Westminster Palace

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Westminster Palace or Houses of Parliament, in Westminster, London. The present enormous structure, of Neo-Gothic design, was built (1840–60) by Sir Charles Barry to replace an aggregation of ancient buildings almost completely destroyed by fire in 1834. The complex served as a royal abode until the 16th cent., when it was adopted as the assembly place for the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The Great Hall was built by William II at the end of the 11th cent. The superbly constructed hammer-beam roof spanning its width of 68 ft. (20.7 m), part of a subsequent rebuilding of the hall by Richard II, was the finest extant example of medieval open-timber work; it was burned by incendiary bombs in 1941. Westminster Hall was the only portion of the palace to survive intact from the fire of 1834 and now serves as the entrance of the building. In it the House of Lords, sitting as the highest English court of law, met for centuries. Among the numerous events of historic renown enacted there were the deposition of Richard II, the sentencing of Charles I, and the trials of Sir Thomas More and Warren Hastings. Damage inflicted during air raids during World War II has since been completely repaired.

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Westminster, palace of. From the time of Edward the Confessor to the early years of the reign of Henry VIII, Westminster was the main royal residence. The palace grew up around the abbey built by the Confessor on Thorney Island and consecrated in December 1065, a week before the king's death. The abbey was completely rebuilt by Henry III from 1245 onwards, though far from finished in his lifetime. William Rufus built the great hall and first held court in it in 1099: it was reroofed by Richard II and for centuries was the home of the law courts, the place of impeachments and state trials, and the venue for the coronation banquet. John began the building of St Stephen's chapel, which was taken over after the Reformation by the House of Commons. Henry II built domestic rooms for the household, including the great chamber, and Henry III added the painted chamber, adorned with biblical stories. In Edward III's reign the Jewel Tower was built, later to be used as the House of Lords Record Office. By the 15th cent., the palace was a rabbit warren of rooms and corridors, swarming with servants and lawyers, and liable to flooding. In 1512, soon after a grand celebration in honour of the king's young son, who died a week later, there was a disastrous fire. Henry moved to Whitehall and the palace of Westminster was totally given over to public offices. After the fire of 1834, only Rufus' great hall was left. The rest was rebuilt according to the design of Sir Charles Barry, assisted by Augustus Pugin.

J. A. Cannon