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Friday, July 30, 1999 Published at 16:50 GMT 17:50 UK

UK Politics

Hall opens for 900th birthday celebration

The hall is the oldest part of the Palace of Westminster

Members of the public will be able to visit the oldest part of London's best known landmark.

Westminster Hall, which is the oldest building in the Palace of Westminster, will open to marks its 900th anniversary after being closed to the public for the last two decades.

An exhibition marking the anniversary is to be staged over two months during the summer recess.

During its 900-year history, it has witnessed the trials of Charles I and the Gunpowder Plot conspirators.

State trials

Sir Winston Churchill and King George VI are among the monarchs and statesmen who have lain in state there before their funerals.

The hall was built by King William II in 1099 as a venue for feasts and other entertaining.

[ image: Sir Winston Churchill lay in state in the hall]
Sir Winston Churchill lay in state in the hall
It also housed the royal council of bishops, nobles and ministers, which later became known as Parliament and was a forerunner of the House of Lords.

Although Parliament has never met in the hall on a regular basis, the building helped make Westminster the administrative centre of England during the middle ages.

In later centuries, the hall housed the courts of law and was the location of the state trials of Sir Thomas More, Charles I, and the Gunpowder Plot conspirators.

The hall, which survived the fire of 1834 and the bombing of 1941, is now used for major public ceremonies such as in 1996 when President Nelson Mandela addressed both houses of Parliament.

Recess tours

There had been plans to open the line of route in the palace during the summer months when Parliament is in recess.

But a plan to charge visitors an entrance fee was voted against by MPs earlier this year

If the proposals had gone ahead, the Houses of Parliament would have been opened up to all members of the public for a £6.50 fee.

But MPs objected to the principle of visitors of having to pay to see the historic palace, despite the hundreds of thousands of pounds it would cost to provide tours.

The Commons administration committee had argued that the Palace of Westminster would become an instant tourist attraction and would simplify the current chaotic system where parties have to go through their MP and be taken round by a doorkeeper.

  • Westminster Hall will be open between 1400-1700 on Mondays to Fridays between 2 August to 24 September.

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