Ask them for a peerage

‘As member for East Birmingham he sat for fourteen years. The Speaker never had to call him to order, and the only scenes he was responsible for were those reflected by his camera.’

The Searchlight of Greater Birmingham, 13 February, 1913

On entering Parliament in 1895, Stone, prompted equally by his ‘intense interest in the Legislature’ and his ‘enthusiasm for the historical and the antiquarian’ sought permission to photograph at Westminster.

No one had previously been allowed to photograph in Parliament and MPs had ‘rigorously sought to exclude the camera from its precincts.’ However, ‘Parliamentary red tape…untied itself’ and over the next decade Stone photographed MPs of all political persuasions, groups of visitors from all over the world, officers, servants and functionaries. He documented the traditions of the institution, its architecture and the sites where ‘more things are done that are destined to be remembered in history’ were ’revealed through his camera’.

Stone quickly became, in effect, the official photographer to the House of Parliament and his project was the subject of numerous lengthy and well- illustrated articles in the daily press. ‘Ask them to think of a peerage’ was one writer’s suggestion to Sir Benjamin in 1905, when photographing members of the House of Commons. On another occasion, when a reporter asked if his Parliamentary position interfered with his photographic work, Stone simply replied ‘only to a small extent.

In 1906, 96 of his photographs were published by Cassell & Co in a volume entitled Sir Benjamin Stone’s Pictures, Records of National Life and History, Parliamentary Scenes and Portraits. In the Introduction Michael MacDonagh described Stone’s photographs as being a collection ‘of compelling and permanent interest, from which it is possible to gain that intimate acquaintance with the life and usages of Parliament.’

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