St Stephen’s Chapel was the seat of the House of Commons from 1550 until it was destroyed by fire in 1834. Parliament’s authority was enhanced by this spectacular setting, and from it the English developed the habit of housing important secular institutions in buildings of medieval Gothic design. But the temple of democracy was surrounded by a den of thieves. Ben Jonson commented on how disreputable the little city of Westminster was. The palace was surrounded by shops and taverns; it did not help the area’s reputation that the three best-known taverns were called Hell, Heaven and Purgatory.  Hell had several exits, to allow MPs to make a quick getaway.

Diane Purkiss, “The English Civil War: A People’s History”.

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