Tag Archives: Whitehall

Perambulations Through Late Georgian London or, All the Best Sights in One Week. Day One

In 1836 Nathaniel Whittock’s The Modern Picture of London, Westminster, and the Metropolitan Boroughs. Containing a correct description of the most interesting objects in every part of the Metropolis; forming a complete Guide and directory for the Stranger and Resident… was published by George Virtue & Co.

I have half a dozen late Georgian & Regency London guidebooks, but this, on the verge of Victoria’s reign, is the only one that sets out itineraries for the visitor as well as describing the various buildings, parks and institutions of the Capital. I thought it would be interesting to follow his advice, and visit London right at the end of the Georgian era.

Mr Whittock begins by discussing whether it is better to take lodgings or stay at a respectable inn (not a coaching inn, or the visitor will be constantly disturbed, day and night). He concludes that:

The visitor whose time is limited, will find it better to have lodgings without board, as he can take his meals at any time or place, according to his own convenience. The visitor to the metropolis, that has no particular friends to greet him on his arrival, and whose business will only allow him to devote a few days, to the survey of the architectural beauties and splendid exhibitions which surround him on all sides, on his arrival in London, will feel the necessity of so regulating his time, that he may see the various objects that are contiguous to each other on the same day; and, supposing him to have only a week that he can spare for this purpose, we will endeavour to point out the best mode of regulating his hours, so that he may have an opportunity of seeing the greatest number of objects within that time. We will therefore suppose the visitor to have taken apartments near Charing Cross.

In the…directions, it is supposed that the party is in the middle rank of life; the same route would be pointed out to those who kept a carriage, but they would, in consequence, be enabled to visit more objects in the same time, from the facility of conveyance from one place to another.

Monday

A crowded day first ending with a visit to the theatre.

The visitor is advised to commence his perambulation of the metropolis on Monday morning, at half-past nine o’clock.

He will have ample time to see Whitehall, the statue of King James behind it, the Horse Guards, and the Admiralty. 

The bronze statue of King James II now stands in front of the National Gallery. It was produced in the workshop of Grinling Gibbons and erected at the Palace of Whitehall in 1686, two years before James was deposed and fled the country. It stood behind the Banqueting House until 1898 when it was removed and spent some time being shuffled around the Capital before ending up in its present position in 1947. According to A Picture of London For 1807 it is ‘Superior to any statue in any public place in England.’

Walk into St. James’ Park, stand a few minutes to observe the military parade, which always takes place at ten o’clock.

Just such a parade can be seen in the print above of 1809, and one can still do this by walking into Horse Guards between the mounted sentries, under the arch and into Horse Guards Parade.

 Walk through the Park to Storey’s Gate (the point where Horse Guards Road now meets Birdcage Walk); thence, down Princes Street (now Storey’s Gate), and he will see Westminster Abbey, and the New Westminster Hospital, to the greatest advantage. 

The new Westminster Hospital opened in 1834 on the site now occupied by the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre. It was immediately struck by serious problems with its water closets and baths which failed to drain properly and caused frequent outbreaks of disease and a terrible stink.

Passing through St. Margaret’s church-yard (Above: Westminster Abbey with St Margaret’s church in front, seen from the north (1810)), he will observe the beautiful entrance to the north transept of the Abbey. The next object that will present itself, is the chapel of Henry VII., and he will arrive at Poet’s Corner at about half-past ten o’clock: the entrance to the Abbey will be open, and he will have an opportunity of hearing the cathedral service performed, and likewise of seeing the beautiful choir of the Abbey; the service is ended about eleven o’clock, and he can then survey every part of this venerable pile, which will occupy about an hour. 

This seems a very short time to view the Abbey! The visitors above, seen in 1805, appear to be taking rather more time to look around.

On leaving the Abbey, at half-past twelve, the stranger may cross the road, to the Houses of Lords and Commons and Westminster Hall, see the interior of them –

The greater part of the Houses of Parliament were destroyed by fire in October 1834, two years before the publication of this guidebook and the main text describes the makeshift debating chambers that had been made out of what remained. Westminster Hall survived the fire and was attached to the new Houses of Parliament when they were begun in 1840.  The watercolour of the House of Lords from Old Palace Yard, 1834, by Robert William Billings shows the devastation. (Parliamentary copyright)

and at one o’clock find himself on Westminster Bridge, surveying the buildings on the banks of the Thames. If this survey should engender historical reminiscences, the stranger would probably wish to visit the scene of Wolsey’s greatness, and the residence of the primate of England, Lambeth Palace; should he do so, he will find his time occupied till two o’clock. 

