Queen Elizabeth II lying-in-state at Westminster Hall: History and significance of building at heart of British history

Built in 1097, Westminster Hall is the oldest surviving building of the Palace of Westminster. The building has seen lavish coronation banquets, the trials of Guy Fawkes and Charles I as well as several royals including Queen Mary, King George VI and King George V lying-in-state

FP Explainers September 14, 2022 22:10:38 IST
Queen Elizabeth II lying-in-state at Westminster Hall: History and significance of building at heart of British history

Members of the public pay their respects as they pass the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II. AFP

The coffin of Queen Elizabeth II left Buckingham Palace for the last time Wednesday, borne on a horse-drawn carriage and saluted by cannons and the tolling of Big Ben, in a solemn procession through the flag-draped, crowd-lined streets of London and arrived at Westminster Hall.

Eight pall bearers carried the oak and lead-lined coffin into Westminster Hall, placing it on a raised platform known as a catafalque.

From later Wednesday afternoon, members of the public can enter Westminster Hall and file past the Queen’s coffin to pay their respects.

The coffin will then be moved to Westminster Abbey for a state funeral.

The place where Queen Elizabeth II,  Britain’s longest-serving monarch will lie in state for the world to mourn until her funeral Monday, is steeped in history.

Let’s take a closer look at it:

Heart of British history

Built in 1097, Westminster Hall is the oldest surviving building of the Palace of Westminster.

The major institutions of the British state: Parliament, the law courts and various government offices have all come up around Westminster Hall.

It was built under William II (Rufus), the son of William the Conqueror, as per Independent.

The UK Parliament website states that the hall was created to impress William II’s new subjects with his power and the majesty of his authority.

Queen Elizabeth II lyinginstate at Westminster Hall History and significance of building at heart of British history

The place where Queen Elizabeth II,  Britain’s longest-serving monarch will lie in state for the world to mourn until her funeral Monday, is steeped in history. AP

The 900-year-old building with an impressive timber roof has been at the heart of British history for a millennium: It was where numerous kings and queens hosted lavish coronation banquets, and where Guy Fawkes and Charles I were tried in the 17th Century.

Edward VII set the modern tradition of royal lying-in-state in Westminster Hall. He lay in state in 1910.

More recently, ceremonial addresses were presented in the hall to Elizabeth during her silver, golden and diamond jubilees.

Queen Mary, King George VI and King George V were among royals who lay in state at Westminster Hall.

An estimated 200,000 people visited the Queen Mother as she lay in-state, according to figures quoted by the official UK Parliament site.

As per Independent, the building holds the title of Europe’s largest unsupported medieval roof.

It measures 240ft (73.2m) long, 68ft (20.7m) wide and 92ft (28m) high.

The roof was originally supported by two rows of pillars but in 1399 Richard II wanted to make the hall more impressive by making it unsupported. Carpenter Hugh Herland and architect Henry Yevele achieved this by building huge hammer-shaped oak beams and strengthening the walls, as per the report.

As per INEWS, the building has survived two close encounters – the 1834 fire which destroyed the original Palace of Westminster caused by an overheating stove and the dropping of a dozen German bombs in 1941 on the neighbouring House of Commons.

 Hundreds of thousands expected to pay respects

British officials have published two waiting routes along the River Thames that the public need to join before they can enter Westminster Hall.

The main queue begins on the Albert Embankment and stretches east for miles past the London Eye, the Tate Modern and Tower Bridge. There is a separate, accessible route that people who need it can join from the Tate Britain museum.

Mourners have been warned about long waits, possibly overnight. Hundreds of extra toilets and water fountains will be placed along the route, and some venues along the way, including Shakespeare’s Globe, will open around the clock to provide refreshments and rest breaks.

Airport-style security checks are in place near the front of the line before people can enter Parliament.

Chris Bond, from Truro in southwest England, was among those lining up along the banks of the River Thames. He also attended the lying-in-state of the Queen’s Mother in 2002.

“Obviously, it’s quite difficult queuing all day long, but when you walk through those doors into Westminster Hall, that marvellous, historic building, there was a great sense of hush and one was told you take as much time as you like, and it’s just amazing,” he said.

“We know the Queen was a good age and she served the country a long time, but we hoped this day would never come,” he added.

Chris Imafidon, secured the sixth place in the queue.

“I have 1,001 emotions when I see her,” he said. “I want to say, God, she was an angel, because she touched many good people and did so many good things.”

After the state funeral on Monday, the coffin will be taken to Windsor, about 32 kilometers west of London.

The Queen will be laid to rest in the King George VI Memorial Chapel, within St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, where her mother and father were interred and her sister Princess Margaret’s ashes were placed.

With inputs from agencies

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