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The Day Parliament Burned Down Hardcover – 9 Aug 2012


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 360 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (9 Aug 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199646708
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199646708
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 3.3 x 14.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 300,278 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Caroline Shenton is an archivist, historian and writer. She works at the Parliamentary Archives in London and is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and Royal Historical Society. Her first book, The Day Parliament Burned Down, won the Political Book of the Year Award in 2013, and was shortlisted for the Longman-History Today prize. Her website is www.carolineshenton.co.uk.

Product Description

Review

Splendid. (The Victorian)

A glorious micro-history ... Shenton has a terrific eye for fine detail. (Dan Jones, Daily Telegraph)

The best and most exciting and dramatic account of the burning building since Turner's paintings. (Robert Tanitch, Mature Times)

This is a fascinating read and I commend it to colleagues in both Houses. (Lord Cormack, House Magazine)

One of the many achievements of Shenton's scholarly but gripping account is to revive, in all its intricacy and richness, the ghost of one of London's greatest lost treasures. (Rosemary Hill, The Guardian)

London's most legendary 19th century conflagration is vividly described in this book by Caroline Shenton ... This excellent social history is Shenton's first book. One hopes there will be many more, not least one about today's Houses of Parliament. (Hannah Stephenson, Liverpool Post)

Anyone with even a passing interest in politics or London history will be engrossed by this thoroughly researched, well-written and admirably unsensationalised book. (David Clack, Time Out Magazine)

Hour by hour she [Caroline Shenton] takes us through the fantastic build-up of the fire. You could have been there. (Daily Mail)

is both a gripping account of that fateful night and a wide-ranging search for its ramifications across British society. Well written and extensively illustrated, this is a book that deserves attention. (BBC History Magazine)

[Shenton's] book is deeply researched ... yet surprisingly gripping. (Andrew Holgate, The Sunday Times)

Caroline Shenton's account of its history makes for a truly remarkable read. (Charlotte Heathcote, Sunday Express)

Caroline Shenton, Clerk of the Records in the parliamentary archives, shows in her excellent book, even the wood shoved into the furnaces was the product of the stranglehold of inefficient tradition. (Jonathan Sale, The Independent)

No one has written about the burning of Parliament before , and this vivid, superbly researched book is a definitive account of one of the greatest cockups in English history. (Jane Ridley, Spectator)

The author, Clerk of the Records at Westminster, could not have been bettered as our guide to this exciting event. (Peter Lewis, Daily Mail)

The detail Shenton provides is absolutely fascinating, such as the Dean of Westminster, who refused to move the Domesday Book to safety as he had not received the Prime Minister's permission. Each chapter is headed with the successive hour of the fire, creating a wonderfully detailed and gripping read. (The Telegraph)

She has just the voice to narrate this tale, gripping the reader by the scruff as she describes the titanic struggle to save Westminster Hall and its stupendous hammerbeam roof She has written a wonderful first book. (Lucy Inglis, The Georgian)

The events of October 1834 are told in an authoritative and entertaining way by our Parliamentary Archivist Caroline Shenton in (Keith Simpson, The House Magazine)

About the Author

Caroline Shenton is Clerk of the Records at the Parliamentary Archives in London. She was previously a senior archivist at the National Archives and has worked in and around collections relating to the old Palace of Westminster for over twenty years. Educated at the University of St Andrews, Worcester College Oxford and University College London, she is a Fellow of both the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Historical Society. This is her first book.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Happy Chappie TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 2 Aug 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Personally I would be hard put to write more than a couple of pages when describing a fire. However, MS Shenton has managed some 260 odd plus the notes etc. I'm impressed; not least of all because she has written a very interesting book in a lively and readable style.

Basically the books tells the story of the fire that consumed the bulk of the Houses of Parliament in October 1834. Split into chapters covering various time periods over the two days, 16th and 17th, each chapter not only covers approximately what happened in that time period but also fleshes out the characters of the people involved. Lots of background architectural history is included as well so one gets ones money's worth :-)

There are both B&W plates and maps of the original layouts of the buildings involved and it is with the latter that I have my one gripe. To get the most out of this I found it necessary to continually turn back to the maps on pages xix and xxi, this quickly became a pain! It is a pity that the maps were not of the pull out style which would have made reading the book so much easier (slightly larger text on the floor plans would not have gone amiss either). While probably not the fault of the author, who has produced a very readable and informative book, this did get in the way of a straightforward read so hence 4 stars.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By antom TOP 500 REVIEWER on 4 Jan 2014
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is an outstanding book, brilliantly researched, that captures your interest from start to finish.

