The Second World War and after

Having survived fire and death-watch beetles, the Hall's next enemy was incendiary bombs during the Second World War.

Worst attack

The worst attack was on the night of 10 May 1941, when the Commons Chamber and Westminster Hall were both hit by bombs. The Chamber rapidly became an inferno, while flames began to spread to the hammer-beams of the Hall.

The Hall was saved by the decisiveness of Walter Elliot, a former Cabinet minister, who had hurried over from his nearby home.

He was told by the Fire Service that it would be impossible to save both the Hall and the Chamber - it had to be one or the other. He had no hesitation in advising them to concentrate on saving the medieval Hall.

Irreplaceable

After all, as he remarked to a friend years later, they could always build a new Commons Chamber, while the Hall was irreplaceable.

Not content with merely giving advice, Elliot personally smashed with an axe an opening through the locked doors of the Hall, so that hoses could be brought inside to play on the burning roof. The Hall was soon out of danger, but the Commons was reduced to ashes and rubble.

Repairs to the Hall

The south window of the Hall, built by Charles Barry, had been destroyed in an earlier raid in 1940. The new window now contains the coats-of-arm or monograms of the members and servants of both Houses who fell during the war, and below the window is a memorial to those who were killed during the First and Second World Wars.

Another programme of repair in 1949-50 resulted in the replacement of another five per cent of the roof's timber, and the six statues of kings were conserved between 1988 and 1994.

A new phase of repairs to the Hall's floor and steps took place in 2005-06.

Biographies

You can access biographies of

Walter Elliot
Charles Barry

from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for free, online, using your local library card number (includes nine out of ten public libraries in the UK) or from within academic library and other subscribing networks.

Also in this section

Find out about archaeology finds discovered during work in Westminster Hall in 2006

Also within Living Heritage