62: The medieval Palace of Westminster

The Palace of Westminster [1] is perhaps the most important and exciting repository of building materials in all of London, though neighbouring Westminster Abbey, and the Tower of London might object! ThePalace of Westminster has both a world important medieval core of buildings including the extraordinary Westminster Hall, and after a fire in 1830 was rebuilt into the, also world important, Houses of Parliament with a whole different set of stones and materials one which famously failed leading to a host of equally interesting substitutes!

Westminster Hall More: Original public domain image from Yale Center for British Art

In the early medieval Westminster Hall, Cloisters and Chapel of St Mary Undercroft limestone from Caen in Normandy, Ragstone from Kent, Beer stone from Devon and Reigate stone from the quarries of Merstham in Kent, Magnesium Limestones all the way from Yorkshire and timber from the woods of Surrey, Hampshire and Hertfordshire, creating the magnificent hammerhead beams, lead from Derbyshire and iron from Spain are found while after the mid 19thC reconstruction a whole host of stones added, Anston, Bolsover Moor, Red and White Mansfield, Hopton Wood, Middlesex brick, much cast iron and granites amongst others and with the additions of Clipsham and Ketton and Bath stone along the way. No set of related buildings in London has such variety, though it’s owners spending millions every year in repairs might wish it had been built simply of Portland stone or granite!

Westminster Hall and Abbey:
Original public domain image from Yale Center for British Art

The set of buildings standing today was started with the construction of Westminster Hall by William II, or William Rufus, the 3rd son of William the Conqueror in 1097. [2] Significant additions were made in the 14thC, then regularly through the centuries. In the 16th a fire forced Henry VIII to the new Palace of Whitehall, the last time monarchs lived at the Palace of Westminster. But, on the 16th of October 1834 much of the wider Palace of Westminster, then including the royal residences, two Houses, Lords and Commons, and many house and pubs, burnt, [3] a consequence of the clerk preferring to burn wooden tallies in the coal ovens rather than give away to staff members. There’s a moral there. It has been described by Clare Shenton in as “the most the most significant blaze in the city between 1666 and the Blitz” or maybe more accurately, by the then Prime Minister, as “one of the greatest instances of stupidity upon record[4]

Westminster Hall 12thC wall showing probable fire damage

But fortunately the most important pieces, the medieval Westminster Hall, the Cloisters and St Stephen’s Chapel undercroft, survived, due to their thick Norman walls, a wind change and to the intelligent actions of the head of the London Fire Engine Establishment, James Braidwood, ‘The Father of British Fire Service’, [5] who focused on saving the hall. Caroline Shenton writes “By the middle of the evening it was clear that the fire was uncontrollable in most of the Palace. Westminster Hall then became the focus for Braidwood’s efforts and those of his men and hundreds of volunteers. The thick stone Norman walls provided an excellent barrier against the spread of fire, but the late fourteenth-century oak roof timbers were in great peril. “Damn the House of Commons, let it blaze away!” cried the Chancellor of the Exchequer desperately, “But save, O save the Hall!”. The efforts of all, from the highest to the lowest, plus a lucky change of wind direction at midnight, and the arrival of the London Fire Engine Establishment’s great, floating, barge-mounted fire engine, which finally started to quell the fire in the early hours, and ultimately saved Westminster Hall.” [6]

In this first of a series of posts on the Palace of Westminster, Building London will look at those mediaeval buildings and what they were built from in primary and secondary texts. Incredibly the original records, Rolls, still exist stating where materials did come from, and many scholars have recounted the key passages, though they are not always precise and spelling has created confusions. Future posts will look at the individual stones that have not already been covered by the Building London Blog previously and then look at the ‘new’ mid-19thC Palace and all that it was made from!

Palace of Westminster before the fire showing the hall and cloisters.
The Palace of Westminster Wenceslaus Hollar 1647

Westminster Hall

The biggest of the medieval survivors is the extraordinary Westminster Hall. And note all the following superlatives. It really is that important.

George Nash writing in 2007 “Westminster Hall was built between 1097 and 1099 for William Rufus and remodelled for Richard II in 1394–99; it has been described as ‘the finest secular medieval interior in the British Isles’. The roof, the prime example of its type, is an outstanding engineering achievement, and is regarded as one of the superlative surviving pieces of medieval carpentry in the world” [7]

The Parliament website itself states “…. built under William II at the end of the 11th century. At this period the hall consisted of twelve bays and was almost certainly divided into three aisles by columns either of timber or stone. Large parts of the side walls of this building still remain. The reconstruction of the hall was begun by Richard II in 1394 and completed in 1402 …The Hall is probably the finest timber-roofed building in Europe, and the cloister and chapel, though much restored, have interesting stone vaulting with carved bosses.” [8]
Christopher Thomas in his ‘The archaeology of Medieval Britain’ writes “In 1097 William Rufus had built the colossal Great Hall ( now known as Westminster Hall ). … the largest stone hall north of the Alps, and it is now the largest surviving in Europe…Towards the end of the fourteenth century it was decided to rebuild the Great Hall, or at least to renew it’s roof and to add towers. … Henry Yevele, [9]  the foremost architect of his day, raised the walls by 1.52m, added new towers and built great flying buttresses on the outside to support the weight of the new rood. This hammerbeam roof, built by Master Hugh Herland, still survives and covers the largest area of any medieval timber rood in a single spam without the need for pillars. It is one of the finest examples of its kind in the world. The floor ..was paved in Purbeck marble.” [10]

Some 11thC capitals from the original building are in the Jewel Tower. [11]

And Pevsner states “Westminster Hall in the lower parts of its walls is Norman, built by William Rufus in 1097-9…Richard II began remodelling in 1394 .. completed in 1401. The mason was Henry Yevele and the carpenter Hugh Herland. That hall has the earliest surviving Hammerbeam roof … The Royal Commission … called Westminster Hall “probably the finest timber-roofed building in Europe’. The timbers are very massive, the hammer-posts being 39 by 25 in. in section, and nearly 21 ft long. The whole roof weighs 660 tons”. [12]

Westminster Hall: Original public domain image from Yale Center for British Art

But what is Westminster Hall built from?!

Building London has identified numerous stones being mentioned: Reigate, Caen, Kentish Ragtsone, Stapleton and Roche Abbey, Bere or Beer, Le Mar or maybe Marr, Septaria, petrified wood, Purbeck stone and Purbeck Marble! And there is some confusion re some of these.

J.W. Bloe in his 1930 ‘Building Materials in Early and Mediæval London’ writes . “Kentish rag was … used in … Westminster Hall and other buildings. .. Reigate stone was used mostly for dressings and finer masonry as at … Westminster Hall, … Le Mar Stone and Stapleton Stone occur in Richard II’s work at Westminster Hall” Caen Stone was used in “the Houses of Parliament (14th-century), … and as late as 1681, 601 tons were purchased for repairs to Westminster Hall.” [13]

Kentish Ragstone and Reigate Stone have both been covered in this blog before, but Le Mar and Stapleton are both new. The former is an archaic term and could be a Norman stone or that of Marr in Yorkshire which like Stapleton is a Magnesium Limestone from near Pontefract and will be discussed below. Re Reigate there is quite a bit of “… clear documentary evidence to show that Reigate Stone was supplied both ‘in the rough’ and ‘cleanhewn’. For example, during work on Westminster Palace in 1352 “sixteen loads of the squared stone and fifty-six of the rough were sent up from Reigate” [14]

Stones on the 11thC Westminster Hall wall. They look fire damaged and appear to be Caen, left and maybe quartzite or Bargate, right, though neither quartzite or Bargate stone have not been mentioned elsewhere. Maybe Kentish Ragstone.

