King George VI westminster london
The late King George VI lies in state in Westminster Hall, London, on Feb.11, 1952. Image Credit: AP

London: Westminster Hall, where Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin will lie in state until her funeral on Monday, is the oldest part of parliament, with a central role in British history.

The major institutions of state grew from the hall, which dates back to the 11th century and is now part of the Palace of Westminster in London.

It was the legal and administrative centre of England for centuries, with parliament, the law courts and government offices developing in or around the historic building.

The trials of King Charles I, Gunpowder Plot ringleader Guy Fawkes, Scottish independence leader William Wallace and Reformation martyr Thomas More were held in the hall.

With stone walls two metres thick, construction began in 1097 under King William II, the son of William the Conqueror, and was completed two years later. It was the largest hall in England, and probably Europe too.

The vast building measures 73 by 20 metres (240 by 67 feet). Its stellar feature is the hammer-beam roof, the largest surviving mediaeval timber roof in northern Europe.

Made from oak beams, it was commissioned in 1393 by King Richard II and is considered a masterpiece of design.

The hall survived the Great Fire of 1834, which largely destroyed the Palace of Westminster, and a direct bomb hit during World War II in 1941.


The hall hosted royal feasts and coronation banquets but is etched in public memory through its use for rare lyings-in-state.

Guarded around the clock, the coffin is placed on a raised platform in the centre of the hall to allow the public to pay their respects.

Four-time prime minister William Gladstone lay in state in 1898. But since then, the honour has been afforded to sovereigns, their consorts and very few major public figures, including wartime prime minister Winston Churchill in 1965.

The last time was for Queen Elizabeth II’s mother, also called Queen Elizabeth, after her death in 2002.

An estimated 200,000 people filed past King George VI’s widow.

‘A little extra colour’

Queen Elizabeth II is closely associated with Westminster Hall.

She first addressed both houses of parliament in the hall to mark her silver jubilee - 25 years on the throne - in 1977.

“Here, in a meeting of sovereign and parliament, the essence of constitutional monarchy is reflected,” she said.

She did so again in 1988, 1995 and for the jubilees in 2002 and 2012.

A new stained-glass window was commissioned to mark her 2012 diamond jubilee.

“Should this beautiful window cause just a little extra colour to shine down upon this ancient place, I should gladly settle for that,” she said in her address.

“We are reminded here of our past, of the continuity of our national story and the virtues of resilience, ingenuity and tolerance which created it.”

Rare speeches

The three sovereigns are the only Britons to address both houses of parliament in the oak-timbered hall since 1945.

The rare honour is bestowed on very few foreign dignitaries.

The only ones to do so since World War II have been French president Charles de Gaulle in 1960; South African president Nelson Mandela in 1996; pope Benedict XVI in 2010; US president Barack Obama in 2011 and Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 2012.

Suu Kyi was the last to address both houses in the hall before King Charles III did so on Monday.

“I cannot help but feel the weight of history which surrounds us,” he told parliamentarians.

“That your traditions are ancient we see in the construction of this great hall and the reminders of mediaeval predecessors of the office to which I have been called.”