Westminster Hall is celebrated for many things not least because it is still there at all. It is the largest survivor of the original Palace of Westminster of which hardly anything remains - at least above ground - apart from the Jewel Tower. Although it has been modified since it was built in the late 1090s by King William II, known as "Rufus", its architectural grandeur remains intact and nowhere more so than in its hammer-beam roof.
It was started in 1393 and remains the largest hammer-beam roof in the world, having survived two world wars and the 1834 fire which destroyed nearly all of the rest of the parliamentary buildings. It is difficult to believe that William is said to have wanted it to be twice the size. Is it possible that his nickname "Rufus", supposedly because of his ruddy face, could actually have been a phonetic mistake for "Roofus"?
His roof certainly had longevity on its side and it remains an astonishingly clear space, the hammer-beams having removed the need for interrupting pillars.
Those beams have been witness to many key events in British history including the trials and death sentences passed, among others, on Sir Thomas More, Protector Somerset, Sir Thomas Wyatt and the Gun Powder Plot conspirators. But the most nostalgic was surely when Parliament decided in 1904 that some of the beams needed to be replaced. But where to get oak of a suitable quality? Some thought the original wood came from Ireland. Australia offered to supply replacement timber. But then it transpired that a recently elected MP Mr – later Sir – George Courthope had a tale to tell.
Apparently, the original oak timbers 600 years ago had been taken from his family estate at Wadhurst in Sussex. A grateful House took advantage of this opportunity so the replacement timbers were sourced from the same place as the original ones. But the story doesn't end there. In 1938 Sir George Courthope, speaking to the House of Commons about the Forestry Commission, observed: "It may interest Honourable members to know that a number of the oak trees which I felled for the restoration of Westminster Hall had over 600 annual rings, that is, they were over 600 years old, and as it is safe to assume that the great beams which they were replacing in Westminster Hall must have been at least of a similar age". In other words the oak trees which were agreed to replace the timbers in Westminster Hall in 1904 were actually growing 600 years ago when others around them were cut down for the original hall. Where else but in England could this have happened.