Caen stone has also been covered before by Building London, re the Crystal Palace dinosaurs origin in a City undercroft, and we have evidence of not just it’s use in Westminster Hall, but it’s transportation. “In the case of stone imported from northern France, of course, there was no alternative to using boats, even though crossing the channel with such a cargo was a hazardous business. This is graphically illustrated … [in] … the Miracles of St Augustine .. in the late 11th century … between 1070 and 1087 .. [re] … an attempted Channel crossing by a fleet of 15 ships carrying stone from Caen. Fourteen of them, apparently destined for Westminster Palace, sank in a storm, but the fifteenth, who’s cargo was intended for St Augustine’s, Canterbury, was saved by the intervention of the saint.” [15]And when Westminster Hall was being restored after the ‘Great Fire’ a number of other stones were discovered by the architect Sydney Smirke [16] who wrote … “… a few observations on the construction and materials of the Norman work. The great body of these walls appears to be composed of the rudest sort of rubble work laid nearly at random, and embedded in an abundance of mortar ; the stones are all small and various in their nature ; I have observed among them many fragments of chalk and of chalk flints; many of the rounded nodules of ferruginous clay, known as septaria or cement-stones, which occur in abundance on the south beach of the Nore; some masses of the petrified wood common in the same locality; also irregular blocks of the Kentish rag, described in old documents as grisise petrae; pieces of Caen stone, and of the firestone or Reigate sand stone ; a few pieces of red and pale-coloured bricks are found, but these very rarely occur.” and ” a coarse shelly limestone, no where occurring, as far as we have yet observed, in any other part of the building, and appearing in many respects to resemble the Quarr Abbey stone of the Isle of Wight.”

Elsewhere he notes many of the stones were re-used from older buildings!  “On recently removing the stones which formed the second, more modern, surface, a measure rendered necessary by their decayed and mutilated state, many of them were found to be moulded, and to have belonged to some previously existing building; the moulded face being set inwards, with the plain back, or bed, outwards. Most of these moulded stones had certainly formed a part of the more ancient Hall, as will be shewn hereafter; whilst a few must have belonged to some other, later building, being carved, painted or gilt, much in the manner of St. Stephen’s Chapel.” [17]

And there was, and presumably still is, a floor of Purbeck stone beneath the more C19th Yorkstone flags. “Between 1834 and 1837, Sir Robert Smirke … lowered the floor to the level of a Purbeck stone floor (discovered by excavation and believed to be of Richard II’s time), and laid the present York stone paving.” [18]

Excavations in 2005 found that the Purbeck Marble floor probably dated to the 17thC “Smirke believed this floor to be of Purbeck marble … but in fact this was a 17th-century floor … [and] a small area of limestone (ie  not the Purbeck marble expected by Smirke …) flag floor … survived in situ (at a level of 2.51m OD) in a stratigraphic position and level likely to be associated with the late 14th-century hall.” [18a]

George Nash’s survey in Stopping the rot: subsidence and structural damage at Westminster Hall George Nash London Archaeologist WINTER 2007/2008 unveiled some more fascinating components including re-used bricks AND a re-used medieval Purbeck Marble trestle table leg used to support a brick pier!  “The first major restoration occurred in 1749–50 when the roof lead and slating was replaced. The removal of the lead revealed extensive decay”… The walls were refaced by 1782 and the floor level was raised by approximately 0.30 m… Major restoration programmes continued throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, including Soane’s 1819–22 reconstruction of the northern and western sections of the Hall. Large squared York Stone flags, surviving as the present floor, supported by brick coursing and arches, were laid in 1836. The brick coursing, some sections later reused in the floor refurbishment in 1836, probably stood on the original medieval floor surface of crushed chalk. … The floor was later lowered during Smirke’s restoration programme of 1834–7 … to reveal a Purbeck Stone floor, believed to date to the reign of Richard II. Smirke’s restoration programme re-laid the floor with the present York Stone flags…the present floor, its level and the materials used, has altered little since this date…”

“The … floor, constructed between 1834 and 1837, comprised a concrete bed on which a series of brick-coursed sleeper walls were laid to support a surface of York Stone flags. In some areas brick sleeper walls had been replaced by concrete sleeper beams. This repair may date to the early 20th century and the restoration work of Sir Frank Baines. The concrete floor, measuring between 350 and 400 mm thick, overlay a brick and rubble foundation. The brick sleeper walls that supported the York Stone flags were constructed of brick types that were mainly reused and dating from the 16th/17th centuries. It is clear that these bricks were salvaged from dismantled building stock that either lay within or just outside the Hall, possibly the remains of coffee shops that stood within the Hall during the 18th century….”

“However, within Test Pit No. 5, and partially supporting one of Barry’s brick piers, was a large dressed piece of masonry, thought initially by the author to be a medieval widow tracery section, measuring 0.60 m by 0.40 m and constructed of Purbeck limestone. Closer inspection and verification from the Palace of Westminster’s archivist Dr Mark Collins and Conservation Architect Adam Watrobski revealed that it was in fact a trestle section that once belonged to the King’s Table, constructed during the 13th century, probably during the reign of Henry III or Edward I. This piece of furniture stood in the Hall until the Commonwealth years of the mid- to late-17th century (Figs. 8, 9). The trestle section (one of probably eight sections) is considered by archaeologists as a significant artefact. Indeed, one of the eight sections, discovered some years previously, is on display in the nearby Jewel Tower (Fig. 9). It is more than probable that yet again financial prudence was the order of the day, and that the trestle section was used as foundation material during Barry’s construction of the South Steps around 1844”

Probable mason’s mark on stone in the 11thC Westminster Hall wall.

The best place to see the C12th stone is by the shop! The inside wall of the hall is 19thC refacing. “We were all amazed when shown the main medieval remains within Parliament that somehow escaped the great fire of 1834.  Most of us thought we were familiar with the Great Hall which was spared destruction by a sudden change of wind, only to be told by Dr Mark Collins, the Estates Archivist & Historian, that the inner wall was an addition and that to see parts of the six-foot thick original wall we had to look opposite the gift shop where there is a long arched wall built of stone from Reigate in Surrey and Caen in Normandy complete with the signature marks of some of the masons.” [20]

And of course the oak roof is the highlight of the hall but see below for discussion of it’s origin. [21]

St Stephen’s Chapel aka St Stephen’s Hall

St Stephen’s Chapel [22] and it’s undercroft, now St Stephen’s Crypt aka The Chapel of St Mary Undercroft were built between 1292-1348. After the destruction of the fire all of St Stephen’s Chapel or Hall was demolished and rebuilt, but the undercroft survived structurally sound so it is assumed that materials bought, used for the upper chapel were the same or similar as for the undercroft. It’s also possible stone was re-used from the previous late 12thC chapel. [23] “Stone for the two-storey building came from Boulogne and Caen in France, marble from the Isle of Purbeck, and iron was brought by ship from Spain.” [24]

St Stephen’s Chapel before the fire of 1843

James Hillson in his Phd “St Stephen’s Chapel, Westminster: Architecture, Decoration and Politics in the Reigns of Henry III and the three Edwards (1227-1363)” lists a large number of stones documented as being used in St Stephens Chapel between 1337 and 1348: Bere, Reigate, Pontefract, Caen, Kentish Rag, Purbeck Marble, Henley, Heathstone and Portland Stone. [ N.b. even though St Stephen’s Chapel, above ground, has been entirely rebuilt, the dates below are relevant as they also refer to the still existing undercroft.]

