of the great cathedrals of Europe.

I was wrong. The old Palace and Parliament buildings burned down in 1834.

I know because, I just happened to watch one of those History Channel shows about the Secrets of Westminster on PBS. Miraculously, I stumbled on the fact that Westminster Palace wasn’t built until circa 1858.

Whew! That was a close call.

I’ve ordered a book so I can learn what all those MPs did about workspace between the fire and the new building.

Lesson learned: Check, check and check again. You’ve cannot be too painstaking when researching facts.

In my early days of this novel, one of the academics I was following recommended that fiction writers do these 4 things:

  1. Read everything
  2. Learn about professions
  3. Learn the histories of places
  4. Study locations

I have been. Reading the work of contemporaries, diarists, and serious academic works helps. But I’ve seen pictures of Parliament so many times, it has always been part of the ecosystem of London for me.

I have 30 years of research, and still I almost succumbed.

Thanks for listening.

Fact Checking the Westminster Palace Fire of 1834 by

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