On the morning of 16th October 1834 staff at the Houses of Parliament started to dispose wooden tallies that had built up over many centuries by burning them in the the building's heating furnaces. The dry wood, explains Caroline Shenton, would have burned quicker and hotter that the coals usually burned in the furnaces. Within hours the building was aflame, the fire boosted by the flammability of many of the materials used in the building.

Shenton takes us through an hour by hour account of the fire. The events are grippingly described. What impressed me especially was the interesting background information that Shenton includes throughout, making this book a wonderful choice for anyone interested in British history.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Uncle Barbar TOP 100 REVIEWER on 10 Dec 2013
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I have to say - I LOVED this book. It is everything you want in a piece of historical non-fiction. It is incredibly well researched and also quite gripping to read. I like the way Caroline Shenton has managed to put such a huge amount of detail into what is essentially TWO DAYS of history - this, as others have said, is "Micro-history at its best"!

The eye-witness accounts and the earlier paintings of the various views of the old Westminster Parliament (before it burnt down) also make this book special. It ends with an extensive notes section on the text (with a myriad of references) and a comprehensive bibliography should you wish to delve futher.

I love Shenton's style and will be reading more of her work when I get the chance!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By S. J. Williams TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 16 Oct 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Caroline Shenton's book (her first - it's hard to credit considering how brilliantly well it is put together) rather took me by surprise. The title, and also the chapter headings, suggest a detailed progression through the 36 hours of the conflagration, and of course we do get that. But what makes the book such a superb read is that the text is full of fascinating, and often quite lengthy, diversions through related aspects of contemporary history which shed light on the central focus. So, for example, we learn of the history of the development of the Palace of Westminster, its origins and changes in use, proposals to change the accommodation of the legislative houses even to locate them elsewhere, and the suitability or otherwise of the Palace for the home of Parliament. In fact, the buildings were obviously not fit for purpose, though for various reasons, agreement had never been reached on what should be done.

The changes in the make-up of Parliament is also covered: the fire occurred a mere two years after the Great Reform Act which had an effect on the number of members. Aspects of Poor Relief and legislation affecting child labour (just who would and could clean the flues in the House of Lords which led in part to the disaster?) find their way into the narrative, as do the changes to the fire services and law enforcement. All these apparent byways are brilliantly woven into the fabric of the narrative in a wonderfully engaging way and prove to be central to our understanding of the fateful events of 16th October, 1834. This is not a remotely dry read: it is very well-structured so that each segue seems effortlessly and inevitably blended with the central narrative.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Gtj Charmley VINE VOICE on 17 Aug 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Under the eye-catching title, Caroline Shenton presents a meticulously researched account of the day in October 1834 that a fierce blaze destroyed the old Palace of Westminster, with many of its treasures. Using information from letters, diaries and official papers, Shenton weaves a gripping narrative of the fire. The stated purpose of this book is to highlight the place that Parliament's destruction occupied in the national consciousness at the time. For many of us today, Charles Barry's Palace of Westminster, which rose on the sight of the smoke-blackened ruins of the old, are so iconic that it is easy to forget that they replaced an ancient complex of buildings which grew up over many years, and that they altered the shape of that building to an extent I had not recognised until reading this book. The destruction of many state papers and records, similarly, is a catastrophe the extent of which is hard to judge.

Shenton's account of the destruction of the old Palace of Westminster is also a deeply human account; from the ex-convict employed in the Palace Furnaces, to the families whose houses were part of the Palace complex, and who found themselves homeless as a result of the fire, the story concentrates on those who were caught up in the events, whether because of intimate connection with the Palace, or as expert passers-by. Even 'Chance', the canine mascot of the London firemen has his story told!

The political context, so easily forgotten if the burning of Parliament is treated as a social event.
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