“… the chapel’s fabric is assumed, along with its foundation, to have been a product of the twelfth century with an extremely tentative date range of 1184-1206… though any conclusions regarding its design can only be speculative. … However, from 1227-53 the structure was extensively renovated and decorated by Henry III and from 1292-1348 was completely replaced by a new chapel built under three separate kings: Edward I (1272-1307), Edward II (1307-27) and Edward III (1327-77). The second St Stephen’s was a large two-storey chapel with five bays and a rectangular ground plan, the Lower Chapel vaulted in stone and the Upper Chapel roofed and vaulted in wood mounted on a clerestory…The building’s complete replacement from 1292 onwards left nothing of the former structure, and neither antiquarian investigations nor modern archaeology have brought new evidence to light…Already severely disrupted by Richard II’s architectural interventions (1390s) and modifications to its internal spaces towards its repurposing as the House of Commons (1547-58), the building was again altered in 1679, then completely restructured with a classicised interior in 1692-93 by Christopher Wren in response to concerns regarding its structural stability … following the 1800 Act of Union, … the exterior was re-Gothicised by the architect James Wyatt in a style consonant with the nearby Great Hall …. Finally, the post-fire remains were largely torn down and entirely replaced by a new iteration of the lower Chapel designed by Charles and Edmund Barry based on its medieval predecessor c. 1850-70…”

“Also dating 15th October 1347 was payment for a large consignment of stone from Bere Regis alongside the employment of masons on a scale unmatched since the 1320s …That some of the Purbeck marble columns were expended towards the west end … This initial focus on Bere stone, primarily used for facing, indicates that in these early stages the shell of a building was going up. The later use of Reigate in large quantities (3rd March-4th August 1348) presumably reflected a switch towards forms requiring more intricate carving.”

“Reigate and chalk, the former explicitly associated with the introitum on one occasion, were purchased exclusively up to the end of October 1355 whereupon they were replaced largely by Kentish Rag from Maidstone (rubble and ashlar), Bere stones and Purbeck marble for the stairs … the 1356 inventory included a large number of unused ashlar and urnell stones (probably identifiable with the two types of Maidstone ordered for the claustrum) and Purbeck marble for the stairs…
between 16th November 1361 and 25th September 1362 large quantities of lead for the cloister’s roof, white glass for its windows and Flanders tiles for its pavement were purchased, indicating completion.”

The last order of Caen stone was made in October 1334, around the time at which attacks on English shipping began to escalate. When stone purchases resumed in October 1342 they were sourced from Reigate and Pontefract and, from October-December 1347, Bere Regis and Portland … Though a nine-month truce was brokered on 28th September 1347 (later extended to September 1349)… no more Caen stone arrived until April 1348”

Caen stone at the John Watson building stone collection in Cambridge

The main two stones Hillson mentions are Caen and Bere but it’s unclear what the later refers to. On his Map 3 the arrow clearly points to Bere Regis, in Dorset, not Beer in Devon, but that area is not known for building stone except some Heathstone or Carstone, [26] which he also mentions being used, yet many others have long stated that stone from Beer, along the coast in east Devon, a chalk that hardens after being cut, [27] to being as like a limestone, was used in Westminster. Kelvin Huff of the brilliant Dorset Building Stones website [28] also thinks it to be “extremely unlikely that good building stone could have come from Bere Regis.” in personal correspondence.

Hillson has done much original research but this appears to be an error.

Beer Stone at the John Watson building stone collection in Cambridge

E.W. Brayley in his 1836 ‘The history of the ancient palace and late Houses of Parliament at Westminster’, reading from the original Rolls/records, refers clearly to what we call Beer in Devon as Bere, so that must be the old spelling of Beer and whence confusion could arise. “Robert de Esshyng was appointed to procure workmen to raise stone in the quarries of Abbotsbury and Wynesbach in Dorsetshire, and Bere in Devonshire, for the works at the King’s Palace at Westminster.” [29]

Hillson also mentions stone from Egremond near Dunstable “The stone repeatedly used for … sculptures in this period were carted from the quarries at Egremond near Dunstable, and there are many references to additional orders of Egremond stone throughout 1355.” which again is a name that is not appearing in other works, nor on any the maps. The quarries at Totternhoe, near Dunstable are however well know for producing ‘clunch’ a relatively hard chalk for medieval building and It is probable that somehow what is being referred to. [30]

Totternhoe quarry near Dunstable

Hillman also refers to stone from Boulogne “Herquelinne near Boulogne” and notes that Colvin in The Kings Works “identified this stone with the quarries at Isques 7 km south-east of Boulogne”. Note this is c.10 miles from Marquis where stone was quarried too for use in medieval London. 

Hillman also identifies that supplies of structural timber for the Chapel “… shiploads of wood (presumably oak) from the royal forest at Tonbridge were employed, along with other wood types and boards for more specific tasks such as centring, doors and molds.”. Presumably there have all been lost now.

St Stephen’s Crypt aka Chapel of St Mary Undercroft
The undercroft or crypt however still exists and though it was refurbished after the fire, it’s structure remains essentially medieval. In terms of it building materials it is assumed to be as for the chapel above. “The Chapel of St Mary Undercroft was completed by King Edward I in 1297, further developed under Edward II, and finally completed by Edward III in around 1365… The Chapel contained five vaulted bays and clustered columns of polished Purbeck marble… Because of its underground location, the Crypt Chapel was one of the few structures in the Palace of Westminster to survive the great fire of 1834, although much of its stonework was harmed…The chapel was heavily restored between 1860 and 1870 by [ Edward Barry ] who tried to reproduce the earlier medieval decoration and vaulting in a neo-Gothic style.”[31] [32]

The Medieval Vault Project however states “The entire vault was completely rebuilt following the fire of 1834 by the architects Charles and Edward Barry, with most of the work occurring c. 1858-63. The restoration project involved several changes to the vault’s design, especially in the eastern two bays (C1-C2), but the western bays (C3-C5) are fairly close in form to their medieval predecessors.” [90]

The undercroft storing stone from the demolished St Stephen’s Chapel after the fire
St Stephen’s Chapel Ruins, After The Fire, 1834 The West End of the Crypt under the Chapel by G Moore, c.1834 https://www.flickr.com/photos/uk_parliament/8272435764
St Stephen’s Crypt (Restored) by E M Barry, c.1863

The undercroft is also famous as the hiding place of suffragette Emily Davison [33] who “On the census night of 2 April 1911, … hid in a cupboard overnight in the Chapel in order to be entered on the census form for the building as a way of ensuring her address was recorded as the House of Commons. A commemorative plaque, unveiled by Tony Benn in 1999, is fixed to the inside face of the cupboard door.” [34] Davison died in 1913 at the hooves of the King’s Horse at The Epsom Derby and her sacrifice is regarded as having played a key cultural role in securing the vote for women.[35]

The undercroft today showing the original vaulting but with 1860/70s paintwork


South facing wall of the north cloister. This is C16th.

The Cloisters are the 3rd remaining medieval element of the Place of Westminster  “The cloisters to St Stephen’s Chapel are one of the few surviving parts of the ancient Palace of Westminster. They were re-built between 1526 and 1529 in the style of Henry VII’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey, and the cost was donated by John Chambers (the physician to Henry VIII and the last Dean of St Stephen’s College).”
Elizabeth Biggs believe the Cloisters are older an date to 1510-15 [88]

C16th vaulting, recently partially cleaned attached onto C11th wall of Westminster Hall

They were damaged in the fire and though lavishly ‘repaired’ by Barry were then were hit by a bomb in 1940. “The eastern and southern ranges had been blown apart by a high explosive bomb in 1940, but in 1950-1 had been rebuilt to a very high standard by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, using traditional methods.” [36] and “… rebuilt with Portland and Caen stone to match the old stonework.” [37]which suggests suggest that both Portland and Caen were used in the 16thC. “and the choice of Caen stone,” [38] The Cloister is currently being carefully restored. [39]

Recently cleaned C16th vaulting in the north cloister
Caen stone on the outside of the chapel of the north cloister, recently cleaned.
Decaying Caen stone on the outside of the north cloister

E.W. Brayley – ‘The Ancient Palace of Westminster’ 1836

E.W. Brayley’s seminal book on the Palace is still very useful in helping to trace the origins of the materials used to build the medieval Palace of Westminster. The Rolls he consulted are the same ones people consult now and he notes “In preparing, and during the progress of the present Volume, much exertion has been used to obtain original materials, as well as to select the most important facts connected with the Ancient Palace, from inedited records, and from our older Chroniclers. Divers Manuscripts in that invaluable repository the British Museum, have been sedulously examined, and many circumstances have been now, for the first time, communicated to the public from that source.”

