St Stephens Hall

St Stephens Hall

St Stephens Hall

St Stephen’s Hall was built by Sir Charles Barry on the site of St Stephen’s Chapel, which from 1550 until the fire of 1834 served as the Chamber of the House of Commons. Before 1550 the Commons had no meeting-place of their own and sat either in the Chapter House or the Refectory of Westminster Abbey. Brass studs let into the floor indicate the position of the Speaker’s Chair and the Table of the House, and two brass tablets on the side walls about thirty feet from the western end mark the position of the wall which separated the Lobby from the Chamber.

St Stephen’s Chapel was begun in 1292 by Edward I to replace an earlier chapel founded by King Stephen. It was completed in 1348 by Edward III, who founded the College of St Stephen, consisting of a dean and twelve canons. (The modem mosaics at each end of the Hall relate respectively to King Stephen’s original foundation and Edward III’ s completion of the later Chapel.) Underneath the Hall is the Crypt Chapel so that the two Chapels formed a two-storied building in the manner of St Louis’ Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. In 1707 Sir Christopher Wren reconstructed St Stephen’s Chapel and built galleries to accommo­date the Scottish Members. In 1800 it became necessary still further to ‘stretch’ the Chamber by cutting away the walls to make room for the Irish Members.

The Crypt Chapel of St Mary Undercroft

The Crypt Chapel of St Mary Undercroft

All the great events in English parliamentary history from Edward VI to William IV took place on this spot: it was here that Charles I came to arrest the five members and found that ‘the birds had flown’; that Burke pleaded for an understanding of the American colonies; that Pitt and Fox contended on the questions of peace and war; that Wilberforce urged the abolition of slavery; and that the long contest for the Reform Bill was carried through. Statues of famous debaters who spoke in this place face one another on either side of the Hall: Clarendon and Hampden, Walpole and Chatham, Pitt and Fox.

The side walls of the Hall are decorated with panels illustrative of English history.

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