History of Central Hall Westminster
Steeped in history
The building in which Central Hall Westminster now operates is one of only a few to have been purpose-built for hosting events. Then known as Methodist Central Hall, the building was initially erected as a meeting space for the public and the Methodist Church – and was designed by architects Henry Vaughan Lanchester and Edwin Alfred Rickards.
After opening in October 1912, Methodist Central Hall quickly established itself as a prime setting for current affairs, debates and concerts. Central Hall Westminster was soon born from its popularity, and we have been managing events on-site ever since. We also continue to be one of London’s most sought-after venues – especially for staging special events, public concerts, and exhibitions.
A rich heritage
Thanks to our rich, longstanding heritage, our building has played host to some of the world’s most significant cultural and political events and welcomed some of the best-known public figures through our doors – including Winnie Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Mikhail Gorbachev.
Among our notable past events are the first-ever meeting of the UN in 1946, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s first public performance in 1968, the Laureus World Sports Awards in 2012, and the BBC’s New Year’s Eve Concert for several years running.
The Million Guinea Fund
Our distinctive venue was built on the site of the former Royal Aquarium between 1905-11, to mark the centenary of Methodism founder John Wesley’s death. To fund building costs prior to construction, the Methodist Church set up the ‘Wesleyan Methodist Twentieth Century Fund’ in 1898.
Regardless of wealth, each donor was only allowed to donate one guinea – leading to the Fund being popularly known as the ‘Million Guinea Fund’. It finally closed in 1904, having raised 1,024,501 guineas: today’s equivalent of £1,075,727.
Part of the community
A quarter of the Million Guinea Fund was allocated to finally erecting Wesley’s memorial between 1905 and 1911. Envisioned as a ‘monumental Memorial Hall’, it was specially designed to house both the congregation and clergy of the then Wesleyan Methodist Church.
We share our premises with the Methodist Church to this day. We also continue to have a thriving Methodist community at the heart of our building and host regular events for worship and prayer, in addition to providing charitable services within our local area.
An architectural marvel
The architecture of Central Hall Westminster follows an elaborate Viennese baroque style, intended to contrast with the Gothic architecture of nearby Westminster Abbey.
The building’s key feature remains the beautiful Great Hall, which was considered a marvel of engineering in its time.
The Great Hall’s self-supporting domed ceiling is the largest of its kind in Europe, with its grandeur said to reflect the original intention for Central Hall Westminster to serve as a key meeting place for the Methodist congregation and wider public.
Did you know?
- Our basement acted as an air-raid shelter for over 2,000 people every night for the duration of World War Two. It fostered such a strong sense of community among those who took refuge with us, that many did not want to return to their own homes once the war finally ended in 1945
- In 1966, the iconic FIFA World Cup Trophy was stolen from the Library, where it was the centrepiece of an exhibition – before being recovered a few days later thanks to Pickles the dog
- Six international TV companies filmed the Royal Wedding from our roof in 2011
- We were chosen to host the very first UK Laureus World Sports Awards in 2012
- In 2014, we transformed into a Grand Parisian Hotel during filming for ‘RED 2’, starring Bruce Willis and Catherine Zeta-Jones
- We hosted the Bloody Sunday Inquiry in the Lecture Hall and Library in 2002-3
- In March 1945, Winston Churchill addressed the Conservative Party Conference in our Great Hall with the famous words: ‘Victory is certain, victory is near’
- Dr Paul Bruce Dickinson, front man of heavy metal band Iron Maiden, was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Music title here in 2011
A venue for all
Though primarily built for use by the Methodist Church, Central Hall Westminster was also intended to be used as a public meeting place for all people, regardless of their religious persuasion.
At its time of construction, it was said Central Hall Westminster would offer a ‘great service for conferences on religious, educational, scientific, philanthropic and social questions’.
We continue to provide events services for a diverse roster of clients today, and enjoy excellent links with clients in several diverse industries – including the government, education, entertainment, and corporate sectors.