New Palace Yard and Westminster Hall

Pages 536-544

Old and New London: Volume 3. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.

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In this section



"I can re-people with the Past; and of
The Present there is still, for eye and thought,
And meditation chasten'd down, enough."—Childe Harold.

New Palace Yard in the Seventeenth Century—The High Gate—"Paradise" and the "Constabulary"—The Fountain—The Ancient Clock-tower and "Old Tom"—An Old Tale re-told—A King's Lamentation—Perkin Warbeck in the Stocks—Punishments for Libel—Leighton and Prynne in the Pillory—Execution of the Earl of Holland, the Duke of Hamilton, and Lord Capel—Titus Oates—The "Turk's Head" and the Rota Club—Statues of Lord Derby and George Canning—William Godwin, the Novelist—Westminster Hall—Heads of the Regicides exposed on the Top of Westminster Hall—The Fate of Cromwell's Head—Old Views of the Hall—Shops there—The Timber Roof—The First Day of Term—London Lickpenny—Peter the Great and his Lawyers.

Fortunately we are not unacquainted with the general appearance of Westminster in the reign of Charles I., for among the etchings of Hollar, known as "the Long London Views," are sketches of the Parliament House, Westminster Hall, and the Abbey. Two of them are given on page 403. They were worked at Antwerp, in 1647, and show the whole river frontage, with wherries and covered boats. St. Stephen's Chapel stands well out, over a garden covered with trees, but it has lost the highpitched roof which once surmounted it. Between Westminster Hall and the river is a row of low houses, from which stairs lead down to the river; and there is another garden, with stairs, near the present site of Cannon Row.

At the northern end of Westminster Hall is an open square, with a tower near where now is the entrance to King Street; there are a quantity of sheds against the chief entrance, which is continued on either side by wings of the Tudor style of architecture. At the north-west corner of the square is an entrance into St. James's Park under a gateway, standing as nearly as possible where now is Storey's Gate. In the foreground, almost in the centre, stands a conduit in the classical style, and the centre of the square is filled with heavy rumbling carriages, pedestrians, and market-women.

Such was the appearance, in the middle of the seventeenth century, of the open space fronting the principal entrance to Westminster Hall, and known as New Palace Yard, so called from its having been the great yard or court in which William Rufus intended to build a new palace, of which Westminster Hall was to have formed no mean part. Indeed, the Abbey, the Church of St. Margaret, and the Hall, which now stand almost in isolation, were at one time far more closely connected with each other and St. Stephen's Chapel, and formed part of one harmonious group. Smith writes, in his "Antiquities of Westminster:"—"A stone wall, with some houses and a clock-house, and also a gate towards the Woolstaple, occupied, in the time of Richard II., the north side of New Palace Yard; and a similar stone wall, with a gate at the end of Union Street, enclosed it on the west. This wall, by a gate at the north end of what is now St. Margaret Street, was connected with another like stone wall, extending westwards from the west side of Westminster Hall, so that New Palace Yard was completely enclosed; and lastly, at the south end of St. Margaret Street, across the north end of the present Abingdon Street, were in like manner stone walls with gates in them. By these means, with the Old Palace on the east and south sides, and a close adjoining Westminster Abbey, and the Abbey itself on the west, the close having a stone wall round it, Old Palace Yard, like the New, was completely enclosed."

The gate on the west side was called the High Gate, from its stateliness and beauty. It was commenced by Richard II., in 1384, on the east side of Union Street, and at the entrance of the Broad Sanctuary, but never completely finished; it was used for a short time as a prison, and was demolished in the reign of Queen Anne. The gateway on the south side, opening into a lane which led to St. Margaret's Church, was taken down a quarter of a century later, as "obstructing the passage of members on their way to Parliament." Upon the east side stood portions of the palace, which likewise had a gate beyond the Star Chamber, close to the King's Stairs, upon the bank of the Thames, and leading to the stairs. This water-gate was pulled down, to make room for the south-west abutment of the new bridge, at its erection.

