Houses of Parliament

Happy November the 5th to you all.

It’s been 408 years since 13 conspirators attempted to assassinate King James I and Guy Fawkes was famously caught guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder under Westminster Palace. Interestingly, the plot all hinged on a leased room under parliament; could this have been averted if the lease was over 7 years and registered? We will never know!

London in 1605 was vastly different to today’s metropolis; it was a smelly, thriving port with 75,000 residents (compared to 8.3m in 2012). Bubonic plague was rife and Westminster was recently joined to the city by grand houses along The Strand.

Had Guy been successful, what would Westminster look like today? Westminster Palace, rebuilt in 1512 after a catastrophic fire could have been lost once again, had the plot succeeded, the palace may have fallen victim to the river. Perhaps the Houses of Parliament would have moved out of Westminster to the Tower of London, or perhaps the grand Old London Bridge with its 900ft of grand gothic buildings guarded by two gatehouses.

As far as legal ownership alone goes, the plot would probably have had very little impact – the title rests with the Crown, so the King and his successors rule on.

The land, of course, is still there and so too are the legal boundaries, so nothing would have changed as far as the title plan goes. It would still show the Ordnance Survey (OS) detail used to originally map the area and therefore the Houses of Parliament as they were, would be shown as surveyed by OS. Whilst it seems likely that something would be erected to replace the Houses of Parliament and OS would resurvey the site, this would not automatically trigger a new title plan to be created. The purpose of the title plan after all, is not to define the shape or size of existing buildings, as these can go up and down, and be extended or changed; we often get enquiries from people saying the plans are wrong as they don’t show their extension or new garage. The purpose of the title plan is to show the general boundaries of the title rather than what exists within those boundaries, so they are correct for registration purposes.

So in the case of the Houses of Parliament, the title plan would probably remain as originally mapped until such time as part of it was sold off, albeit very unlikely, which may trigger new title plans to be mapped.

We felt that this was a topical way to let you know a little more about us here in HM Land Registry. Of course, neither we (founded in 1862) nor OS (founded in 1791) were about in 1605 but, if they had been…

The King would have got a copy of the title plan to confirm where the general boundaries were, planning permission would have been lodged with the local authority, OS would have popped out with their rods and chains (they use more hi-tech survey tools though now) and surveyed any new site once rebuilding had begun. The original title plan would have remained though, so “Long Live Land Registry” might have been the secondary cheer around the Royal Court of the day!

By AdamH,
Customer Service Representative at HM Land Registry Head Office