Essential Architecture-  London

Westminster Hall See also Westminster Palace






1397 to 1399




stone 290 feet long inside, 68 foot span between walls, with ceiling structure rising to 92 feet at the ridge.
Current roof structure built by King Richard II.


meeting hall
An ancient, beautiful hammer-beam roof structure of heavy truss-like wood beams, covering half an acre.
  Westminster Hall is the oldest remaining part of the old palace, with its walls being erected in 1097 in the reign of William Rufus. The roof was originally supported by two rows of pillars, but by 1399 Richard II wanted to make the Hall more impressive by building an unsupported roof. This great challenge was met by carpenter Hugh Herland and architect Henry Yevele. They solved the problem by building huge hammer shaped oak beams and strengthening the walls. The hammerbeam roof is still an impressive sight today. Westminster Hall is now used for major public ceremonies.
  An example of Westminster Archives’ original watercolours. On 16 October 1834, Westminster’s ancient Parliament buildings were largely destroyed by fire caused by an overheated stove. No lives were lost, and Westminster Hall was saved, but many historic records were burnt. Crowds flocked to see London’s biggest conflagration since 1666.
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.

Video about Westminster Hall's famous roof
Watch a video explaining theories of how the roof of Westminster Hall was built over time.

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.

The Hall, of which the walls were built in 1097-99, as part of an intended reconstruction of the whole palace, is the oldest extant building on the Palace of Westminster site. Its floor area is about 1850 sq yds, and it is one of the largest mediaeval halls in Europe with an unsupported roof. The roof was originally supported by two rows of pillars, but the present magnificent hammerbeam roof was designed in the reign of Richard II. The mason/architect of the 14th century rebuilding was Henry Yevele, and the carpenter/designer of the roof, Hugh Herland. Westminster Hall was the traditional venue for Coronation banquets.