The amount of tax a person in London paid during the Middle Ages was recorded on a tally stick. Notches were made on the stick for every payment and the stick was then split lengthways, in half. The one half was left with the government as a record – an early tax receipt. The government’s halves were kept in the Palace of Westminster, and as you can imagine they piled up over the centuries.
Finally, in 1834, someone suggested that maybe they get rid of them, so they were burnt in a furnace under the House of Lords…but the furnace was overloaded and the fire spread rapidly. Sadly the fire destroyed most of the Palace and some very valuable, historical documents (such as the warrant for the execution of Charles I).
Turner immortalised the event in his painting ‘The Burning of the Houses of Parliament’ and a stunned spectator described it as “Certainly the grandest thing we have ever witnessed”!