The roof of Westminster Hall was added to the existing building in 1393 by Richard II and remains the largest hammer-beam roof in the world. It has survived the Gunpowder Plot, two world wars and the Great Fire of 1834, which destroyed nearly all the rest of the parliamentary buildings.
But not all the oak beams are the originals. In 1904, Parliament decided that some of them needed replacing. Ireland and Australia offered to help, but MPs wanted English wood to be used.
Eventually 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. That is wonder enough. But later, in 1938 Courthope – by then Sir George and an MP – revealed another fascinating fact during a debate on the Forest Commission.
He said: “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 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”.
Wow! The replacement oaks were already growing near the original ones that had been felled over 600 years earlier. Only in England…
Read more of Vic Keegan’s excavations of Lost London here.