Westminster Hall is undergoing its "900 year service" so was not open this year. This also meant there was no café or toilets available. (Westminster Hall and Jewel Tower (the ticket office for the tours) were saved in the 1834 fire. Charles Barry was the architect who rebuilt the Palace and he chose to use a Tudor-Gothic style to blend in with Westminster Abbey opposite.)
I read in The Times magazine on Saturday 12 August 2006 that there are public toilets in Parliament Square that cost 50p! Don't waste your money when you need to spend a penny(!), go to the Methodist Central Hall Café. Go past Westminster Abbey (opposite the exit to the Houses of Parliament Tour) and look diagonally opposite. The Methodist Hall Café is near to the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre (see map). Any way, go downstairs and there are clean toilets available to use for free! You could just sneak away after using the facilities but I would recommend the café. It's not too expensive (considering the location) and the service is super-friendly.
Our tour guide was Richard Palmer who, like all of the guides, is a specially qualified Blue Badge Guide. He explained that the Houses of Parliament is still a royal residence (the building's correct name is the Palace of Westminster) but the last king to live there was Henry VIII. He also gave us a basic understanding of the British constitution which has been around since 1300. There are three parts: the monarch, the non-elected House of Lords, and the elected House of Commons.
I was pleased I was allowed to keep my baby in her pushchair as the ticket agency's website stated that no pushchairs would be allowed. There was no problem and everyone made a huge effort to help me get around the building.
Tour groups meet in the Sovereign's Entrance where once a year, for the State Opening of Parliament in November, the Queen's state coach drives into the building and then she walks up the stairs to the Queen's Robing Room. The tour takes you on the same walk to the huge dressing room. This is where the Queen puts on the Crown Jewels usually on display at the Tower of London. The room has been decorated with the theme of Chivalry by the artist William Dyce. He managed the artworks of Hospitality, Generosity, Religion, Courtesy, and Mercy, based on the tales of King Arthur, but didn't complete the whole room, so there are paintings of Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, either side of the throne.
Next is the Royal Gallery which houses some of the parliamentary archives dating back to 1497. You can see a copy of the Warrant for Execution of King Charles I from 1649. He was executed on 31 January 1649 outside the Banqueting Hall on Whitehall, just off Parliament Square.
Do look up at the high ceiling and notice the Tudor roses in the design. On the walls are portraits of monarchs from 1714, George I, the start of the Hanoverian dynasty, which our present queen, Queen Elizabeth II is part of. Actually, take a look at the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II and see if you agree with me that it's not a very good likeness!
On the long sides of the room there are two paintings depicting Britain's defining battles of the Napoleonic Wars: the Battle of Waterloo (18 June 1815) and the battle of Trafalgar (21 October 1805) showing the death of Nelson. (Actually he was mortally wounded at the battle and died later in on HMS Victory in Portsmouth.) It took the artist 7 years to complete these paintings!