This image of 1784 shows Morton’s Tower, the entrance to the Palace with Westminster bridge (opened 1750) in the background.  The tower is instantly recognizable today, even though the embankment has been built up between it and the river and the traffic now thunders past on Lambeth Palace Road.

To get to Lambeth Palace at this time the visitor would either have to cross Westminster Bridge and travel south down the southern bank of the Thames or go down the northern bank and take the ferry across: there was no Lambeth Bridge until 1862.

On leaving the palace, if he continues down Canterbury Place, he will, in a short time, arrive at Bethlem Hospital; to some, the interior is interesting, if so, it will occupy half an hour.

This was the New Bethlem Hospital moved from Moorfields in 1815. It was closed in 1930 and the site became a park with the centre of the old building retained as the Imperial War Museum.

 Near the same spot, is the Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb,

This was a pioneering institution, founded in 1792 to educate two hundred children who, up until then, had been dismissed as ‘idiots’, incapable of learning or earning their living. They were taught lip-reading, reading, writing, arithmetic and useful trades. It lay between Mason Street and Townsend Street and its modern incarnation as The Royal School for Deaf Children moved to Margate in 1902.

the Philanthropic Asylum –

The Royal Philanthropic Society built the asylum in 1792 in an attempt to help the children of convicted criminals and street children who had resorted to begging or crime.

and other charitable foundations, the whole of which may be visited, and the party return home over Waterloo Bridge, (This was the original 1817 bridge. The present one was opened in 1942) observe the grand front of Somerset House, and arrive at their lodgings by half-past four o’clock, dine, and finish the day by visiting Drury Lane Theatre.

Hopefully the intrepid tourist was not so worn out by their hectic sightseeing that they could not appreciate the atmosphere at Drury Lane Theatre, shown here.

If you wish to follow this route yourself you will find more details in Walking Jane Austen’s London Walk 6 or Walks Through Regency London Walk 8. The area around the Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb is described in Driving Through Georgian Britain in the section on the Dover Road.

To be continued…

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The Statue of Charles I – a London landmark Jane Austen would have known

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Standing on the southern edge of Trafalgar Square, facing down Whitehall, and in the midst of a permanent traffic jam, stands the bronze statue of Charles I, looking down towards the place of his execution as he has done since 1675. The surroundings have changed beyond recognition, but every Georgian Londoner and visitor would have been familiar with the statue which appears in numerous prints.

The statue was created by Hubert le Suer in 1633, but it was not erected immediately and by the time of the Civil War it had become a target for the Parliamentarians. It was sold to John Rivett, a brazier, in 1649 on the strict instructions that it was to be melted down. Rivett, obviously both a shrewd political forecaster and a businessman, buried it in his garden and made a great deal of money from small souvenirs allegedly made from the bronze. Charles II acquired it on his restoration and it was erected, more or less on the site of the medieval Charing Cross, in 1675. It can be seen on the map, just below the R of Cross. Behind it is the King’s Mews and the Golden Cross Inn, now occupied by Trafalgar Square. The bulk of Northumberland House is to the east, below the final S of Cross.

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The pedestal is said to have been designed by Wren and carved by Grinling Gibbons.

This print of 1811 from Ackermann’s Repository, shows the view east past Northumberland House and down the Strand.

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The statue was obviously a familiar landmark that enabled artists to locate their images. The 1823 print of ‘The notorious Black Billy “At Home” to a London Street Party’ (drawn by Samuel Alken, published by Thos. Kelly) shows it surrounded by lively street life. Despite being shown as white, “Black Billy” Waters (c. 1778–1823) was black and is said to have been a slave who escaped by joining the British navy and who lost a leg in a fall from the rigging. Whatever the truth, he was a popular street entertainer with his characteristic feathered hat and violin.

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By the middle of the 19th century street life was rather more decorous and this undated Victorian engraving shows a pristine Nelson’s Column, Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery (with columns recycled from Carlton House).

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Today the traffic around the statue is unrelenting, and so often jammed solid, that bus and taxi passengers have ample opportunity to study Charles in all his melancholy glory!

