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The History of Westminster

Westminster Hotels | guide to Westminster

Westminster is the administrative and religious centre of England. It has hosted royal palaces, parliamentary halls, an abbey minster and a cathedral for almost a thousand years. The name Westminster derives from the monastery church, the minster, built to the west of the ancient City of London. Edward the Confessor first built a royal palace in what was then fields outside the walls of London. He also established Westminster Abbey , which was consecrated in December 1065 . Just one year later King Edward was dead, and a brutal war was fought over the succession. In December 1066 William the Conqueror, who defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings , was crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey. Every subsequent English monarch has been crowned there since, with the exception of Edward V and Edward VIII .

The Norman King William Rufus , son of William The Conqueror (1087-1100) built Westminster Hall outside Westminster Palace. The trial of King Charles I took place in Westminster Hall and Oliver Cromwell was given the title Lord Protector in the old hall. Henry III commissioned various rebuilding work at Westminster Abbey from 1245. Many of the country’s monarchs are interred there, including Edward the Confessor who’s shrine is in the Confessor's Chapel. The Lady Chapel was built in 1512 and is also known as Henry VII 's Chapel. The West Front Towers, completed in 1745, were designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor. The 15th century St Margaret's Church , the church of parliament, stands on a plot near Westminster Abbey.

During the Middle Ages Westminster stood apart from London with fields between the two developments. In the late 16th century the wealthy began to build houses along the Strand , the shoreline of the Thames between Westminster and the City. Soon London was linked to Westminster by a strip of houses as the city crept ever westward. St James's Park was a marsh when King Henry VIII drained it for hunting.
The King put Green Park , once a burial ground for lepers, to the same use. King Charles II later turned it into a pleasure park.

Jewel Tower , which stands across the road from the houses of parliament, rather in the shadow of the abbey, was built in 1365 to house Edward III 's royal treasures. Westminster Palace was a royal residence until a fire in 1512. The Lords met in Westminster Palace, they were joined by Commons who began to use the hall for meetings from 1547. The palace and hall then both became the Houses of Parliament . The original Westminster Palace was destroyed by fire in 1834 , only the ancient Westminster Hall survived after the members of the house begged the firefighters to save it. The ‘new’ Houses of Parliament we see today, finished 1868, was designed by Charles Barry and was built incorporating the old surviving hall. The famous bell called Big Ben was installed in 1858 and named after Sir Benjamin Hall, Chief Commissioner of Works in 1858. The nearby Westminster School was originally established in 1540.

Buckingham Palace , built in 1703, was not built as a royal residence but as a private house for the Duke of Buckingham. John Nash altered the palace in the 19th century and the first monarch, Queen Victoria , moved there in 1837. Westminster developed rapidly in the 18th and 19th centuries and grand streets were laid out. The Royal Academy of Arts was founded in 1768. Trafalgar Square was founded in 1840 and Nelson's Column came a little later, in 1843. Westminster Bridge was constructed between 1854 and 1862 and Westminster Cathedral a little later, between 1895 and 1903. The City of Westminster as it is today was created in 1965 from the districts of Westminster, Paddington and St Marylebone.

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What's done can't be undone. - William Shakespeare
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On this day:
The Hundred Years War begins - 1337, Ashmolean Museum Opens - 1683, Westminster Bridge Opens - 1862
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