Here is a key exert: “The earliest authentic record known to be extant respecting the renovation of this edifice [Westminster Hall] by Richard the Second, are the Letters Patent of that King, dated the 21st of January in the 17th of his reign (anno 1394), and addressed to John Godmerstone, clerk, appointing him ‘to repair the Great Hall within the Palace of Westminster, to take masons, carpenters, and other workmen, and set them to the said repairs ; and also to take such stone as should be necessary for the work; and to sell to the King’s use the old materials of the Hall, together with a certain old bridge over the Thames, etc.’ In the following year, … masons, were engaged to heighten the entire walls of the Hall to the extent of two feet of assize, with Reigate ashlar, and Caen stones, ‘Pere de Marre’ (sea-borne stone) where necessary …. they were also properly to secure the upper course of the said work “par lynel” (bats and cramp irons ?) … They were likewise to construct, and securely fix in the inner walls, twenty-six ‘souses’ (under-props), or sustaining corbels, of Caen stone; and to carve every corbel in conformity to a pattern shewn to them by the treasurer; for each of these corbel supports, so wrought, and certain connecting facings of Reigate stone, they were to be paid 20s…There can be no doubt but that the twenty-six corbel ‘ souses ‘ (thirteen on each side) were introduced for the better support of the immense timber-framed roof which surmounts and spans over the vast area of this building, and which forms, one of the noblest examples of scientific construction in carpentry that exists in any part of the world, it having no pearing whatsoever, except at the extremities of the great ribs, which abut against the side walls, and rest upon the above corbels. It was requisite, however, that other contrivances should be adopted to resist the weight and lateral thrust of the new roof; the original walls of William Rufus (which had been chiefly formed of rubble and grout-work) were therefore strengthened by an external casing of stone one foot seven inches in thickness ; and divers arched or flying buttresses, viz. six on the western and three on the eastern side, of considerable height and solidity were also erected as abutments.”

And Brayley lists numerous payments, extracted from the Rolls, identifying origins:

Mid C13th? “ … two ship loads of chalk, bought for the foundation of the said Chapel by the said Master Michael and John le Conuers,’ … The next items are, for 4 cwt. of burnt lime, … two loads of ashes … one barge load of foreign stone …. ; a barge load of sand at 6d. ; and 100 cart loads … a payment to John de Erceling … for a ship load of Boulogne stone; three loads of sand, ‘ bought for mortar,’ … a ship load of Boulogne stone, bought of Bonectus de Bononia… and two cwt. of burnt lime at Ss. bought of Roger de Grenehuth [Green-hythe?]”

In 1297 “For four ship-loads of hard stone of ‘Bon’ ( Bononia or Boulogne?)”

1347 Oct. 15. “To William Hamele, of Weymouth, for sixty-eight great stones de Bere, for the chapel…”

1365. “To John Wytcliff, for 22 dol. [blocks?] of Bere-stone^ (with freitage) bought “pro tabulamentis et gargol”— entablatures and gargols (or gargles) of the New Tower at the end of the king’s garden and for the entablature of a clock-tower, …
To John Donat, for sixteen dol. of Caen stone, (with fireitage,) for the same works…
To Philip Profit, John Longeland, and Stephen Pratte, for 469 “carrata” of Reygate stone, bought for doors and win- dows, and for boatiie of the same to the above tower, and carriage from Reygate to Battersey…
To William Gretyng, Simon atte Hall, Maurice Yong, and William atte Barr, for 8107 feet of stone called ashlar, bought at Maidstone for the aforesaid dial-tower
To Robert Gladwyn, Richard Mersshmane, Adam Sengle, and William Shorham, for eight boat-loads of rag-stone, for the same works, with freitage from Maidstone to Westminster”

Bayley also notes recent repair work in Bath stone of the entrance of the Great Hall. “Partial repairs of this edifice accompanied by minor alterations … were made in different reigns, prior to the restoration of the entrance front … with Bath stone in the years 1819-20.” [40]

Hilary St George Saunders 120 years in his also important ‘Westminster Hall’ from 1951 is another key secondary source. [41] Here he publishes the Anglo-Norman contract for the rebuilding of the hall from 1395!

The New Times in 1923 translates many of the words, Peres= stones, Sciez = sawed so ashlar, Pere de Marre is assumed to be stone from Caen etc and also suggested stone from Roche Abbey was used. It was used at Windsor Castle in 1350-1377. [42]


So. To re-cap. Here’s what can be found in the medieval Palace of Westminster. Nb there are lots of spelling changes. Brayley uses a number of word: ‘Ryegate’ for Reigate, ‘Eylesford’ and Aylesford for Kentish Ragstone and Bere for Beer.

Tim Tatton-Brown [ probably, it’s unclear ] notes in ‘Westminster I. The Art, Architecture and Archaeology of the Royal Abbey’ that “In the Westminster accounts of 1253 Caen and Reigate appear as ‘france Petre de Came’ or ‘france Petre de Reygate’; Colvin, Building Accounts (as n. 8), 236. Later in 1264, also in Westminster, they are referred to as ‘libera petra tam de Cadamo quam de Reygate’…” and that “Other types and source of stone mentioned in connection with the Abbey or the Palace include marmore, grisia petra, petra voluta, france petre de Chalved [Chaldon]; … Chaldon is just another source of Reigate stone, along with Gatton, Merstham and other neighbouring parishes.” [43]

And in the “Closed rolls of the reign of Henry III” HMSO 1922 we can see what must certainly be Kentish Ragstone referred to simply as ‘the grey stone’ Nb Kancie = Kent. “De grisia petra carianda. — Mandatum est vicecomiti Kancie quod omnes illos de balliva sua, qui petram grisiam habent ad vendendum, distringat ad petram illam cariandam usque Westmonasterium ad operaciones nostras ibidem inde faciendas. Et rex de precio venditoribus illius petre ibidem satisfieri faciet.” Google translates this as “Of the gray rock to be carried. — The sheriff of Kancie is ordered to distrain all those in his parish who have gray rock to sell, to carry that rock to Westminster, to carry out our operations from there. And the king will cause the sellers of that stone to be satisfied there and then. [44]

Abbotsbury and Wynesbach, Dorset. – Abbotsbury stone, of the Corallian Formation limestone was mentioned in  E.W. Brayley in his 1836 ‘The history of the ancient palace and late Houses of Parliament at Westminster’ “Robert de Esshyng was appointed to procure workmen to raise stone in the quarries of Abbotsbury and Wynesbach in Dorsetshire, and Bere in Devonshire, for the works at the King’s Palace at Westminster “ although there is no other evidence it was actually used! [40] [45] [46] There was a medieval quarry at Chapel Hill. [47] “The quarries situated to the south of Chapel Hill are visible as a complex of depressions, variable in form, with dimensions of 5m to 10m across and up to c.0.5m to 1m in depth. A larger quarry is located on the east side of the hill. It seems likely that these quarries were worked to produce stone used in the abbey’s construction.” [48] 

The other quarry mentioned is Wynesbach and it appears untraceable. However there is a medieval sea cliff quarry at a place called Winspit that provides Portland stone and that is one of the stones found in the old Westminster Hall. [46]

Bathstone – While not medieval, Westminster Hall had it’s the north entrance refaced in 1819/20. “The restoration of the entrance front, (except its regal statuary), with Bath stone in the years 1819-20.” [40]

