Few of the fans camping outside Westminster Abbey waiting for a glimpse of Kate Middleton will realise how perilously close Westminster Hall got to collapsing at the turn of the 20th century.
In 1913, an inspection of the Hall’s roof beams revealed that they were seriously affected by the Deathwatch beetle, so much so that four out of the thirteen trusses were in danger of collapse. The wall-posts were rendered severely dangerous and some cavities were so excavated by beetles that it was held an adult could lie in them completely hidden from sight.
Extensive repairs were carried out to the Hall’s roof by Frank Baines in 1914-23. Harold Maxwell-Lefroy, Professor of Entomology at Imperial College, London, was called upon to inspect the Deathwatch. He developed one of the first insecticides called Ento-Kill from which Rentokil derives its name.
The beams were treated and the entire roof was reinforced by concealed steelwork, and the decayed portions replaced with new oak from Wadhurst in Kent.
The Hall has been used for the Lying in State of monarchs and queen consorts since King Edward VII, and of two statesmen, William Ewart Gladstone (1898) and Sir Winston Churchill (1965).
Amongst the many ceremonies and commemorations held here over the years, addresses to Parliament have been made by Her Majesty the Queen, and by three Presidents: President Lebrun of France on 23 March 1939, President de Gaulle of France on 7 April 1960, and President Mandela of South Africa on 11 July 1996.
The building, now considered one of the finest gothic structures in the world, has had many incarnations, thanks to a turbulent history which has included a fire in 1834 which destroyed the whole palace except Westminster Hall, the Jewel Tower, the cloisters and the crypt of St. Stephen’s Chapel. In 1940 Westminster was also bombed.
Westminster Abbey, adjacent, was a royal church from its first beginnings, it still has the shrine of its principal founder, the Anglo-Saxon king and saint, Edward the Confessor, at the heart of the building. Since Edward’s death in 1066 his successors have come to this church to be crowned, and seventeen of them lie buried within its walls. More than a million people now visit Westminster every year, and Rentokil are proud to be part of its past and future. We don’t want to see any beetles creeping down the aisle at Kate and William’s wedding or in Westminster Hall on their coronation day.