Parliament and petitioners

From the 1640s, the Hall began to attract large gatherings of petitioners.

When a petition for the abolition of bishops was presented in November 1640, some 300 to 400 people brought it into the Hall, which conservative Members regarded as outrageous.

Thousands of citizens also came to the Hall the following February when the Commons discussed the petition. In general, however, crowds were kept out of the Hall during the tumults preceding the Civil War.

Political gossip

In the late 17th century, a door in the south end of the Hall became the main approach to the Commons. The Hall thus became, in effect, the outer lobby of the Commons, where petitioners, footmen and people seeking political gossip would gather.

Samuel Pepys's diary indicates that when Parliament was sitting, the Hall was the prime place for obtaining political information.

Large political gatherings

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Hall was used several times for large political meetings.

In 1769, some two to three thousand supporters of the radical politician, John Wilkes, met in the Hall and called for the dissolution of Parliament.

In 1780, Charles James Fox addressed about three thousand people at a meeting called to protest against the coal tax.

In June 1880, some three thousand supporters of the atheist MP, Charles Bradlaugh, crowded into the Hall to cheer him as he entered. In August 1881, his supporters were allowed to cross the Hall to present copies of a petition to Members at the steps.


But when Bradlaugh sought to enter the Chamber having not taken the Oath because of his atheist views, he was manhandled out of the Chamber into the Hall by doorkeepers and policemen.

As they tumbled into the Hall, a cry of "they are killing him" went up from the crowd, and serious disorder was only narrowly averted.

Also within Living Heritage


You can access biographies of

Samuel Pepys
John Wilkes
Charles James Fox
Charles Bradlaugh

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.

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