History of Westminster Hall

Westminster Hall is the only major part of the ancient Palace of Westminster which survives in its original form.

The hall was built from 1097–99 on the orders of William Rufus, son of William the Conqueror. Today, it is often used for important events and state occasions, such as the Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002.

When first built in the 11th century, Westminster Hall was the Great Hall of the Palace of Westminster, used for feasting and entertaining. From 1189–1821, it was the setting for banquets following the coronation ceremony held in Westminster Abbey.

The Royal Courts of Justice sat here until 1882, when they were removed to the Strand. Several notable state trials took place in the hall, including those of Sir William Wallace (1305), the Gunpowder Plot conspirators (1606) and King Charles I (1649).

Westminster Hall was not the normal meeting place of Parliament but it was used by the assemblies of the Estates which deposed Edward II and received the abdication of Richard II.

Hammer-beam roof: largest in northern Europe
The original roof was supported by rows of pillars within the hall but in 1399 Richard II commissioned a hammer-beam roof to arch across the entire span.
During extensive repairs undertaken between 1914 and 1923, the entire hammer-beam roof was reinforced by concealed steelwork and the decayed portions replaced with new oak.
The hammer-beam roof is the largest medieval timber roof in northern Europe with a span of 69 feet.

Fire of 1834
By the time fire engines arrived at the burning Houses of Parliament during the fire of 1834, the House of Lords was already destroyed and the Commons was on fire.
The Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, directed the work to soak the roof of Westminster Hall. The rest of the Houses of Parliament was lost but the hall was saved.

World War II: incendiary bombs
In 1941, incendiary bombs set both Westminster Hall and the Commons Chamber on fire. On the insistence of Colonel Walter Elliot MP, the hall was saved in preference to the Commons Chamber. The Commons burned for two days but the hall survived.

Lying-in-state and other occasions
During certain ceremonial occasions, and like the Lords Chamber during State Opening, Westminster Hall becomes a point of convergence for all three parts of Parliament: the Queen, the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The Queen attends parliamentary occasions in her capacity as the ceremonial head of state.

Westminster Hall is traditionally the place where monarchs, and sometimes former Prime Ministers, lie-in-state before their funerals. Tablets on the floor of the hall commemorate these occasions.

Exhibitions and other special events are also held in Westminster Hall and are often open free of charge to the public.

Parliamentary Diary.