Westminster Hall

views updated May 23 2018


Westminster Hall was the home of English superior courts until they were moved to the Strand in the early 1880s. Construction of the hall began in 1097; the hall is 240 feet long, 671/2 feet wide, and 90 feet high. In addition to holding regular court sessions, the hall was the focal point of medieval political life.

Many famous trials were held in the hall. Sir Thomas More (1478–1535), lord chancellor for Henry VIII (1491–1547), was sentenced to death for refusing to recognize royal supremacy over the church. Charles I (1600–49) was sentenced to death for treason, and Warren Hastings (1732–1818) was impeached for his handling of the East India Company.

Westminster Hall contained the King's Bench, the Court of Chancery, and the Court of Common Pleas. Until the eighteenth century, it had no partitions or screens to divide the courts from the open hall.

The hall was part of Westminster Palace, which, except for the hall and St. Stephen's Chapel, was destroyed by fire in 1834. The houses of Parliament were constructed next to the hall between 1840 and 1860.

Westminster hall

views updated May 21 2018

Westminster hall, built by William Rufus (1097) as an extension of Edward the Confessor's palace, is the only surviving part of the original palace of Westminster. Used initially for feasts, then early parliaments, it developed into an administrative centre, housing the Courts of Common Pleas, King's Bench, Chancery, Exchequer, and Star Chamber. From mid-17th to mid-18th cent., legal activities proceeded alongside stalls selling books and trinkets, rendering it a fashionable haunt. The hall has suffered fires and floods, seen coronation banquets, trials (More, Charles I), and lyings-in-state (Gladstone, Churchill) under its hammer-beam roof, and is now linked to the House of Commons.

A. S. Hargreaves

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Westminster Hall

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Westminster Hall