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Our social media followers will know that since 2021 we’ve dedicated one Friday a month to showcase random items held in the Parliamentary Archives collections.

It is only right to compile eight of the best entries. Here’s an insider look at the selection process and backstories.

Prepare to be Randomized!


cartoon image of Elizabeth Tower with men climbing scaffolding around the Tower
Press Gallery Annual Dinner Menu, 1955, HL/PO/RO/1/173, Parliamentary Archives



Parliament is a place renowned for its various inner sanctums. None more so than the influential Parliamentary Press Gallery (PPG) where an esteemed group of journalists and cartoonists gathered to report on chamber proceedings. The PPG annual dinner was an extremely sought after ticket attracting the highest rung of politicians.

Taking advantage of the supremely talented illustrators within its ranks in the fifties they had the legendary David Low design the menu cards. His 1955 illustration depicted the Conservative Prime Minister Anthony Eden precariously waiting for his dinner on scaffolding attached to Big Ben joined by Labour veteran Manny Shinwell.

*Read more about David Low - FREEDOM TO CARTOON: David Low & Lord Beaverbrook | Parliamentary Archives: Inside the Act Room

100 Yard Dash Trophy: Henry Badeley – Trinity College, late 19th Century, BDL/F, Parliamentary Archives



Asked to explain his prowess as an Olympic gold medallist sprinter Linford Christie answered that he always went on the ‘B of the Bang’. A philosophy, I’d like to think, former Clerk of the Parliaments Henry Badeley similarly drew upon to win numerous 100m dash trophies representing Trinity College, Oxford.

Badeley was a permanent fixture for decades at the yearly Parliamentary Golf Handicap triumphing on occasion over the very competitive Andrew Bonar Law. Away from the Lords and sporting field he also dabbled in art becoming a master engraver. Receiving regal commissions from Queen Mary an admirer of his bookplates.


Black and white photograph showing men in suits blasting white powder into Westminster Hall
Death Watch Beetle Fumigation of Westminster Hall Photograph, 1968, HC/SA/SJ/7/4/32, Parliamentary Archives



Westminster Hall had stood tall in the face of the 1834 Parliament Fire however its greatest adversary proved to be the ubiquitous Death Watch Beetle. In 1913 an architectural survey revealed that an infestation left four of the thirteen trusses supporting the 14th century hammerbeam roof in danger of collapse.

Half a century later House photographers captured the latest attempt to finally put the durable invaders to the sword. A fumigation process was implemented using pesticide-filled canisters in the form of smoke. Leaving the sacred space to paraphrase a popular hit of the time Looking A Whiter Shade of Pale.


Charles Pannell’s New Orleans Honorary Citizen Certificate, 1956, PAN/2/V3, Parliamentary Archives



Leeds produced a string of noteworthy post-war politicians including Hugh Gaitskell, Alice Bacon, and the lesser-known Charles Pannell. A Labour stalwart he played a crucial role assisting Tony Benn on his crusade to overturn hereditary peerages. Pannell’s papers are an abstract mix combining Speaker Conference memoranda with pamphlets on Voltaire.

If an opportunity arose to be part of a Parliamentary international fact-finding mission, Pannell was a willing volunteer. His appetite for experiencing different cultures saw him travel behind the iron curtain to East Germany and enjoy a little Southern hospitality in New Orleans receiving an honorary freedom of the city.

*Read about Tony Benn’s Peerages Act Campaign 1005 DAYS TONY BENN’S POLITICAL EXILE | Parliamentary Archives: Inside the Act Room


Tally Sticks, 19th Century, HL/PO/JO/10/1/195, Parliamentary Archives



What connects tally sticks to Parliamentary history? They are an ancient accounting tool used by the Exchequer. Outdated by 1834, a House administrator fatefully decided to burn two cartloads in a Palace furnace. As Charles Dickens noted the ‘overgorged stove’ exploded leading to the destruction of the main Parliament building.

Thankfully nobody died in the disaster and the historic Westminster Hall survived the inferno. If tally sticks were the villain of the piece, then the hero was undoubtedly Henry Stone Smith. The Lords Clerk was seen throwing bundles of original manuscript documents out of the windows to save for posterity.


Two men in a boxing ring with a large crowd in the background.
Jack Dempsey Postcard, 1920s, STH/FS/1/DEM, Parliamentary Archives



When unsure of the next Random Friday pick the collection to turn to in your hour of need is the Lord Stow Hill archive. The once Home Secretary was of Anglo-Russian stock with family links to the artist Ford Madox Brown hence the array of cultural curios up for grabs.

On a particularly memorable Stow Hill catalogue search I came across the name Jack Dempsey. Surely this was a long-forgotten Trade Union official and not the celebrated American heavyweight boxer? To my surprise, it was in fact a pristine postcard recreating Dempsey’s classic fight against the seemingly unbeatable Jess Willard.

one handwritten letter and one typewritten note
Lloyd George Lampoons, c 1917, BBK/G/2/10, Parliamentary Archives



Many a senior politician have attributed success to the number of detractors they accumulated while serving in high office. The term ‘marmite’ perfectly fitted Lloyd George’s Prime Ministerial image. Loved and derided in equal measures he seemed to draw strength from contention attached to his governmental policies or lifestyle choices.

Political satire was at its height as Lloyd George rose to power. Newspapers, such as Max Beaverbrook’s Daily Express, embraced the trend publishing acerbic cartoons and lampoons. Controversy over George’s usage of the Chequers Estate in 1917 prompted a vitriolic tirade that compared him to both Satan and Judas Iscariot.

Designs for House of Commons Serjeant-at-arms uniforms, late 19th Century, HC/SA/SJ/18/3, Parliamentary Archives



Contrary to popular myth I can confirm that Regency fashionista Beau Brummell was never approached by Parliament’s administration to help design the Serjeant-at-arms official workwear. Though looking at the wonderfully dandified drawings of the proposed Deputy’s ceremonial uniform and an alternative court mourning suit they could easily be deemed Brummell-esque.

Fashion is forever a Parliamentary passion, especially regarding the Serjeant-at-arms attire of distinctly late 18th century vintage. The official dress centres on a black wool suit with patent leather shoes. On special occasions, a lace collar comes into play accessorised by white gloves, a black sword, and the all-important scabbard.



Randoms essentials for the three Cs… Content, Context and Curiosity!

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