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Central Hall Westminster

Westminster Central Hall

Methodist Central Hall, Westminster is on Victoria Street in London, just off Parliament Square, next to the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre and facing Westminster Abbey.

It is a multi-purpose building—a Methodist church, a conference and exhibition centre, an art gallery, an office building, and a tourist attraction. The Great Hall seats up to 2,352 people.

History

Central Hall was erected to mark the centenary of John Wesley's death. It was built in 1912 on the site of the Royal Aquarium, Music Hall and Imperial Theatre, an entertainment complex that operated with varying success from 1876 to 1903.

Central Hall was funded between 1898 and 1908 by 1,025,000 contributors to the "Wesleyan Methodist Twentieth Century Fund" (or the "Million Guinea Fund", as it became more commonly known), whose aim was to raise one million guineas from one million Methodists.

Central Hall hosted the first meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in 1946. It has been regularly used for political rallies—famous speakers have included Mahatma Gandhi and Winston Churchill. In 1968 it hosted the first public performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in a concert that also included his father (organist William Lloyd Webber who was Musical Director at Central Hall) his brother (cellist Julian Lloyd Webber) and pianist John Lill.

It is frequently used for public enquiries, including those into the Ladbroke Grove rail crash, the sinking of the Marchioness pleasure boat, and the Bloody Sunday incident in Northern Ireland.

From 1932 to 2000, Central Hall was the headquarters of the Methodist Church.

Architecture

Central Hall was designed by Edwin Alfred Rickards, of the firm Lanchester, Stewart and Rickards. Although clad in a renaissance French style, it is an early example of the use of a reinforced concrete frame for a building in Britain (in some ways similar to the "Kahn system" developed by Julius Kahn in Michigan, USA, in the 1910s).

The original 1904 design included two small towers on the main (east) facade, facing Westminster Abbey. These were never built, supposedly because of an outcry that they would reduce the dominance of Nicholas Hawksmoor's west towers at Westminster Abbey in views from St. James's Park.

The interior was similarly planned on a Piranesian scale, although the execution was rather more economical.

The domed ceiling of the Great Hall is reputed to be the second largest of its type in the world. The vast scale of the self-supporting ferro-concrete structure reflects the original intention that Central Hall was intended to be "an open-air meeting place with a roof on".

The angels in the exterior spandrels were designed by Henry Poole RA.

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