"Of all the remarkable places in England," writes Dr. Mackay, in his Book on the Thames, "this and its neighbourhood is perhaps the most remarkable; and no other place upon the Thames—not even the princely towers and purlieus of Windsor itself—can vie with these in the recollections which they recall or the emotions which they excite. There stands yet—survivor amid calamity (fn. 1) —the elegant Hall of Westminster, with its entrances into the Chief Courts of Justice of this kingdom: courts in which Gascoigne, More, Hale, Bacon, Camden, Holt, Coke, Mansfield, Eldon, Brougham, and a host of other eminent and learned men, have presided. There also are the remains of the Houses of Lords and Commons, where the liberties of England were gained gradually but surely, through long centuries of doubt and darkness. There began the struggle for freedom, which never ceased till its object was won; there was heard the eloquence of all the patriots that have arisen in our land since the days of Pym, Hollis, and Hampden; there was tyranny resisted by the tongue and the vote, stronger weapons in a right cause than the glaire or the gun; there was the right established, the wrong cast down, civilisation extended, and slavery abolished. There in former days were to be seen and heard a Cranmer, a Strafford, a Laud, and a Cromwell. Nearer our own age, a Marlborough, a Harley, a Walpole, a Bolingbroke, and a Chatham. Nearer still, a Pitt, a Fox, a Burke, a Grattan, and a Sheridan; a Canning, a Mackintosh, a Wilberforce and a Romilly; with many others who have written their names for good or for evil on the pages of history. And here too, in our own day, walking and breathing among us are to be seen, in this appointed season, a Wellington, a Brougham, a Denman, a Melbourne, a Russell, a Durham, a Peel, and an O'Connell, with hundreds more of great yet lesser note, whose names are inscribed already in the book of history, but whose deeds are not yet ended, and who are destined, perhaps, hereafter to make a still greater figure in the annals of the mightiest empire that the world ever saw."

From Mr. Mackenzie Walcott's "Memorials of Westminster," we learn that in Palace Yard were anciently pales about five feet high, put up to protect foot-passengers from mud and from danger also. Within these rails, close to St. Stephen's Chapel and the private Palace, were two messuages called "Paradise" and the "Constabulary," both of which were granted by Henry VI. to John, Duke of Bedford. Towards the north-west corner of the court stood a beautiful fountain, the water of which fell in large cascades, and on the occasion of special state ceremonies was made to run with streams of choice wine. King Henry VI. granted permission to the parish to make use of the surplus water which flowed from the conduit; and under the date 1524 there is the following note in the churchwardens' accounts:—"Memm. The King's Charter for the Condett at the Pales'gate remayneth in the custody of the Churchwardens." The fountain was removed in the reign of Charles II.

On the front of a house which formerly stood exactly opposite the entrance into Westminster Hall was a dial inscribed with the line from Virgil, "Discite justitiam moniti," an inscription which is said to refer to a fine on a certain Chief Justice, named Ralph de Hingham, or De Hengham, in the reign of Henry III., for erasing or tampering with the Court Roll. The fine was employed, as we have stated in a previous chapter, in the construction of a bell-tower containing a clock, which, as it struck the hours, was intended to remind the ermined judges, as they sat in the Hall, of the fate of their "brother" and predecessor. The clocktower remained here till 1698, when the great bell, called "Old Tom," was granted to the new cathedral of St. Paul's, whither it was removed, and stood under a shed in the churchyard until the turret was prepared for its reception.

From the fact that, previous to the grant of "Old Tom," St. Paul's was destitute of any heavy bell, it has been conjectured that this must have been the distant clock which the sentinel on duty at Windsor Castle, during the reign of William III., declared struck thirteen instead of twelve times at midnight, in order to prove that he could not have been guilty of sleeping upon his post, as he was accused by the guard who relieved him after the due time. The story is thus recorded in the Public Advertiser, Friday, June 22, 1770:—"Mr. John Hatfield, who died last Monday, at his house in Glasshouse Yard, Aldersgate, aged 102 years, was a soldier in the reign of William and Mary, and the person who was tried and condemned by a court-martial for falling asleep on his duty upon the Terrace at Windsor. He absolutely denied the charge against him, and solemnly declared that he heard St. Paul's clock strike thirteen; the truth of which was much doubted by the court, because of the great distance. But whilst he was under sentence of death, an affidavit was made by several persons that the clock actually did strike thirteen instead of twelve; whereupon he received his Majesty's pardon. The above his friends caused to be engraved on his plate, to satisfy the world of the truth of a story which has been much doubted, though he had often confirmed it to many gentlemen, and a few days before his death told it to several of his neighbours. He enjoyed his sight and memory to the day of his death."

