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Westminster Hall, 1822-26 (24)


Surveys of Westminster Hall and Old Law Courts buildings within its east curtilage, as extant


Topographical Extent:-
This comprises of the area covered by Westminster Hall itself, including the Courts of King’s Bench and Chancery, which until 1823 were located at its southern end. Included here are the Duchy of Lancaster Court and the Exchequer offices, located against the north-east corner of the Hall facing New Palace Yard. Its extent includes St Stephen’s Court, an open area immediately to the south the latter, running as far as the Speaker’s House, directly east of the Hall’s northern end.

Architectural Note:-
Since the medieval era, Westminster Hall had served as the locus classicus for the Courts of King’s Bench, Chancery and Common Pleas. Each Court was housed in wooden enclosures, which were dismantled when the Hall was required for coronation banquets and state trials. King's Bench and Chancery sat either beside each other on the site of the royal dais at the Hall's southern end, while Common Pleas sat in the centre of the Hall against its north wall. In 1739, King’s Bench and Chancery were enclosed behind more permanent glazed screens, with a communications passage running between them. Long attributed to William Kent, in 1755 Isaac Ware and William Robinson prepared designs to raise this screen to the height of the Hall’s hammerbeams, and give both Courts ceilings. Following this, the Court of Common Pleas moved out of the Hall into new accommodation (discussed under the East Range). In 1782, the Hall's interior was refaced in Portland Stone up to the main cornice, with pilaster strips added beneath the roof corbels. The floor raised on brick arches and the two internal stairs at the north end rebuilt.

The Hall’s north-eastern tower was occupied by the Pell Office. Projecting immediately east from the north-east corner of the Hall was further accommodation for officials of the Court of Exchequer. This included the House of the Usher of the Exchequer, facing New Palace Yard, and on the first floor the Duchy Court of Lancaster. Behind this range was St Stephen’s Court, whose west side had formerly been taken up with the stables of the Auditor of the Exchequer. The latter’s accommodation, based around the surviving medieval cloisters, had been given to the Speaker of the House of Commons in 1794, and substantially rebuilt by James Wyatt. By the time of these surveys, a passage for carriages had been broken through the ground floor immediately to the east of the Hall.

The Hall itself would have been well known to Soane, as he oversaw the restoration of its exterior from 1819 - 1823. Working in conjunction with John Hiort and Thomas Gayfere, master mason of Westminster Abbey, Soane supervised a meticulous campaign to return the north façade to its original design, as far as was practicable. This also included repairs to the roof, the addition of dormer windows and the reconstruction of the surviving louvre.

Drawings Note:-
Forming the eastern perimeter of the New Law Courts site, and despite containing two Courts, Westminster Hall does not itself feature prominently within the survey drawings. The concentration of interest falls on its western wall and flying buttresses, whose presence is fundamental to understanding the subsequent layout of the New Law Courts. The clearing of the site allowed numerous surveys of the latter; the finest being a section with falls within John Hiort’s survey of September 1822 (SM 37/1/8). The north front of the Hall was recorded in April 1824 by Stephen Burchell, represented by a series of drawings which appear to be a pupil's training exercise in on-site surveyorship.

The buildings to the east of the Hall are represented by intermittent drawings, associable with one unidentified hand in the Soane Office. Their creation was no doubt stimulated by Soane’s continuing wish to reconstruct this piecemeal accommodation, making it identical to the façade of the Court of King’s Bench, and thereby create symmetrical wings to the Hall when seen from New Palace Yard.



Digitisation of the Drawings Collection has been made possible through the generosity of the Leon Levy Foundation. This catalogue of Soane’s designs for the New Law Courts was generously funded by The Worshipful Company of Mercers and The Pilgrim Trust.

If you have any further information about this object, please contact us: drawings@soane.org.uk

Sir John Soane's collection includes some 30,000 architectural, design and topographical drawings which is a very important resource for scholars worldwide. His was the first architect’s collection to attempt to preserve the best in design for the architectural profession in the future, and it did so by assembling as exemplars surviving drawings by great Renaissance masters and by the leading architects in Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries and his near contemporaries such as Sir William Chambers, Robert Adam and George Dance the Younger. These drawings sit side by side with 9,000 drawings in Soane’s own hand or those of the pupils in his office, covering his early work as a student, his time in Italy and the drawings produced in the course of his architectural practice from 1780 until the 1830s.

Browse (via the vertical menu to the left) and search results for Drawings include a mixture of Concise catalogue records – drawn from an outline list of the collection – and fuller records where drawings have been catalogued in more detail (an ongoing process).  

Contents of Westminster Hall, 1822-26 (24)