Westminster Hall, London
Greater London North
The iconic Grade 1 listed Westminster Hall is the oldest part of the Palace of Westminster. Thousands of tourists descend on the site every year from across the globe.
The hall – which is deemed to be the gateway to the Palace of Westminster, a UNESCO World Heritage Site – was originally built in 1097 by King William II and later remodelled to include the magnificent hammer-beam roof by Richard II in 1393.
It is the only part of the palace that survives in almost its original form, despite being ravaged by a fire in October 1834 and damaged by an incendiary bomb during the Second World War.
Westminster Hall’s grand roof is the largest medieval timber roof in Northern Europe. It is home to 13 oak hammer-beams, weighing some 660 tonnes, that were largely manufactured off site and transported to Westminster by barges and horse-drawn wagons for assembly.
The uses of the hall have included great state occasions, tournaments, coronation feasts, state trials and even a marketplace.
Notable historical events include the trials of William Wallace and Charles I and, in more recent years, ceremonial addresses by the Queen, Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama.
Today, it continues to be used as the venue for lying-in-state royals, as well as a raft of events and public displays.
Vital restoration and maintenance works were required to be carried out to ensure the hall remained safe for public use and so it can be appreciated for decades to come.
Built environment consultancy Pick Everard – operating under Perfect Circle’s unique collaboration – provided project management services for the scheme, which was accelerated by SCAPE Consultancy, a direct award framework that drives collaboration, efficiency, time and cost savings.
The project required the following works to be completed:
- Clean the hall’s 600-year-old hammer-beam roof internally
- Carry out essential repairs to the roof timber trusses
- Repair and restore the lead roof lantern, which has been obscured from view since 2005
- Install fire safety equipment, including automated fire detection and voice alarm system
- Install all cabling infrastructure for a future lighting scheme
- Remove dust and debris from each roof truss.
After the hall was bombed in the war, the roof lantern that sits atop the roof was rebuilt in the 1950s.
In 2005, a temporary crash deck was installed to ensure the structure was safe, but which obscured the view of the lantern – limiting public appreciation for more than a decade.
As the roof lantern is a timber structure with lead cladding, cast lead detailing and internal timber panels, its restoration required a lot of specialist carpentry works.
For health and safety purposes, no additional weight was allowed to be added on the roof so a complex, self-supporting scaffold bridge was constructed so work could be carried out.
It was of great importance that the lantern remained true to its roots, so the original sand-cast lead was removed, melted down and re-cast using the same traditional method that was applied when it was made in the 1950s.
Part of the project’s vision was for Westminster Hall to remain open to the public throughout the construction works, subject to closures as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
One of the biggest challenges was to maintain health and safety and the operational requirements of the hall so the public wasn’t inconvenienced by the works.
This involved installing large vinyl canvases that included photos of the windows before the temporary, complex scaffolding was put up.
Not only did these cover up the supporting framework but, as lots of tourists visit the hall, it meant they could still experience the oldest parts of Westminster rather than seeing a construction site.
A lot of the work was also undertaken out of hours during evenings and weekends so as not to disrupt the sitting of the House of Lords and House of Commons.
The roof lantern atop the hall was carefully dismantled and restored using traditional craftsmanship.
The temporary crash deck has been removed, meaning the ornate timber interior of the lantern can be seen for the first time since 2005.
A fully automated fire detection and voice-activated alarm system was also installed as part of the works.
The equipment has been obscured from view – remaining sympathetic to the traditional design but updating the technology to suit modern standards and safety requirements.
Not only can the public experience Westminster Hall in its original glory, but the beams and lantern shouldn’t require further conservation work for another hundred or so years, providing a lasting legacy for generations to come.