Palace Yard in its day has witnessed strange scenes. Here, in 1297, when deserted by the Constable and Marshal of England, Edward I., with his son Edward, the Primate, and the Earl of Warwick, "mounting a platform erected against the front of Westminster Hall, lamented the burdensome taxes which his wars had laid upon England, and assuring the assemblage that he was proceeding to Flanders for the sake of his people, commended his son to their love." The air was rent with the outburst of unanimous loyalty which responded to his appeal.

Towards the close of the year 1497, Perkin Warbeck was brought from the Tower to Westminster; and in the following year he was taken, while attempting to make his escape out of England, and was set for a whole day in the stocks upon a scaffold before the entrance to Westminster Hall, where he read his confession, written with his own hand, "not without innumerable reproaches, mocks, and scornings."

John Stubs, the Puritan attorney, and Robert Page his servant, had their hands cut off in New Palace Yard, in 1580, for a libel against Queen Elizabeth; and a few years later, William Parry, a prisoner drawn from the Tower, was here hung and quartered for high treason. Here, in 1587, Thomas Lovelace, by a sentence of the Star Chamber, inflicted for "false accusations of his kinsmen," was "carried on horseback about the Hall, with his face to the taile;" he was then pilloried, and had one of his ears cut off. In 1612, Robert Creighton, Lord Sanquire, a Scotch nobleman, was hanged for murder in front of the Hall. (See Vol. I., page 184.)

In Palace Yard the pillory was frequently set up in the days of the Stuarts, and even of our Hanoverian sovereigns. Thus we read that in 1630, Alexander Leighton, the father of the Archbishop, was put into the pillory, after a public whipping, for "a fanatical and rude libel on the queen and bishops." Four years later, William Prynne, the irrepressible assailant of the clergy, being found guilty in the Star Chamber Court of being both a schismatic and a libeller, was sentenced to be branded on both cheeks with the letters S. L., to lose his ear in the pillory in Palace Yard, and to be imprisoned for life; the letters S. L., meaning "schismatical libeller," but which he wittily declared must stand for "Stigmata Laudis," the brands of Archbishop Laud. Fortune, however, stood his friend; his own party came into power, and he was not only released from prison, but got a seat in Parliament in 1640.

Amongst those who have suffered by the headsman's axe in front of Westminster Hall was Henry Rich, first Earl of Holland. He had been employed by Charles I. in various posts, and amongst other offices had negotiated the marriage between the King and Henrietta Maria. But afterwards he changed sides repeatedly, and was "faithful to neither cause, fighting at one time for the King, and at another for the Parliament." At last he was captured by the stern Roundheads, who, tired of his never-ending changes, put an end to him by beheading him, in company with the Duke of Hamilton and Lord Capel, in 1649. "Hamilton and Capel," writes Mr. Larwood, "died with dignity; but Lord Holland, after having petitioned for his life, thought fit to die like a coxcomb, and appeared on the scaffold dressed in white satin trimmed with silver, which made Bishop Warburton say that he 'lived like a knave and died like a fool.'"

In the year 1685 Titus Oates was stripped of his ecclesiastical habit, and led round Westminster Hall with a placard set upon him declaring his iniquity; and he afterwards stood a narrow chance of being torn to pieces in the pillory. A wag of the day, speaking of Titus Oates, wittily said—if we may take "Joe Miller's Jest Book" for truth—"that he was a rogue in grain, and deserved to be well threshed."

In 1764, "a libel on the laws of the land," in the shape of a pamphlet published under the title of "Le Droit du Roy," a "dangerous essay, and condemned by both Houses of Parliament," says Hunter, was burnt by the common hangman before the gate of Westminster Hall; and in the next year John Williams was pilloried here for having published the celebrated No. 45 of Wilkes' North Briton.

In New Palace Yard, near the Palace Stairs, was the "Turk's Head," otherwise known as "Miles' Coffee House," where the noted Rota Club met. This club was founded by James Harrington, in 1659, as a kind of debating society, for the dissemination of republican opinions, which he had glorified in the "Oceana." The design of this club was to promote the changing of certain members of Parliament annually by rotation.