Heathstone – Hillson refers to Heathstone on his Map 3 pointing the source to the heaths north of Poole [49] an important port after the Norman conquest. “The dark brown sandstones, sometimes pebbly, used for buildings in a wide area of south and east Dorset are colloquially known as Heathstone, Carstone or Ironstone – they are cemented into a strong building stone by their iron mineral content.  They all come from local sand and clay sequences that were deposited on top of the eroded surface of the Chalk.” [50]

Le Mar – There are several references to a Le Mar stone. There are 3 options for what it was. One, the oolitic Marquise limestone from near Boulogne, and indeed the Parliament website states re St Stephens Chapel that indeed, “Stone for the two-storey building came from Boulogne and Caen in France.” [24] Marquise stone was imported into and used in Britain by the Romans, it’s found in London Wall, Anglo-Saxons and Normans. Tim Tatton-Brown states of the “… the oolitic limestone from the Marquise area of the Boulonnais … This stone, which is known as the Oolithe de Marquise, comes from the Bathonian stage of the Middle Jurrasic. It characteristically contains some very large ooliths as well as other areas of less oolithic material though much of the matrix is of fine to medium grained .. ooliths” Elsewhere he states that “Oolithe de Marquise … consists of whiteish to being pseudo-oolitic limestones wtih millet-seed texture”. [51]

A second option is that Le Mar was a contraction of Pere de la Marre, otherwise assumed to refer to stone from Caen, that came by sea.

But it seems most likely that Le Mar refers to Marr Quarry near Doncaster, on the Magnesian Limestone and most sources assume this. In the Rolls of Richard II on June 10th 1394, the year work to expand Westminster Hall starts, it is written, “To the sheriff of York. Notice that the king has appointed him to Westminster, arrest within liberties and without and to set to work for the king’s money, to be paid by John Godemanston clerk of his works at Westminster or by his deputies, as many diggers of stone and other labourers as may be sufficient for digging free stone for the said works in a place called the Mar by Doncastre, and order to give diligence so to do” [52]

On June 1st 1394 there was made an “Appointment of William Bleburgh to arrest ships and other vessels sufficient for the carriage of free stones from a place called “Le Mar” by Doncaster to the palace of Westminster by water for the king’s works there, and mariners to man them, paying for every “ton tight” 4s.; with power to bring the stones over land to any port, quay, wharf, bridge or other place, without fee, toll, custom, or other subsidy.” [53]

Ian Roberts, “ .. there were a number of medieval stone quarries on the Magnesian Limestone, especially to the north of Doncaster. Limestone from this area was prized and was regularly provided for prestigious building projects in the south of England. In 1395 stone from a quarry at Marr was used to heighten Westminster Hall.” [54] and Graham Lott name Marr Quarry as a source for Westminster referring to a source of A. Oswald 1959 [55] and that Stapleton (see below ) was also used shows clearly there were routes from this area to Westminster.

Stapleton – Maybe the most surprising find is the use of stone from Yorkshire. The use of Norman stone is entirely expected. Caen stone particularly was imported in vast amount for building like The White Tower, what became the Tower of London, and Norwich Cathedral. The Normans masons and clients knew and liked Caen and moving stone by water is in many ways easier, apart from when storms hit as above, than by road. But Magnesian Limestone had been used massively in York and builders would have known of it from there.

Stapleton is a Magnesian Limestone, [56]now called a Dolostone, of the “Cadeby Formation .. Lower Magnesian Limestone – The pale yellow-white, fine to coarse-grained, bioclastic and ooidal, dolomitic limestones of this formation are particularly important sources of local building stone. The outcrop is pock-marked by quarries many of which have produced fine quality building stone since at least the 12th century, most noticeably at the Huddleston, Smaws, Lords and Jackdaw Crag quarries. Most of the villages on or close to the outcrop, are constructed of these pale limestones e.g. Tadcaster, Sherburn in Elmet, Monkfryston, Womersley and Little Smeaton.” [57]

BGS data via Kirklees Council https://bit.ly/3AuEoDM

Heritage Gateway notes an the historic quarry at Stapleton, of “Castle Hill, in the historic Stapleton Park, a medieval deer park, … a stone’s throw from Womersley … One of two quarries used extensively during the Mediaeval period, and later, the other being to the north and east of Stapleton Park. The quarrying of Magnesian limestone from the Permian Cadeby Formation has been recorded at Stapleton since circa 1300. During the 14th century it was used at Rochester, Sion Abbey, Windsor Castle, Westminster Hall, Westminster Abbey nave”  [58]

The outcrop here with links to London goes from Maltby up to Pontefract but the total outcrop is much longer running from Nottinghamshire up to Durham. And not to difficult a trip London. “ Transport of stone from quarries at Stapleton (Pontefract) … would initially have required overland transport to the Aire or Don rivers, via which they could use the Ouse to reach Selby and Cawood.” [59]

Interestingly, after the fire, another of the local limestones, Huddleston, was used in great quantities to repair Westminster Hall and as we will see infamously another dolomitic limestone, from Anston, near Workshop, was chosen for the vast majority of the Houses of Parliament, disastrously as it was quarried, stored and laid incorrectly. See the next post!

Quarr from Wight – this is just a suggestion from Smirk. Maybe some still remains in the lower walls of the hall

Petrified Wood – again this is from Smirke when he was re-facing some of the walls of Westminster Hall in the 1840s. It would be fascinating to know if any is now visible!Ruth Siddell of London Pavement Geology writes of petrified wood for building though not referencing England. [60] Interestingly Britains most important and biggest ‘fossil forest’ of petrified wood is at Purbeck, where we know other stone was bought from. Is it possible someone collected stone from the forest as a cheap source of rubble stone? [61]

Purbeck Marble
Purbeck Marble from the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset used for in the Norman Porch, was been mentioned before on Building London re the Guildhall undercroft. Hopefully there will be a full post on it in the summer, reporting from Purbeck!

Purbeck marble at Guildhall undercroft. See previous BL post.

Purbeck Stone – Purbeck stone was much used for paving in London, though generally in the C17th but Smirke states the original, or late C14th floor was Purbeck stone. Sometimes the stone and marble were used interchangeably for paving. Watch out for a post on Purbeck paving in Building London coming soon.

Purbeck stone at the John Watson Building Stone collection

Portland – Portland was only used very occasionally in London in medieval times, before the explosion in it’s use in the 17thC where it becomes London’s main building stone. Hillson identifies it’s use in 1347 from the National Archives and that is the date several secondary sources mention as being used in the Palace of Westminster. It is not mentioned in the Close Rolls. Building London will be doing a posting about Portland hopefully this year. [46] [62] [63]  

Roche – One of the suggestions and coincidentally also a Magnesian Limestone from near Maltby in South Yorkshire, so very possible  “Building stone from the Magnesian limestone, part of the Permian Age Cadeby Formation, has been quarried at Roche Abbey since Mediaeval times. The abbey itself was built of this local stone, probably from the outcrop to the north of the Abbey running through Quarry Hills to the later Rigging Quarry. Quarrying is also evident on the east side of Roche Abbey Farm. The stone was used at Windsor Castle in 1350-77” [64]

Septaria are mysteriously formed concretions found in clay. “Septarian concretions (or septarian nodules) are carbonate-rich concretions containing angular cavities or cracks (septaria; sg. septarium, from the Latin septum “partition, separating element”, referring to the cracks or cavities separating polygonal blocks of hardened material)… Septarian nodules are characteristically found in carbonate-rich mudrock.” [65] The Romans used them for building, and ground them down to add to cement, they appear in Saxon and early Medieval churches and walls and as Smirke states above, were used in Westminster Hall, though as a first use or robbed we do not know.

