Shops and stalls

An illustration of Westminster Hall in 1738 with bookshops and stalls

Like any other gathering place for large crowds, Westminster Hall quickly attracted traders with their wares. Merchandise was sold in the Hall by the 1290s, and there were shops operating by 1339-40.

Westminster Hall in 1738 with bookshops and stalls

Rent due

The Keeper of the Palace was entitled to the rent of 8d (eight pence) a year from each merchant having a booth in the Hall, and to 4d (four pence) a year from each merchant carrying his goods.

By the reign of Richard II (1377-99), the Hall had become one of the chief centres of London life.

An early modern shopping centre

Due to the presence of the law courts, the Hall also became a covered market for legal paraphernalia. Various shops and stalls jostled each other along the walls of the Hall, selling wigs, pens and other stationery.

In the 16th century, the scholars of Westminster School were permitted to erect stalls in the Hall to sell their books; by the late 17th century, drapers and ribbon counters were trading next to them. In 1666, there were 48 shops in the Hall, some of which were combined to form larger premises.

Shops eight feet wide

Allowing space for the law courts, each shop must have been about eight feet wide. These stalls were removed for coronation banquets and restored afterwards. Many shopkeepers discovered that the Hall could be very cold, being originally heated by open fires beneath one or both of its lanterns.

The 17th century diarist and MP Samuel Pepys made considerable use of the Hall, particularly for books and small items of clothing such as gloves and caps, and was familiar with some of the shopkeepers.

Shops and stalls removed

It appears that these shops and stalls were removed from the Hall by 1780. In 1871, a refreshment stall was set up in the Hall, but only during parliamentary sessions.

Recently a souvenir shop was re-established in the north-west corner of the Hall, thus continuing the shopping tradition.

Information desk

Today, there is an information desk for visitors to the Houses of Parliament, and a public cafe (Jubilee Cafe) just off Westminster Hall.

Related information

Visitors to the Houses of Parliament can ask any questions about their visit, or the work of the House of Commons and House of Lords, at the information desk in Westminster Hall

Biographies

You can access biographies of

Richard II
Samuel Pepys

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.