On the formation of Bridge Street the dimensions of New Palace Yard were somewhat contracted by the building of new houses on the north side; but on their removal, in 1864, the Government decided upon leaving the space unencumbered with buildings, and have erected in their place simply an ornamental railing. The eastern side of the enclosure is formed by part of the new Houses of Parliament and by the southern side of the front of Westminster Hall, and the not very inviting Law Courts. Westward, and extending as far as the Sessions Houses, the ground has been laid out as an ornamental garden, intersected by broad carriagedrives and footpaths. The various divisions are formed with grass-plots bordered with flowers, and a low ornamental railing. Here are bronze statues of the late Lord Derby and George Canning; the former is by Mr. Noble, R.A., and the latter by the late Sir Richard Westmacott.

At his official residence in New Palace Yard, close by the entrance to Westminster Hall, died in the year 1836, William Godwin, the novelist. He was a native of Wisbeach, in Cambridgeshire, and the son of a Dissenting minister. Beginning life as a Nonconformist minister, he afterwards associated with the violent and democratic politicians of the day, and ultimately became an avowed freethinker and despiser of religion, and the companion and friend of a party amongst whom were Holcroft, Thelwall, Hardy, and Horne Tooke, whom he defended when afterwards arraigned for high treason. Godwin then courted and frequented the society of Lauderdale, Fox, and Sheridan. He married the celebrated Miss Mary Wolstonecraft, authoress of "A Vindication of the Rights of Women," by whom he had a daughter who married the poet Shelley, and who was herself an authoress of some note. Godwin wrote and published the "Memoirs of Mary Wolstonecraft," "An Essay on Population," in opposition to Malthus, "A History of the Commonwealth of England," and other political works. He is, however, best known as a novelist by his story of "Caleb Williams," &c.

With the exception of the great door and window facing Palace Yard, Westminster Hall, which we are now about to enter, has not a very commanding aspect in its exterior; indeed, nearly all that strikes the eye from the outside is of comparatively modern construction. The front is bounded on each side by projecting square embattled towers. The towers are pierced with pointed windows, and beneath are niches with canopies, which still show traces of their original carved work; in these niches is a series of statues of the kings of England, from the time of Stephen, standing in rows above each other. Between the towers is the body of the Hall, rising with a high pointed roof, and terminated by a pinnacle; and above the spacious porch is a large and magnificent window. In the spandrels of the doorway are the arms of Edward the Confessor and Richard II., together with other sculptures.

Some time after the Restoration, the head of Oliver Cromwell, whose remains had been dug up from their burial-place at Tyburn, was set up on the top of Westminster Hall along with those of the regicides, Ireton and Bradshaw. The following authentic account of the subsequent fate of the head we take from a letter, signed "Senex," in the Times of December 31, 1874:—

"Ireton's head was in the middle, and Cromwell's and Bradshaw's on either side. Cromwell's head, being embalmed, remained exposed to the atmosphere for twenty-five years, and then one stormy night it was blown down, and picked up by the sentry, who, hiding it under his cloak, took it home and secreted it in the chimney corner, and, as inquiries were constantly being made about it by the Government, it was only on his death-bed that he revealed where he had hidden it. His family sold the head to one of the Cambridgeshire Russells, and, in the same box in which it still is, it descended to a certain Samuel Russell, who being a needy and careless man, exhibited it in a place near Clare Market. There it was seen by James Cox, who then owned a famous museum. He tried in vain to buy the head from Russell; for, poor as he was, nothing would at first tempt him to part with the relic, but after a time Cox assisted him with money, and eventually, to clear himself from debt, he made the head over to Cox. When Cox at last parted with his museum he sold the head of Cromwell for £230 to three men, who bought it about the time of the French Revolution to exhibit in Mead Court, Bond Street, at half-acrown a head. Curiously enough, it happened that each of these three gentlemen died a sudden death, and the head came into the possession of the three nieces of the last man who died. These young ladies, nervous at keeping it in the house, asked Mr. Wilkinson, their medical man, to take care of it for them, and they subsequently sold it to him. For the next fifteen or twenty years Mr. Wilkinson was in the habit of showing it to all the distinguished men of that day, and the head, much treasured, yet remains in his family.