Septarian nodule on the beach at Sheppey

Gerald Lucy in Geo Essex states “The septarian nodules from the London Clay are generally referred to as ‘septaria’ and at certain horizons in the clay they are free of internal cracks or cavities and have been collected from the Essex coast for use in building construction. Notable examples are Colchester Castle and Roman wall and countless churches on the coast.” [66]  1000s can be seen to this day on the north shore of the Isle of Sheppey, coming out of the thick exposed London Clay there, and Smirke notes they are also found in abundance on the mud flats of the Nore [67] at the mouth of Thames Estuary. The Septaria that Smirke refers to must have been dredged up There are also to be found on the foreshore in London where the London Clay is exposed. [68]

Iron – Hillson states “… a large quantity of Spanish iron was purchased which has long been presumed was intended for window bars”

– Massive amounts of lead were used for the roof and remarkably what is there is almost entirely original. “Outside, the roof was covered with lead, weighing about 176 tons” [69]  Saunders reports that  “Lead for the new roof came from the counties of Derby, Nottingham and York” and that “ ‘Robert Gamylston of Retford, Mason’ was told to buy lead in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, and to requisition horses, carts and carters for its transport. More lead was to be bought by Thomas of Nevile and Thurstan of Bure in the High Peak.” [41]

Timber for the hammerbeam roof.

The roof at Westminster Hall is though the centrepiece of the medieval remnants of the Palace of Westminster in it’s technical design and carving [70]  and it’s sourcing has been much commented on. It is now generally accepted that the timber came from Alice Holt Forest, Odiham, Stoke D’Abernon, and maybe Hertfordshire and Sussex.

In 1922 H. Cescinsky and E.R. Gribble wrote in their “Westminster Hall and Its Roof,”[71] “ … in 1393 the materials for the new roof at Westminster are being collected. John Gedeney, Clerk of the Works, is instructed to take, by land and sea, the King’s timber in the wood of Pettelewode in Sussex. And, in 1395 the walls of the old Palace are raised, and corbels inserted for the new roof “with stone of Reigate and stone of Marre. The roof timbers of Westminster Hall are entirely of oak, and in nearly all cases of Sussex oak, of the species Quercus pedunculata. Exceptional tree-growth was necessary as not only are the hammer beams, braces and other parts are enormous, and the brace abutments are solid. For these, trees must have been especially selected, each with branch-growth at the requisite distance, so that the branch could be lopped and it’s branch-base used for the brace-abutment. The hammer-posts, which rest vertically on the projecting ends of the horizontal hammer-beams, are the largest in section of any timbers in the roof.”

This reference to Pettelewood seems to come from the archives in the Bodleain Library or‘Catalogi codicum manuscriptorum Bibliotecae Bodleianae’ … “Westminster Palace. Writ ( 17 Rich. II . ) for taking all the timber of Pettelewood, Sussex, for building the palace, 860. 344.” [72] But the index numbers do not lead anywhere. And Pettelewood no longer exists as a placename though there is a Petley Wood near Battle and indeed it is Battle that wood has been said to have been procured. Mark Francis Gardener in his ‘Medieval Settlement And Society In The Eastern Sussex Weald Before 1420’ mentions Petley Wood a couple of times with no mention of Westminster Hall. [73]   

That the roof of Westminster Hall came from Sussex has been repeated since e.g. “… George Courthope, whose Wadhurst family estate in Sussex had supplied the original oak 600 years earlier, offered to provide the replacements from the same source as the originals.” [74]

And here  “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. … 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.” [75]

However this is may not true. Hilary St George Saunders in his digging into the archives to identify the sources of the timber thinks not.  … Hugh Herland… who designed and built the great roof of oak beams hewn, so the accounts running from Easter 1395 to Michaelmas 1397 inform us, in the king’s park at Odiham in Hampshire, the Abbot of St. Albans’ wood at Bernan and a wood close to Kingston-on-Thames. The story, believed for many generations, that the beams came from Ireland is as untrue as that which maintained that they were chestnut beams from Normandy. Micrographs, made in 1913 of sections of the wood, shew clearly that Hugh Herland used oak. The estate of Lord Courthope near Wadhurst, in Sussex, has more than once supplied oaks of the required strength and size for the repair of the roof, and there is said to be in existence an item in the royal accounts for 1394 which runs: ‘Bought for the king for his hall of Westminster great oaks from Courthope of Wadhurst,’ but it cannot now be traced. What is certain is that 200 oaks bought from William Croyser were felled in Stoke Park, near Kingston-on-Thames.

The woodsmen who cut down the original oaks must have received very clear orders, for Herland’s design called for the largest timber it was possible to procure. In 1921, after more than five centuries of slow decay and the attacks of the death-watch beetle, the largest baulks were found to be still more than 2 feet thick and the hollows gnawed in them by these noxious insects to be large enough to hold the body of a full-grown man. When set in position by Herland’s carpenters they cannot have measured less than 21/4 feet in width and to have been 22 or 23 feet long. Much of the roof was made and fitted together at ‘a place called the Frame,’ near Farnham in Surrey, to which a hundred and fifty loads of timber were sent in June 1395. Having been thus shaped, the beams were taken apart, carried by road and water to the Hall and there set in their final position.” [41]

Westminster Hall: Original public domain image from Yale Center for British Art

Saunders also reproduces extracts from the original accounts again pointing to sources, though 600 + years on there are not immediately identifiable even then. The 2 agreed sources named here are ‘Stoke’ known to be Stoke D’Abernon in Surrey and Alseisholt or Alice Holt.

Translation of Extracts from British Museum Additional Roll 27018

Counter-Roll of Master Hugh Herland, one of the King’s Carpenters, concerning payments, wages and expenses made by John Godmaston, Clerk, relating to the repair of the King’s Great Hall in the Palace of Westminster and the strengthening of the bell-tower there and the strengthening of one porch and the steps of the King’s Chapel of St. Stephen newly begun; and also to the repair and mending of the Queen’s Bridge outside the said Palace and of various other houses and buildings and walls within the same Palace. From Easter in the 18th year [1395] to the same feast next following.

Carriage and Freightage

And to Edward Seymour, John Priour and Peter Scoriere for the carriage of 204 loads of oak timber lately bought from William Croyser in Stoke park, thence to Ditton on Thames (taking 7d. a load for 4 leagues)

And to Peter Scoriere for the carriage of 4000 Talwode and 3000 faggots arising from the aforesaid lopping of 200 oaks felled in the said Stoke park, thence to Ditton— (taking per 100 of Talwode 14d. and per hundred faggots 7d.)

And to Thomas Kynchant, John Clytheman, Edward Kyntrap, William Tiffe, William Winter and Robert at Grove for carrying in 2 of the King’s chariots with 16 horses of their own to each chariot 26 half beams and 26 pendant-posts from the aforesaid Frame to Ham on Thames for 16 leagues 52 journeys (taking each journey 7s. 4d.)

And to 8 carters with their carts carrying 26 corbels from the same place to the aforesaid Ham 26 journies (taking for each journey 5s.)

And to 38 carters with their carts similarly carrying 263 carts of timber from the same place to the aforesaid Ham (taking for each journey 4s.)

And to 22 carters with their carts similarly carrying 77 carts of timber from the same place to the aforesaid Ham within the aforesaid time

And to 18 carters with their carts similarly carrying 69 carts of timber from the same place to the aforesaid Ham

And for the wages of 4 carters carrying with their carts from divers places in the forest of Alseisholt [Alice Holt] where the said timber was felled to the Frame (each receiving 18 pence a day for 8 days)

And for the wages of 3 carters with their carts similarly carrying timber from the same place to the aforesaid Frame within the time of this counter-roll (each taking 16d. a day for 7 days)” [41]

Another set of Rolls states:
Oct 17th 1397 “Grant to Master Hugh Herland , the king’s chief carpenter of all the Westminster …. croppings and coppices ( croppas et copicia ) from the trees and timber bought and provided for the Hall within the palace of Westminster and other the king’s works , which lie cut and remaining over in a wood near Kyngeston upon Thames.” [76]

Croppings and coppices are not of course of any building value but this does strongly suggest that some trees and timber were felled at Kingston and this is now thought to be Stoke D’Abernon. If they were felled elsewhere they would have been cleaned up there.

