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The Hall in the 19th and 20th centuries

By the 1820s, Westminster Hall had lost many of its old uses - law courts, shops, state trials and coronation feasts. The hall also became a less public place, even though the public were still usually freely admitted.

Charles Dickens

In 1833, Charles Dickens, having for the first time seen one of his stories in print, walked around Westminster Hall for half an hour with his eyes "dimmed with joy".

In 1843, the Hall was used to exhibit competition designs for frescoes to adorn the new Palace. There were 330,000 visitors during the six weeks of the exhibition.

Further designs were exhibited over the next four years, and competing designs for new public offices in 1857.

Volunteer units

Scares about possible invasion from France in 1859-61 resulted in the formation of numerous volunteer units, many of which used Westminster Hall for drilling and parades.

In March 1860, there were 500 to 700 volunteers in the Hall for four hours every evening.

The Hall was also used for parades and inspection each month by the Corps of Commissioners, founded in 1859 to obtain employment for wounded service men. These units, however, eventually acquired drill halls elsewhere.

New uses in the 20th century

During the 20th century, several new uses were found for the Hall, such as for coronation luncheons, exhibitions, veteran gatherings and parades. In 1905, banquets were revived, the first of which was in conjunction with the visit of the French fleet to Portsmouth.

This was followed by lunch for the Inter-Parliamentary Conference in 1906, a banquet during the Imperial Conference in 1907 and the coronation luncheons of 1911, 1937 and 1953.

R101 crash victims

In 1930, the coffins of the 48 victims of the crash of the R101 airship were laid in the Hall.

The Hall was also used for the gatherings of veterans, such as the one held in 1936 for the 6,000 Canadians who had fought at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in the First World War.

US bicentenary

In 1976, the Speaker presented a golden copy of the Magna Carta to the Speaker of the House of Representatives to mark the bicentenary of the United States of America.

Did you know?

Westminster Hall was flooded in 1237, 1242, 1579, 1841, and in spite of the making of the Thames Embankment, again in 1928


You can access a biography of

Charles Dickens

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.