"The circumstantial evidence is very curious. It is the only head in history which is known to have been embalmed and afterwards beheaded. On the back of the neck, above the vertebræ, is the mark of the cut of an axe where the executioner, having, perhaps, no proper block, had struck too high, and, laying the head in its soft, embalmed state on the block, flattened the nose on one side, making it adhere to the face. The hair grows promiscuously about the face, and the beard, stained to exactly the same colour by the embalming liquor, is tucked up under the chin, with the oaken staff of the spear with which the head was stuck upon Westminster Hall, which staff is perforated by a worm that never attacks oak until it has been for many years exposed to the weather.

"The iron spear-head, where it protrudes above the skull, is rusted away by the action of the atmosphere. The jagged way in which the top of the skull is removed throws us back to a time when surgery was in its infancy, while the embalming is so beautifully done that the cellular process of the gums and the membrane of the tongue are still to be seen. Several teeth are yet in the mouth; the membranes of the eyelids remain, the pia-mater and the dura-mater, thin membranes, which I believe lie over the brain, may be seen clinging to the inner and upper part of the skull. The brain was, of course, removed, but the compartments are very distinct. When the great sculptor, Flaxman, went to see it he said at once, 'You will not mind my expressing any disappointment I may feel on seeing the head?' 'Oh, no!' said Mr. Wilkinson, 'but will you tell me what are the characteristics by which the head might be recognised?' 'Well,' replied Flaxman, 'I know a great deal about the configuration of the head of Oliver Cromwell. He had a low, broad forehead, large orbits to the eyes, a high septum to the nose, and high cheek-bones; but there is one feature which will be with me a crucial test, and that is, that, instead of having the lower jaw-bone somewhat curved, it was particularly short and straight, but set out at angle, which gave him a jowlish appearance.' The head exactly answered to the description, and Flaxman went away expressing himself as convinced and delighted.

PALACE YARD, FROM THE SOUTH. (From a View by Canaletti.)

"The head has also a length from the forehead to the back of the head which is quite extraordinary, and one day, before Mr. Wilkinson retired from practice, his assistant called him into the surgery to point out to him how exactly the shaven head of a lad who was there as a patient resembled the embalmed head of Cromwell upstairs, and more particularly in the extreme length between the forehead and the occiput.

"Mr. Wilkinson mentioned the circumstance to the gentleman who brought the lad to him. 'No wonder,' said the gentleman, 'for this lad is a direct descendant of Oliver Cromwell, whose name, like this boy's, was Williams before they changed it to Cromwell.' It was curious that this type should re-appear or remain after so many years.

"When the head was in the possession of Samuel Russell he was frequently intoxicated when he showed it to his friends, and they cut off pieces of the hair, until the head was closely cropped.

"A correspondent in the Globe of September, 1874, believed that the body of Cromwell, after removal from the Abbey, was buried in Red Lion Square, and another body substituted and sent on to Tyburn with Ireton and Bradshaw. But it is not probable they could have obtained an embalmed body for the purpose. The embalmed head is now in the possession of Mr. Horace Wilkinson, Sevenoaks, Kent. There is a small hole where the wart was on his forehead, and the eyebrows met in the middle. The head has the appearance of hard, dry leather."

INTERIOR OF OLD WESTMINSTER HALL. (From a Print published in 1797.)

Formerly there stood several old buildings in the front, almost before the gate of the Hall; but these have been long since pulled down, and the whole of this part is now exposed to view. But it was not only on the outside of the building that the space was encroached upon; for a large part of the inside also was occupied by the stalls of sempstresses, milliners, law stationers, and secondhand booksellers, and even publishers. There is an old engraving of the Hall by Gravelot, representing these bookstalls as they were in his time, and Mr. Cunningham tells us that the duodecimo edition of the remains of Sir Walter Raleigh was printed for Henry Mortlock at the "Phœnix" in St. Paul's Churchyard, and at the "White Hart in Westminster Hall." Pepys tells us in his Diary, under date 20th January, 1659–60, that he had been "at Westminster Hall, where Mrs. Lane and the rest of the maids had their white scarfs [i.e. bought them], all having been at the burial of a young bookseller in the Hall." Laud also in his Diary records the fact that in February, 1630–1, the Hall itself had a narrow escape of being burnt down, through some of the little stalls and shops taking fire. And in like manner we read in "Tom Brown's Amusements," published in 1700:—"We entered into a great hall, where my Indian was surprised to see in the same place, men on the one side with baubles and toys, and on the other taken up with the fear of judgment, on which depends their inevitable destiny. In this shop are to be sold ribbons and gloves, towers and commodes by word of mouth; in another shop land and tenements are disposed of by decree. On your left hand you hear a nimble-tongued painted sempstress with her charming treble invite you to buy some of her knick-knacks, and on your right a deep-mouthed cryer, commanding impossibilities, viz., silence to be kept among women and lawyers."

