Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall

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Westminster Hall is the most solemn spot in all England.
-
Sir Charles Oman

The oldest remaining part of the Palace, Westminster Hall was built by William Rufus, son of the Conqueror, as part of a grand new palace (never completed), which was intended to rival the size and splendour of nearby Westminster Abbey. It was called, in its day, "the most capacious room in Christendom", although the King said,

This is only a bedchamber in comparison with the building I intended to make.
-
William II.

William Rufus called his Hall the New Hall, in distinction from Edward the Confessor's Great Hall which had previously lain to the South. Hence the name, New Palace Yard: the 'newness' is not of the Yard but of the Hall.

There still survive, today concealed by wooden panels, several arches of the arcade which ran above the string course of the Norman Hall. When Richard II's architect, Henry Yevele, buttressed and strengthened the walls to carry the huge weight of the new hammerbeam roof, the window openings were raised higher. Therefore these Norman windows were walled up, to be rediscovered centuries later. The present character of the Hall, with its huge hammerbeam roof, owes everything to Richard II, who rebuilt it between 1394 and 1401. In the early part of the twentieth century repairs had to be undertaken to the Hammerbeam Roof due to the ravages of the death-watch beetle. Six giant statues of Kings, from a series of thirteen commissioned by Richard II, still stand along the South Wall.

Westminster was the Great Hall of the medieval Royal Palace, and as such was the meeting place of the King's Great Council, out of which grew both the Courts of Justice and Parliament. By the late 13th century the Courts of King's Bench, Common Pleas, Exchequer and Chancery were settled at Westminster. King's Bench and Chancery sat inside the Hall, in the SE and SW corners respectively, and Common Pleas in the middle of the West Wall.

As early as the fourteenth century the Hall was filled with stalls. In the sixteenth century the scholars of Westminster School obtained the right to erect stalls for the sale of their books. Fashionable coffee houses were erected outside the North Door. However, these stalls and coffee houses were cleared away by the end of the eighteenth century.

In 1834 a great fire destroyed much of the Medieval Palace. Westminster Hall was one of the few parts of the original palace which survived the destruction.

In the early 19th century the law courts were relocated to a range of buildings constructed by Sir John Soane along the outside of the west wall of the Hall. Here they remained until the opening of the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand in 1882. Then Soane's buildings were demolished and partly replaced by J L Pearson.

Today the Hall is used for rare ceremonial purposes, such as the lying-in-state of sovereigns and great personages, such as Sir Winston Churchill, the presentation of addresses to the sovereign, such as the Jubilee Address in 1977, and visits of momentous international significance, such as Nelson Mandela's in 1996.

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Additional Information on
Westminster Hall

The most solemn spot in all England.
-
Sir Charles Oman.

The oldest remaining part of the Palace, Westminster Hall was built by William Rufus, the son of the Conqueror, as part of a grand new palace (never completed), which was intended to rival the size and splendour of nearby Westminster Abbey. It was called, in its day, 'the most capacious room in Christendom', although the King said,

This is only a bedchamber in comparison with the building I intended to make.
- William Rufus.

William called his Hall the New Hall, in distinction from Edward the Confessor's Great Hall which had previously lain to the South. (Hence the name, New Palace Yard: the 'newness' is not of the Yard but of the Hall).

There still survive, today concealed by wooden panels, several arches of the arcade which ran above the string course of the Norman Hall. When Richard II's architect, Henry Yevele, buttressed and strengthened the walls to carry the huge weight of the new hammerbeam roof, the window openings were raised higher. Therefore these Norman windows were walled up, to be rediscovered centuries later. The present character of the Hall, with its huge hammerbeam roof, owes everything to Richard II, who rebuilt it between 1394 and 1401. In the early part of the twentieth century repairs had to be undertaken to the Hammerbeam Roof due to the ravages of the death-watch beetle. Six giant statues of Kings, from a series of 13 commissioned by Richard II, still stand along the South Wall.

Westminster was the Great Hall of the medieval Royal Palace, and as such was the meeting place of the King's Great Council, out of which grew both the Courts of Justice and Parliament. By the late 13th century the Courts of King's Bench, Common Pleas, Exchequer and Chancery were settled at Westminster. King's Bench and Chancery sat inside the Hall, in the SE and SW corners respectively, and Common Pleas in the middle of the West Wall.

As early as the fourteenth century the Hall was filled with stalls. In the sixteenth century the scholars of Westminster School obtained the right to erect stalls for the sale of their books. Fashionable coffee houses were erected outside the North Door. However, these stalls and coffee houses were cleared away by the end of the eighteenth century.

In 1653 Oliver Cromwell took the oath in Westminster Hall, and in 1657 was inaugurated as Lord Protector - taking his seat in the Coronation Chair, wearing a robe of purple velvet lined with Ermine, and with a gold sceptre in his hand and a bible in the other. In 1651 when Cromwell's body was exhumed, his head was set upon a pole on the roof, and it stayed there until 1684.

In 1834 a great fire destroyed much of the Medieval Palace. Westminster Hall was one of the few parts of the original palace which survived the destruction.

In the early 19th century the law courts were relocated to a range of buildings constructed by Sir John Soane along the outside of the west wall of the Hall. Here they remained until the opening of the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand in 1882. Then Soane's buildings were demolished and partly replaced by J L Pearson.

Today the Hall is used for rare ceremonial purposes, such as the lying-in-state of sovereigns and great personages, such as Sir Winston Churchill, the presentation of addresses to the sovereign, such as the Jubilee Address in 1977, and visits of momentous international significance, such as Nelson Mandela's in 1996.


(Script of Narration)

The oldest remaining part of the Palace, Westminster Hall incorporates in its walls at least part of those of the original Hall built by William Rufus in 1097-1099, but the present appearance of the Hall is due to Richard II, who rebuilt it in 1394-1399. The Hammerbeam roof has been said to be quite without rival in any part of the world.

This was the Great Hall of the mediaeval Royal Palace, and as such was the meeting place of the King's Great Council, out of which grew both the Courts of Justice and Parliament.

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