The Garden Guide

Book: London and Its Environs, 1927
Chapter: 2 Whitehall

Banqueting Hall (or House) Whitehall

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To the south of the War Office stands the Banqueting Hall, the only relic of the old Palace of Whitehall and the only portion ever built of James I.'s proposed reconstruction. This superb example of Palladian architecture was erected by Inigo Jones in 1622, on the site of an Elizabethan banqueting-hall burned down in 1619. The weather-cock at the north end of the roof was placed there by James II. to show whether the wind was favourable or not to the approach of the Prince of Orange. It was through a window of this hall that Charles I. passed in 1649 to the scaffold erected in the roadway in front of it (tablet beneath the lower central window). Most probably the window in question was none of those that we now see, but the window of a small annexe (now removed) at the north end, approximately just above the present entrance-gate. In 1724 George I. converted the hall into a Chapel Royal, which, however, was never consecrated and was dismantled in 1890. Since 1895 the interior has been occupied by the Royal United Service Museum, belonging to the Royal United Service Institution. The museum is open 10-5 on week-days (adm. 1/; Sat. afternoon 6d.; sailors and soldiers free; catalogue, 2/6). We ascend to the lofty main hall (115 feet long, 60 feet wide, and 55 feet high). The nine allegorical Ceiling Paintings were designed for Charles I. by Rubens, who received for them �3000 and a knighthood. These, executed at Antwerp in 1635, no doubt with considerable assistance from pupils, are in the artist's usual exuberant style and on a colossal scale; the children in the oblong panels are 9 feet in height. The paintings, which are on canvas stretched on panelling, have been restored five times, The Apotheosis of James I. appears in the large central oval, between oblong panels depicting Peace and Plenty, Harmony and Happiness. The other large paintings symbolize the Birth of Charles I. (south end) and his Coronation as King of Scotland (north end), and the four small corner ovals illustrate the Triumph of Virtue over Vice. A scheme to have the walls of the hall painted by Van Dyck with the history of the Order of the Garter was never executed. The museum is an interesting though somewhat miscellaneous collection illustrating the history of the British armed forces, and the development of their weapons, costumes, and equipments. It comprises many relics of illustrious warriors and famous campaigns, including the Great War. The right (west) side of the hall is devoted mainly to the army, the left side to the navy, while the basement contains artillery. The walls of the hall are hung with engravings, views, weapons, and small relics; and from the gallery hang the colours of famous regiments and ships. By the first Window on the right is a model of Whitehall Palace in 1648. Second Window: table-case with memorials of the Indian Mutiny (1857), including a few strands of women's and children's hair collected after the Massacre of Cawnpore. Adjacent is a complete collection of war-medals. In a line with the third Window, skeleton of Marengo, Napoleon's favourite charger. Fourth Window: case with relics of Napoleon and of Waterloo. Opposite, Model of the Battle of Waterloo (1815). Fifth Window: relics of the Crimean War (1854-56); above, to the left, Bugle that sounded the charge for the Light Brigade. In the adjoining case are relics of Culloden (1745); Bible of John Balfour, who figures in Sir Walter Scott's 'Old Mortality'; Sword of Oliver Cromwell; walking-stick and snuff-box of Sir Francis Drake; on the other side of the case, relics of General Wolfe and of the American War of Independence. Sixth Window: relics of the Sudan. In the case opposite are Lord Kitchener's field-marshal's baton and relics of Wellington and Sir John Moore. Seventh Window: relics of the South African campaign (1899-1902). Opposite is a group of furniture, including Wolfe's field canteen, chairs of Napoleon I., and chairs from the farmhouse at Donchery, where Napoleon III. surrendered after the battle of Sedan (1870). We return by the east side of the room, noting a number of fine naval models. Above the windows hang 14 lifebuoys from British ships sunk by German submarines (left by the Germans at Bruges). Immediately above the window is the flag of the 'Chesapeake.' By the third Window, relics of Franklin's expedition to the North Pole (1847-48). Opposite, Standard of the Commonwealth, said to have been flown by Blake. Behind, on a portion of the mast of the 'Victory,' Nelson's flag-ship at Trafalgar, is a bust of Nelson, by Chantrey; in the glass-case beyond is Nelson's uniform. In the fourth Window are relics of the 'Royal George,' which sank accidentally at Spithead in 1782,' with twice four hundred men.' 'Model of the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), illustrating Nelson's famous plan of attack. Above the fifth Window is a shell-torn Red Cross flag. By the sixth Window is a silver statuette of Nelson. Above it hangs the flag of U 26, and on the right is a lifebelt from the 'Emden.' In the flat case are memorials of Nelson and the private log of the 'Victory,' written up to the eve of Trafalgar; relics of the fight between the 'Shannon' and the 'Chesapeake' in 1813, including the signal-book of the 'Chesapeake,' weighted with bullets to sink it: chronometer and telescope of Captain Cook (died 1779). Screen with autograph letters. In the northeast corner is the Wolseley Room (shown on application to the attendant). It contains an interesting collection of orders, presentation caskets, trophies (such as the crown of King Coffee of Ashantee), etc., which belonged to Field-Marshal Viscount Wolseley (died 1913). On the right of the exit are relics of L 85, of the campaign against Turkey in 1915-18, etc. We now descend to the basement, which contains artillery, shells, etc. In the ante-room is a collection of savage weapons. In the central row in the main basement are a number of interesting guns: first Norden-feldt gun used on land; model of a New Zealand War-Pah; model of the 'Scharnhorst'; the first German field-gun captured in 1914; model of the 'Queen Mary'; gun made at Mafeking during the siege; German machine-guns, trench-mortars, Minenwerfer, etc.; model of a section of the trenches and dug-outs (illuminated); model illustrating the attack on Mametz on July 1st, 1916. In the corner on the left: Zeppelin and other German relics; British 'flame gun' used at Zeebrugge. Returning along this side of the room we note the wooden cage in which Mrs. Noble was confined by the Chinese for 10 days in 1839-40; a Bolshevist lance, with red pennon; model of the British fleet that fought the battle of Jutland; relics of the mutiny of the 'Bounty' (1789). Near the door is a torpedo.