In the "New View of London," published in 1708, this noble apartment is thus described:—"This hall was formerly made use of by the kings, &c., for feasting, and also as a room to relieve the poor; but for many years past—viz., since the ninth year of Henry III.—it has been the place where these Courts of Judicature sit. 1. The High Court of Chancery near the south-west angle. 2. That of the Queen's Bench near the south-east angle. 3. The Court of Common Pleas near the north door on the west side; and on that side above the steps is the Exchequer Court. . . . The sides are also used for shops, chiefly booksellers and milliners, and the feasts of our coronations are here kept. The length of this Hall is 228 feet, breadth 66, and height 90 feet. Contiguously to the south-east part of this Hall, up thirty-two steps, are the House of Commons and Speaker's Chamber, Court of Requests, Painted Chamber (said to have been Edward the Confessor's bedchamber, and now at the upper end fitted with a table and seats, where the Lords and Commons meet at a free conference between the two Houses about amendments to Bills, &c.), the House of Lords, Princes' Chamber (where the Queen is robed and unrobed on her coming to Parliament), and some others."

"It is very probably," continues the author of the above-mentioned work, "the most capacious room in Christendom, without pillars, taking it in all its dimensions of length, breadth; and height. It is situated on the south side of New Palace Yard, whence is a passage through this fabric to the Abbey, College, and School of Westminster. This room was first built by William Rufus in the year of our Lord 1097, as several authors affirm: the walls are of stone (partly boulder), the windows of the Gothic order, the floor paved with stone; but that which is most of curiosity is the roof covered with lead. It is made of Irish oak, so that it is always clean and free from that filth which is occasioned by vermin. There are no pillars to support the roof, notwithstanding its great altitude; but that is very artfully done by neat buttresses of the said timber, adorned and enriched with angels, &c. Under them are, however, much more noble ornaments of guidons, colours, and standards, ensigns and trophies of victory obtained most completely by the confederates under the command of his Grace the Duke of Marlborough." This is followed by a minute description of the "colours and standards" in detail with their mottoes and inscriptions. There is no doubt these are the same standards which afterwards were hung in Whitehall Chapel, and which now decorate the new military chapel in Birdcage Walk. The "colours," adds the "New View," are a hundred and thirty-eight, and there are thirty-four "standards."

We get a pretty correct view of the inside of Westminster Hall as it must have appeared in the early part of the reign of George III., from a print published in the year 1797, entitled "The First Day of Term." It shows the centre of the Hall filled with a motley throng, while on either side are the rows of banners mentioned in the above extract, beneath which on the east are rows of bookstalls, and on the west side sundry stalls of milliners, with ladies making purchases at the counter. At the further end of the Hall, upon the steps, are two large boxes or pews, in which are seated six officials in wigs and gowns, and looking as grave as judges. Below the print are the following Hudibrastic lines:—
"When Fools fall out, for every Flaw
They run horn-mad to go to Law.
A Hedge awry, a wrong-plac'd Gate,
Will serve to spend a whole estate;
Your case the Lawyer says is good,
And Justice cannot be withstood;
By tedious Process from above
From office they to office move,
Through Pleas, Demurrers, Dev'l and all,
At length they bring it to the Hall:
The dreadful Hall by Rufus rais'd
For lofty Gothic arches prais'd.

The First of Term, the fatal Day,
Doth various Images convey;
First from the Courts with clam'rous call
The Criers their Attorneys call;
One of the Gown, discreet and wise,
By proper means his Witness tries,
From Wreathcock's gang, not Right nor Laws,
It assures his trembling Client's cause,
This gnaws his Handkerchief, whilst that
Gives the kind ogling Nymph his Hat;
Here one in love with Choristers
Minds singing more than Love's affairs;
A Serjeant, limping on behind,
Shows Justice lame as well as blind.
To gain new clients some dispute;
Others protract an ancient Suit.
Jargon and Noise alone prevail,
While Sense and Reason's sure to fail
At Babel thus Law Term's begun,
And now at W——tm——r go on."

