The Garden Guide

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

Palace of Whitehall

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2. WHITEHALL STATIONS at Charing Cross; Westminster, on the District Railway. OMNIBUSES, Nos. 3, 11, 12, 24, 29, 32, 89, 51, 53, 58, 59, 77, 80, 88, 89, etc. Until the 18th century most of the region between Charing Cross and the present Westminster Bridge, and between the Thames and St. James's Park, was occupied by the ancient royal Palace of Whitehall, of which nothing now remains but the name and one single building. Today the brief half-mile that separates the Nelson Column from the Houses of Parliament at Westminster is the very heart and political centre of the far-flung British Empire, for here are assembled all the great Government Offices that administer the affairs of the realm, both for peace and for war. The spacious modern thoroughfare that runs due south from Trafalgar Square to Westminster retains the name of Charing Cross for a few yards at its north end; its central and most important part is Whitehall; while the left (east) side of its south part, beyond Downing Street, is known as Parliament Street. Almost from end to end the right (west) side of this street is separated from St, James's Park by a continuous row of public offices, ranging in date from 1725, at the north end, to 1919, at the south end. On the left (east) side stands the War Office, but the most interesting building is the Banqueting Hall, the only visible relic of the famous palace, whose disappearance has so completely altered the topography of this district since the days of the Tudors and the Stuarts. The nucleus of the PALACE OF WHITEHALL was a mansion which stood close to the Thames and was bequeathed in 1242 by Hubert de Burgh, Earl of Kent and Chief Justiciar of England, to the Dominicans of Holborn and by them sold in 1298 to the Archbishop of York. For 230 years this house, altered and embellished and known as York House or York Place, was the London residence of the Northern Archbishops, and under Cardinal Wolsey, the greatest of them all, it was famed for its splendour and the magnificence of its fetes. It is, however, only by poetic licence that Shakespeare places here the first meeting of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. When Wolsey, in the full meridian of his greatness, fell in 1529, Henry VIII. seized the property, extended its bounds on the west, and converted it into a royal residence. The palace grounds then stretched, between the Thames and St. James's Park, from Great Scotland Yard, on the north, to Downing Street and Cannon Row, on the south. This royal domain was intersected from north to south by a narrow public thoroughfare from Charing Cross to Westminster, the south portion of which, King Street, ran a little to the west of the line of the present Parliament Street Henry VIII. spanned this thoroughfare with two gateways or archways to connect the east and west parts of his demesne: Holbein's Gate, a beautiful brick erection with towers, stood opposite the extreme south end of the present Banqueting Hall and was removed in 1720; King Street Gate stood farther to the south and was removed in 1728. In King St. Edmund Spenser' died for lack of bread' in 1599. Oliver Cromwell owned a house here. Other famous residents were Lord Howard of Effingham (died 1573), Sir Henry Wotton (died 1639), and Lord North (died 1677). To the west of King Street was Delahay Street, in which Lord Jeffreys (died 1689) once lived. For over a century and a half Whitehall was the chief residence of the court in London. Henry VIII. married Anne Boleyn here in 1533 and died in the palace in 1547. Under Elizabeth the festivities of her father's reign were revived, and under James I. and Charles I. masques by Ben Jonson, Inigo Jones, and others were frequently presented at court. James contemplated the erection of an enormous and sumptuous new palace, but of the magnificent plan submitted by Inigo Jones nothing was built except the Banqueting Hall, completed in 1622. It was in front of this hall that Charles I. was executed in 1649. Oliver Cromwell, the Protector, took up his abode in Whitehall in 1654 and died there four years later. Under Charles II. the palace became the centre of revelry and intrigue sketched for us by Pepys, Gramont, and others. The painful interview between James II and the Duke of Monmouth after the battle of Sedgemoor in 1685 took place in Whitehall, and from this palace James fled in 1688. In 1698 the palace, previously much injured by a fire in 1691, was burned to the ground by a conflagration that lasted for seventeen hours. The royal residence was thence forward in St. James's Palace, and the gardens and grounds of Whitehall were gradually leased out for the erection of private mansions, of which Montagu House, Richmond Terrace, Whitehall Gardens, etc., are the modern successors. There is an interesting model of Whitehall Palace in its palmy days in the United Service Museum.