And it is generally agreed that much of the frame was constructed at Farnham. Parliament’s own website states simply “The roof’s timberwork was entirely framed near Farnham in Surrey. A large number of wagons and barges delivered the jointed timbers to Westminster, weighing some 660 tons, for assembly” [77]  

The Calendar of the Closed Rolls of 1st June 1395 states “To the sheriff of Suthampton. Strict order to cease every delay Westminster, and excuse, and to appoint and purvey within his bailiwick in such places as he shall think meet thirty strong wains with sufficient horses and the harness and gear to the same belonging, and as many carters as shall be needful for driving them, causing them to come with their wains etc. to a place called the Frame by Farnham for carriage of timber there wrought for the king’s great hall within Westminster palace, so that every such wain be ready for the king’s money to be paid by John Godmaston clerk of the said work to carry five loads of timber from thence to Hamme between the feast of Trinity next and four weeks then following ; and order to arrest all who shall be found contrary or rebellious and commit them to prison, there to abide until further order, so behaving in the execution of this command that the work, which the king desires to complete with all speed, be not delayed by default of the sheriff. Like writs to the sheriffs of Berkshire and Surrey” [78]

Surprisingly less is entioned in the Calendar of the Closed Rolls Richard II Vol 6 1396-1399 HMSO 1925. Presumably the roof timbers had already been cut by then and were being manufactured at Farnham. John Price in Surrey Archaeology states “… timber from forests at Alice Holt, Odiham, Stoke D’Abernon near Leatherhead and Sussex. The giant hammerbeams were combined with great curved arches enabling thirteen spans of carved and decorated oak to cover nearly half an acre. Medieval records show that nearly 500 cart loads of timber left Farnham, 52 journeys being made by the Royal Chariots hauled by 16 horses which carried the huge half beams and pendant posts that were to be the main roof supports. At the same time 200 oaks were felled in Stoke D’Abernon and many loads of timber, ‘Taliwode’ and faggots transported to Ditton-on-Thames. The site of ‘Le Frame by Farnham’ is not known although there is documentary evidence that one existed near the castle gates in the following century. A medieval roll in the British Library indicates the carts travelled 16 leagues to ‘Ham’ which may have been the Weybridge wharf which handled goods destined for Farnham.” [79]

Julian Munby similarly states re “The Late-14th-Century Reconstruction of Westminster Hall – … Timber had previously been obtained from the Hampshire royal forests of Odiham and Alice Holt (respectively 8 miles north-west, and 3½ miles south-west of Farnham), and was worked in Farnham in Surrey at a place called ‘the Frame’, possibly in the vicinity of the bishop of Winchester’s castle, . While timber has to be sawn and converted, a large flat area would have been necessary for the prefabrication of the roof trusses, before they were disassembled and transported by road to the Thames near Chertsey (some 23 miles) and thence by water to Westminster. In June 1395, thirty waggons were ordered to cart timber five times (450 loads in all) from ‘the Frame’ to ‘the Hamme’, a name now represented by the moated Ham Farm south-east of Chertsey Mead, near the confluence of the River Wey and the Thames….Other timber, [came ] from the abbot of St Albans’ Barvin Park (Hertfordshire) and William Croyser’s park in Stoke d’Abernon (Surrey), …” [80]


Farnham celebrates this history. A Farnham Heritage Trail leaflet Farnham Town Council 2015 states
 “Stop at the corner of the lane next to a timber-framed building (98 and 99 West Street) on which is plaque 4. The lane running northward is Timber Close, which is believed to be the place of the construction, in 1395, of the hammer-beam roof of Westminster Hall, in London, where it can still be seen today. After construction in Farnham, it was then taken, piece by piece, to London and erected there”

The roof is now actually propped up with iron supports following survey and work by the Sir Frank Baines. “ … major restoration of the Westminster Hall hammer-beam roof (carried out 1913-22), and, during the same period, the hammer-beam roof of Eltham Palace Great Hall. Baines solved the dangerous condition of both structures by inserting massive amounts of steelwork.” [82]

A massive thank you to Dr Mark Collins, (Estates Historian & Archivist of the Estates Historic Archive at the Houses of Parliament ) for the tour of Palace of Westminster in August 2022!


It is possible to visit Westminster Hall and other parts of the Palace of Westminster but only as part of a booked Guided Tour. Sadly it is not possible to visit the undercroft nor the cloisters. https://www.parliament.uk/visiting/visiting-and-tours/

In terms of stone sources many of these places maybe able to be visited e.g. on Portland and Building London will continue to document quarries linked with London that can be visited.

Re the woods there are some that certainly can be visited. Alice Holt Wood has lots of public access but sadly has been mainly replanted with conifers over the last 150 years though there is a large area of oaks planted in the early 19thC. [83] [84]

Odiham has an area that while called the Royal Deer Park does not seem to have the trees that a large park would have. [85] [86] [87]

It’s worth noting that following the Royal Navy’s massive felling of older oaks in the 18th and 19thC you will not find many woodland with oak trees of the age of those used for Wetminster Hall. [89]

The Royal Navy used vast numbers of Oak trees for their ships for “The glory and defence of Britain”


