Wednesday 23rd July 2014

Another full-on day of meetings. This morning I am talking to MP Gisela Stuart, whose constituency is Edgbaston. She tells me it is the longest held seat by a woman.

Gisela has a straightforward, powerful energy. She talks about Parliament, the role of the MPs, and how it affects their lives. She describes how many MPs want to return to their constituency, because that’s where they draw their power from – the people who elected them and their concerns. Parliament can be draining.


Gisela Stuart MP. Image: Mat Clark

We talk about the need for more female MPs and the reasons for their scarcity.

I leave from Gisela feeling I had seen a whole different angle on Westminster.

I decide to take a break and escape up to the archives. I spend a few hours listing the Lords’ petitions. All the meetings are beginning to take their toll, and I look forward to being in my studio, making work. Enough of being a sponge!

Just as I set off, Frank spies me. It’s good to see such a friendly face. He wants to take me to meet someone, I’m not sure who, but off we go and as we travel through the building we continuously bump into people who Frank introduces me to. I seem to meet more people with Frank in the corridors than I have throughout my residency so far. I tell him I should hang out with him more!

We stop and have a coffee and talk about our families and life. Time flies by and my next meeting with Adam Watrobski merges into another blurry introduction.

I’m nervous. Adam is a key meeting for me. He is the conservation architect at the Palace of Westminster and I’m hoping my contemporary ideas aren’t going to clash too much with his sensibilities to the grade one listed site.


Adam Watrobski, photograph by David Partner, 2007. © Parliamentary Art Collection WOA 6685

We get down straight to it and I suggest that instead of me trying to describe my ideas, we should go and have a look around. He nods and off we go again to Westminster Hall.

We talk about my first site – the lantern and floor directly below in Westminster Hall. Adam understands what I would like to do, but he thinks that the floor is just too uneven and could be very difficult to work with. I get what he is saying and realise that he isn’t being obstructive; I see things could be really problematic.

I don’t feel disheartened, as I think he liked the concept. I move on to my next site and keep my fingers crossed. He thinks it’s a good choice, and we decide right then and there to go up and take a look at the gallery above the doorway of St Stephen’s Porch. The dirt up there is incredible; I make a note to myself to check out dust and pollution issues, as I know this is a concern.

St Stephen’s Porch with its alcove. Image: Mary Branson

St Stephen’s Porch with its alcove. Image: Mary Branson

Adam has to rush off to another meeting, but he reassures me and lets me know it’s OK to ask for his advice and help. He really knows this building!

I wander slowly back and talk to the security guards and guides that I have become friendly with. I chat more freely about my ideas, we laugh and I prepare myself to meet a Baroness in the Royal Gallery!


Royal Gallery, House of Lords. Image: UK Parliament

Bracing myself I make a beeline for the Lords. I wait under the huge dark wall paintings of battles; I think one is Trafalgar. They amaze me with their vivid depiction of death and destruction. Why are they here?

Baroness Maddock meets me and takes me off to a simple canteen. It’s nice and quiet. We discuss women in the Lords and my current research into the number of petitions presented.

She suggests that I come to Parliament on the following Monday to see a discussion chaired by Betty Boothroyd about unequal pay. It doesn’t start until 9pm. Long day!

We talked about Lady Rhondda and her magazine ‘Time and Tide’. Baroness Maddock thought it would be a good idea for me to meet Shirley Williams. I quickly agree; she is another of my heroines.

After a long and interesting discussion we walked back to central lobby. As we walk Diana tells me how she was an art teacher at the beginning of her career and how much she had enjoyed fashion and fabric design. I look forward to talking with her again.

Come back on Tuesday 1 November 2016, when Mary meets Art History PhD student James Ford…