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Horse Guards Parade – Crocodiles, Cardinal Wolsey & Beach Volleyball

One of the emptiest, yet most evocative, spaces in London is Horse Guards Parade. In my last post I wrote about the Regent’s Bomb – the fantastical mortar and gun carriage that sits on one side of the Arch. This time I’m writing about a little of the history of the parade ground and another cannon with a wonderful gun carriage.Guardsman
Horse Guards Parade sits between Whitehall and St James’s Park and began life as open land next to the grounds of York Place, the London palace of the Archbishops of York. Its main entrance faced down the road that is now Horse Guards Avenue, the bishop’s route to his landing stage on the river. With the fall of Cardinal Wolsey Henry VIII seized York Place and then set about acquiring “…all the medowes about saynt James, and all the whole house of S.James and ther made a fayre manision and a parke…” according to Edward Hall.
When the king began his work on what was to become Whitehall Palace a willow marsh for the farming of osiers for basketwork, Steynour’s Croft, covered much of what is now Horse Guards, the Bell Inn stood at the southern edge and an old track crossed it from the scrubland that became St James’s Park.
By 1534 the Palace of Whitehall was largely complete. Part of the area, a longitudinal strip running west across Horse Guards became his tiltyard, scene of tournaments and knightly exercises. Under Elizabeth I the Tiltyard was used for animal baiting and tournaments and pageants which were set pieces for state occasions. Under James I elaborate masques were held – including one involving an elephant carrying a castle – but the increasingly theatrical nature of royal masques led to the building of the Banqueting House on the other side of what was then King Street (now Whitehall) and the last masque in the tiltyard was planned for 1624. After that it became known as the Bearstake Gallery and it continued to be used for baiting sports until 1660.
A standing guard was stationed in a specially built guardroom at the tiltyard from 1641 and the area continued to house soldiers throughout the Commonwealth period.
On May 8th 1660 Charles II was proclaimed on the site of the old Tiltyard ‘Green’ and the renovation of Whitehall Palace began. A plan of c1670 shows Whitehall as a wide street coming down from the north and ending at the pinch-point of a Tudor gate. The range of buildings that were the old Horse Guards were built in 1663 with a yard in front and behind the range the open expanse of ground that became Horse Guards Parade.
In January 1698 a great fire destroyed the Palace of Whitehall, sparing only the Banqueting Hall and Old Horse Guards. A letter of the time records, “All parts from near the house my Lord Lichfield lived in to the Horse Guards were yesterday covered with heaps of goods rescued from the flames.”
The king moved to St James’s Palace, across the park, and Whitehall became the location for many government offices and from the 1730s the buildings surrounding Horse Guards were gradually replaced. The dilapidated old building was demolished in 1750 and the new building – the one we see now – was designed by William Kent, with additions by Isaac Ware.

 

Horse Guards

The large open space was referred to as the Parade ground, but the first written reference to “Horse Guards Parade” as a title comes as late as 1817. By then the area looked much as it does today as can be seen in this print of 1809 by Rowlandson and Pugin, published by Ackermann. Only the high brick wall that closes off the gardens at the rear of Downing Street today (to the right of the picture) is missing.
The space is uncluttered now – when it is not being used for events such as Trooping the Colour and the Olympic Beach Volleyball, or in the Victorian era, the marshalling point for the vast funeral procession of the Duke of Wellington. However there are two interesting weapons exhibited there, either side of the arch. On one side is the Regent’s Bomb, on the other a 16th century Turkish cannon brought to the site in 1802 after its

capture in the siege of Alexandria (1801) when the British invaded Egypt to fight Napoleon’s army, an event that formed the setting for my recent novel Beguiled By

Her Betrayer.

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It was made in 1526 and the inscription on the barrel reads:
“The Solomon of the age the Great Sultan Commander of the dragon guns When they breathe roaring like thunder. May the enemy’s forts be razed to the ground. Year of Hegira 931.”
The gun carriage was made at Woolwich and depicts Britannia pointing at the Pyramids and a rather splendid crocodile.                                                                     You can visit Horse Guards Parade both in my Walks Through Regency London (Walk 8 Trafalgar Square to Westminster, which follows the length of Whitehall)
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00HZ35V4K
and Walking Jane Austen’s London (Walk 6 Westminster to Charing Cross, which goes through St James’s Park).
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00CPOT0IC

 

 

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