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Palace_of_Westminster
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_II_of_England
[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burning_of_Parliament
[4] https://www.parliament.uk/globalassets/documents/WORKS-OF-ART/The-fire-of-1834-booklet.pdf
[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Braidwood
[6] Caroline Shenton ‘The Fire of 1834’  http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/periods/modern/fire-1834
[7] Stopping the rot: subsidence and structural damage at Westminster Hall, George Nash, London Archaeologist Winter 2007/2008. https://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archiveDS/archiveDownload?t=arch-457-1/dissemination/pdf/vol11/vol11_11/11_11_290_297.pdf
[8] https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/building/palace/westminsterhall/architecture/early-history/
[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Yevele
[10] The archaeology of Medieval London Christopher Thomas Sutton Publishing 2002
[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewel_Tower
[12] London Volume One Nicholas Pevsner 3rd Edition Penguin 1973
[13] J.W. Bloe ‘Building Materials in Early and Mediæval London’’Concluding survey of the County of London’, in An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in London, Volume 5, East London (London, 1930), pp. xxiv-xlviii. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/rchme/london/vol5/xxiv-xlviii
[14] The Exploitation, Distribution and Use in Buildings of Reigate Stone pt2 Martin Hatton https://www.croydoncavingclub.org.uk/node/391
[15] Review and Prospect: The Stone Industry in Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Medieval England David Parsons in STONE Quarrying and Building in England AD 43-1525 edited David Parsons, Phillimore, 1990
[16] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sydney_Smirke
[17] Remarks on the architectural History of Westminster Hall: in a Letter from Sydney Smirke, Esq. F.S.A., to Sir Henry Ellis, K.H., F.R.S. Secretary. Read 28th May, 1835.  https://zenodo.org/record/2203871/files/article.pdf
[18] https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/building/palace/westminsterhall/architecture/reconstruction-fire-of-1834/
[18a] https://www.academia.edu/9278893/Excavations_at_Cromwell_Green_and_Westminster_Hall_2005_6_further_evidence_for_the_development_of_the_medieval_and_post_medieval_Palace_of_Westminster
[19] Stopping the rot: subsidence and structural damage at Westminster Hall George Nash London Archaeologist WINTER 2007/2008 https://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archiveDS/archiveDownload?t=arch-457-1/dissemination/pdf/vol11/vol11_11/11_11_290_297.pdf
[20] https://thethorneyislandsociety.org.uk/ttis/index.php/component/content/article?id=63:our-visit-to-parliament-s-hidden-medieval-places-28th-july-2016
[21] https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/building/palace/westminsterhall/architecture/the-hammer-beam-roof-/
[22] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Stephen%27s_Chapel
[23] https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/building/palace/architecture/palace-s-interiors/st-stephen-s-hall/
[24] https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/building/palace/estatehistory/the-middle-ages/early-chapel-st-stephen/
[25] https://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/11841/7/2%20James%20Hillson%20PhD%20Thesis%20Final%20Deposit%20Edition.pdf
[26] https://www.dorsetbuildingstone.org/heathstone.html
[27] https://buildinglondon.blog/2021/09/02/15-beerstone-another-chalk-you-can-build-with-and-nothing-to-do-with-beer/
[28] https://www.dorsetbuildingstone.org/
[29] E.W. Brayley ‘The Ancient Palace of Westminster’ 1836  https://archive.org/details/historyancientp00britgoog/page/186/mode/2up?q=bere
[30] https://buildinglondon.blog/2021/08/26/14-totternhoe-stone-a-chalk-you-can-build-with/
[31] https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/building/palace/estatehistory/the-middle-ages/chapel-st-mary-undercroft-/
[32] https://www.nationalchurchestrust.org/church/st-mary-undercroft-westminster
[33] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emily_Davison
[34] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Mary_Undercroft
[35] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/298471.stm
[36] https://thehistoryofparliament.wordpress.com/2019/09/26/parliaments-politics-and-people-seminar-the-gothic-slum-mps-and-st-stephens-cloisters-1852-2017/
[37] https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/building/palace/architecture/palace-s-interiors/the-cloisters-/
[38] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1750-0206.12630
[39] https://houseofcommons.shorthandstories.com/restoration-of-parliaments-historic-cloister-court/
[40] E.W. Brayley ‘The Ancient Palace of Westminster’ 1836 https://archive.org/details/historyancientp00britgoog/
[41] Hilary St George Saunders, ‘Westminster Hall’, 1951, Michael Joseph.
[42] ‘History and Description of Westminster Hall’ Extracted … from the New Times 1823 https://www.google.co.uk/books/edition/History_and_Description_of_Westminster_H/CqtfAAAAcAAJ
[43] in ‘Westminster I. The Art, Architecture and Archaeology of the Royal Abbey Edited by Warwick Rodwell and Tim Tatton-Brown The British Archaeological Association Conference Transactions XXXIX, Part I Routledge 2017  
[44] https://archive.org/stream/closerollsofreig06grea/closerollsofreig06grea_djvu.txt
[45] https://www.dorsetbuildingstone.org/abbotsbury-area.html
[46] https://www2.bgs.ac.uk/mineralsuk/download/EHCountyAtlases/Dorset_Building_Stone_Atlas.pdf
[47] https://dorsetrigs.org/southwestrigs/abbotsbury/
[48] https://ancientmonuments.uk/113904-st-catherines-chapel-field-system-and-quarries-at-chapel-hill-abbotsbury#.ZELcW87MLb0
[49] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Poole
[50] https://www.dorsetbuildingstone.org/heathstone.html
[51] ‘Building Stone In Canterbury C.1075-1525’ T.W.T. Tatton- Brown and ‘The Stone of the Reculver Columns and Reculver Cross’ B.C. Worssam and T.W.T Tatton-Brown in ‘Stone Quarrying and Building in England in AD 43-1525’ ed David Parsons, Phillimore 1990
[52] Calendar of the Closed Rolls Richard II AD 1392-1396 HMSO 1925 https://www.familysearch.org/library/books/viewer/476536/
[53] https://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/borough-market-privileges/1400/1391-1395
[54] South Yorkshire Historic Environment Research Framework https://researchframeworks.org/syrf/later-medieval/
[55] https://englishstone.org.uk/York_files/ESF%20-%20Lott%20%26%20Cooper-1_1.pdf
[56] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnesian_Limestone
[57] Building Stone Atlas of North and East Yorkshire BGS https://www2.bgs.ac.uk/mineralsuk/download/EHCountyAtlases/North_Yorkshire_East_York_Building_Stone_Atlas.pdf
[58] https://www.heritagegateway.org.uk/Gateway/Results_Single.aspx?uid=1467009&resourceID=19191
[59] The building limestones of the Upper Permian, Cadeby Formation (Magnesian Limestone) of Yorkshire G.K. Lott & A.H. Cooper 2005 https://nora.nerc.ac.uk/id/eprint/504662/1/IR05048.pdf
[60] https://orpiment.wordpress.com/2017/04/13/first-i-was-afraid-i-was-petrified-a-short-history-of-scary-silicified-log-cabins/
[61] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fossil_Forest,_Dorset
[62] https://www.dorsetbuildingstone.org/portland-stone—dorset.html
[63] http://www.dorsetgeologistsassociation.com/Portland-Stone/Portland_Stone_Document_-_7_June_12.pdf
[64] https://www.heritagegateway.org.uk/Gateway/Results_Single.aspx?uid=1467333&resourceID=19191
[65] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concretion
[66] http://www.geoessex.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/geoessex_factsheet_6_-_septarian_nodules.pdf
[67] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nore
[68] https://www2.bgs.ac.uk/mineralsuk/download/EHCountyAtlases/Kent_Building_Stone_Atlas.pdf
[69] https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/building/palace/westminsterhall/architecture/the-hammer-beam-roof-/
[70] https://archives.blog.parliament.uk/2022/12/15/hark-the-herald-angels-roof/
[71] H. Cescinsky and E.R. Gribble, “Westminster Hall and Its Roof,”, Burlington Magazine, 40 (1922)
[72] ‘Catalogi codicum manuscriptorum Bibliotecae Bodleianae’ https://archive.org/stream/ADescriptiveAnalyticalAndCriticalCa/A_descriptive_analytical_and_critical_ca_djvu.txt
[73] Mark Francis Gardener in his ‘Medieval Settlement And Society In The Eastern Sussex Weald Before 1420’ https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10103030/1/Medieval_settlement_and_societ.pdf
[74] https://www.onlondon.co.uk/vic-keegans-lost-london-19-the-oak-roof-of-westminster-hall/
[75] https://thethorneyislandsociety.org.uk/ttis/index.php/component/content/article?id=42:thorney-tales-5-westminster-hall-roof
[76] https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015009337604&view=page&format=plaintext&seq=5
[77] https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/building/palace/westminsterhall/architecture/the-hammer-beam-roof-/
[78] Calendar of the Closed Rolls Richard II Vol 5 AD 1392-1396 HMSO 1925 https://www.familysearch.org/library/books/viewer/476536/
[79] The Great Roof: Farnham and Westminster Hall, John Price in Surrey Archaeology Society Bulletin 300 March/April 1996
[80] https://www.academia.edu/45143825/The_Late_14th_Century_Reconstruction_of_Westminster_Hall
[81] https://farnham.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Heritage-leaflet-A4s.pdf
[82] https://www.medieval-carpentry.org.uk/A_to_F.html
[83] https://www.forestryengland.uk/alice-holt-forest
[84] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice_Holt_Forest
85] https://www.odihamdeerpark.org.uk/Documents/Odiham%20Heritage_Revised_Aug_2016.pdf
[86] https://www.odihamdeerpark.org.uk/The%20Story%20so%20far.shtml
[87] http://research.hgt.org.uk/item/odiham-deer-park/
[88] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/363087846_%27A_cloister_of_curious_workmanship%27_the_patronage_of_St_Stephen%27s_cloisters_within_the_Palace_of_Westminster_in_the_early_sixteenth_century
[89] https://legionmagazine.com/en/the-royal-navys-war-on-trees/
[90] https://www.tracingthepast.org.uk/2021/04/08/westminster_site_by_site/

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