Old and New Palace Yards were two of the main courtyards of the medieval Palace of Westminster. During the time of Edward the Confessor, Old Palace Yard connected the Palace with Westminster Abbey, and was a quiet secluded spot where one could meditate or rest.
Old Palace Yard
Old Palace Yard was at the centre of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605; Guy Fawkes and his confederates rented one of the houses which ran in a row across the centre of the Yard, and first began to tunnel through to the House of Lords, until they found it simpler to hire a cellar under the House itself.
Captured and pronounced guilty, they were hanged from a scaffold erected in the Yard.
In 1618, Sir Walter Raleigh was beheaded in the Yard. His widow took his head away, wrapped in his cloak, and kept it for over twenty years in a glass case until she died.
The statue of Richard the Lionheart by Baron Marochetti now stands in the Yard. A model of the statue was first shown at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851, and various noblemen subscribed £3,000 to have it cast in bronze and presented to the nation.
New Palace Yard
New Palace Yard lies in front of the north end of Westminster Hall. It was named New after the Hall was built by William II (Rufus) in 1097, to distinguish it from Old Palace Yard and the great hall of Edward the Confessor's Palace which lay to the south.
It now conceals a five-level underground car park with space for 450 cars, constructed in 1972-4. An archaeological investigation undertaken at that time yielded much information about the history of the Yard. In particular, it revealed the octagonal base of a large canopied fountain built in 1443 by Henry VI.
This fountain, which incorporated the remains of an early 12th century conduit, stood in the yard until the late 17th century. The Yard has since been laid out as a garden, with a fountain that commemorates the Queen's Silver Jubilee of 1977.