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Westminster Hall

Not only as a curious and imposing specimen of antiquity, but as the scene of the legislative assemblies, the courts of justice, &c., merits the attention of the visitor and the admiration of the inhabitant. The Old Hall was built by William Rufus, in the years 1097 and 1098, at which place, on his return from Normandy, the year following its completion, " he kept his feast of Whitsuntide very royally." It was, therefore, first used as a banqueting-house to the palace, which stood on the site of what is now called Old Palace Yard. It became ruinous before the reign of Richard II., who repaired it in 1397, raised the walls two feet, altered the windows and added a new roof, as well as a stately porch and other buildings. The expense was paid by a levy on banished strangers or refugees, who had sought an asylum in England. In 1236, Henry III., on new-year's day, caused 6,000 poor men, women, and children, to be entertained in this hall, and in the other rooms of his palace. This was on the occasion of queen Eleanor's coronation. The king and queen had been married at Canterbury; and on the day of this great feast they made their public entry into London. As a proof of its size, it may be mentioned that Richard II. kept his Christmas festival in the New Hall, accompanied with all that splendour and magnificence for which his court was conspicuous; and that on such occasion 28 oxen, 300 sheep, and fowls without number were consumed.--The number of guests on each day of the feast amounting to 10,000, and 2,000 cooks being employed. The present hall was first called the New Hall Palace, to distinguish it from the old palace, at the south end of the ball, which, taking in the chapel of St. Stephen, are now used as the two houses of parliament. The room, constituting Westminster Hall, exceeds in dimensions any in Europe that is unsupported by pillars ;--its length is 270 feet; and its height 90 feet.; the breadth 74: its height adds to its solemnity. The roof consists chiefly of chestnut wood, most curiously constructed, and of a fine species of Gothic. It is every where adorned with angels supporting the arms of Richard II., or those of Edward the Confessor, as is the stone moulding that runs round the hall, with the hart couchant under a tree, and other devices of Richard IL Parliaments often sat in this hall. In 1397, when, in the reign of Richard II., it was extremely ruinous, he built a temporary room for his parliament, formed with wood, and covered with tiles. It was open on all sides, that the constituents might see every thing that was said and done!

Though the kings of England are crowned in the chapel of St. Edward the Confessor, in Westminster Abbey, it has for many ages been the practice for them to hold their coronation feasts in Westminster Hall. It has also been used at the trial of peers accused of' high treason, or other high crimes and misdemeanors, besides the courts of Chancery, Exchequer, King's Bench, Common Pleas, &c., ever since the reign of Henry the Third, have been held in different apartments of this extensive building. Warren Hastings, and the late Lord Melville, were tried in this hall, fitted up expressly for the occasion; and persons accused of treason have been executed in it.

Source: Leigh's New Picture of London. Printed for Samuel Leigh, 18, Strand;
by W. Clowes, Northumberland Court. 1819