It will be seen from the copy of this print, which we engrave on page 541, that the interior of the Hall was not wholly occupied by the lawyers and the Law Courts, but, as stated above, was made to accommodate an array of stalls of booksellers, law stationers, and milliners. We learn from the Diary of Laud and from Strype that the rents paid by these tenants belonged to the Warden of the Fleet. To this Wycherley alludes, in the Epilogue to the Plain Dealer:—
"In Hall of Westminster
Sleek sempstress vends amid the Courts her ware."

There is, or rather there was, published, a companion print to the above, entitled "The Last Day of Term," representing the lawyers going out of Court, with their clients grouped around them, some chuckling with delight over their gains and buttoning up their breeches pockets with an air of conscious pride, whilst others—a far larger tribe—are wailing and gnashing their teeth with disappointment. A copy of this print, said to be unique, is in the collection of Mr. Gardner.

Westminster Hall is mentioned in "London Lickpenny," a ballad by John Lydgate, the Benedictine monk of Bury St. Edmunds, about the end of the fourteenth or the beginning of the sixteenth century, whose verses are placed by Gray next to those of Chaucer; the lines show, at all events, that the lawyers of that day were very like those of the present time. The countryman from Kent, a veritable "Johnny Raw," on reaching Westminster Hall, finds "clerkes a great rout," and is much surprised on hearing an officer of the Court stand up and cry out, "Richard, Robert, and John of Kent." The sound of the word "Kent" is music to his ears; but he finds—strange to say—that he can do nothing in London without money. It is the same as with the Eternal City two thousand years ago, "Omnia Romæ cum pretio." He tries the Common Law Courts and Chancery Courts, always with the same result, namely, that justice must be paid for:—
"In Westminster Hall I found out one
Which went in a long gown of raye;
I crouched and kneelèd before him anon,
For Mary's love, of help I him pray,
'I wot not what thou meanest,' 'gan he say:
To get me hence he did me bede;
For lack of money I could not speed.

"Within this Hall, neither rich nor yet poor
Would do for me aught, although I should die;
Which seeing, I got me out of the door,
Where Flemynges began on me for to cry,
'Master, what will you coppen or buy?
Fyne felt hats, or spectacles to read?
Lay down your silver, and here you may speed.'"

The same fate again befalls poor "Lickpenny" outside the Hall:—
"When to Westminster-gate I presently went;
When the sun was at hyghe prime;
Cooks to me they took good intent,
And proffered me bread, with ale and wine,
Ribs of beef, both fat and full fine,
A fair cloth they began for to spread;
But wanting money, I might not there speed."

In making his way through the crowd at Westminster Hall he has lost his hood. On reaching Cornhill he sees his own hood hanging up for sale—a sort of joke which has been a hundred times repeated in farces and tales of country bumpkins. The end is that he goes back into Kent just as he left it, or perhaps a little poorer and perhaps a little wiser, exclaiming—
"Now Jesus that in Bethlehem was born
Save London, and send lawyers true their meed,
For who wants money with them shall not speed."

Even as far back as the reign of Charles II. Westminster Hall appears to have been a great place for booksellers' stalls: thus Pepys tells us, under date September 4, 1663—"To Westminster Hall, and there bought the first news-booke of L'Estrange's writing." This L'Estrange was the author of numerous pamphlets and periodical publications, and afterwards Licenser of the Public Press to the King. Again we find Pepys writing in his Diary, October 26, 1660: "To Westminster Hall, and bought, among other books, one of the Life of our Queen, which I read at home to my wife; but it was so sillily writ that we did nothing but laugh at it." We get another glimpse of the appearance of the Hall a few months later, for in May, 1661, the inimitable Pepys writes: "I went to Westminster: where it was very pleasant to see the Hall in the condition it is in now, with the Judges on the benches at the further end of it."

With reference to Westminster Hall, Barrow tells an excellent story in his "Life of Peter the Great." When that sovereign was in London, and was taken to Westminster Hall, he very naturally asked who were those gentlemen in wig and gown whom he saw there in such numbers. In reply he was told that they were lawyers. "Lawyers!" he exclaimed in utter amazement; "why, I have but two lawyers in the whole of my dominions, and I mean to hang one of them the moment that I return home."


  • 1. These words were written shortly after the fire in which the Houses of Parliament were destroyed in 1834.