Day 52 – Houses of Parliament – Westminster Abbey – Parliament Square

A pretty meaty one this to the say the least; with two of inarguably the three most iconic and important buildings in London to cover off (the third being St Pauls’ Cathedral – sorry, Buckingham Palace). So most of today’s excursion is taken up with visits to the Houses of Parliament (or, more precisely, the Palace of Westminster) and Westminster Abbey, though we did manage to fit in a few actual streets to the south and west of those behemoths before circling back to Parliament Square.

Day 52 Route

Starting out from Westminster tube station we cross Bridge Street and head along the south side of Parliament Square to the public entrance of the Houses of Parliament at Cromwell Green. After an inspection of my ticket – I’ve booked the audio guide tour – I make my way down the ramp at the bottom of which the airport-style security check awaits. En route we pass the statue of Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658), one of only two in the grounds of the Palace of Westminster. The statue was erected in 1899 in the face of fierce opposition from the Irish National Party owing to Cromwell’s ravages against the Catholic population of Ireland. In the end Parliament only approved the statue because an anonymous benefactor, later revealed to be ex-Prime Minister Lord Roseberry, agreed to fund it. After his death Cromwell was originally buried, with great ceremony, in Westminster Abbey. However, following the restoration of Charles II, his body was exhumed and subjected to a posthumous execution and his severed head displayed on a pole outside Westminster Hall (for twenty-four years).

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Given the scaffolding in evidence in the picture above, including the complete coverage of Big Ben, this is perhaps the time to note that, after series of protracted debates, both the House of Commons and the House of Lords voted in early 2018 in favour of a temporary decampment from the PoW to allow a long overdue so-called Restoration and Renewal programme to take place.  They won’t be vacating the premises until 2025 however so you’ve still got plenty of time to visit before it’s closed down for six years (at least).

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First port of call, and where you pick up the audio guide, is Westminster Hall (on the right above minus Cromwell’s severed head). This is the oldest part of the PoW and has, miraculously, survived intact since it was built by William II (aka William Rufus) son of William the Conqueror in 1097. The magnificent oak hammer-beam roof, commissioned in 1393 by Richard II, is the largest medieval timber roof in Northern Europe measuring 68ft by 240ft. In addition to the new roof, Richard also installed statues of every king of England from Edward the Confessor to himself in niches in the walls (only 6 now remain). Ironically, the first event to take place in the hall after Richard’s redevelopments was his own deposition by Henry IV in 1399. On 16 October 1834 a fire broke out in the Palace when two underfloor stoves that were injudiciously being used to destroy the Exchequer’s stockpile of tally sticks ignited panelling in the Lords Chamber. The two Houses were both completely destroyed but Westminster Hall was saved, partly by its thick Medieval walls  and partly because the PM, Lord Melbourne, directed the fire fighters to focus their efforts on dousing the Hall’s timber roof.

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There are a number of brass plaques embedded in the floor of the Hall commemorating events of historic significance that have taken place there, including the passing of the death sentence on Sir Thomas More in 1535. The stairs at southern end of the Hall were created by architect Charles Barry in 1850 along with a new arch window as part of his post-fire renovations. Turning left at the top of these stairs brings us to the entrance to St Stephen’s Hall above which can be seen the light sculpture New Dawn created by, artist-in-residence, Mary Branson, in commemoration of the campaign for women’s suffrage and unveiled in 2016.

St Stephen’s Hall started life as St Stephen’s Chapel in 1292 and was the in-house place of worship for the reigning Kings of England up to Henry VIII. In 1550, two years after the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry’s son Edward IV gave the chapel over to the House of Commons for use as their debating chamber. The chapel was destroyed by the fire of 1834 and was reconstituted as St Stephen’s Hall as part of Charles Barry’s restoration work. Following the destruction wrought during WWII the hall once again became the venue for sessions of the Commons from 1945 to 1950 while the Commons Chamber was being rebuilt.

On either side of the Hall are statues of famous parliamentarians including John Hampden, Robert Walpole, William Pitt and Charles James Fox and on either side of the doorways are statues of early Kings and Queens of England. The paintings on the walls depict various important events in British history, while the ten stained-glass windows, five on either side, depict the arms of various parliamentary cities and boroughs; these were damaged in air raids during the Second Word War and since restored.

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St Stephen’s Hall represents the last opportunity to take photographs inside the Palace of Westminster; beyond here it’s strictly verboten. As a consequence I won’t dwell too long on the rest of the tour which takes us into the Central Lobby where we turn right to pass through the Peers Lobby, the Lords Chamber, the Royal Gallery and the Robing Room and back again. Traversing the Central Lobby for a second time gains access to the Members Lobby and the Commons Chamber. Now on the day of my visit neither of the Houses was sitting so it was possible to get right in among the green and red benches (though of course you’re not allowed to sit on them). When either of the Chambers are in session visitors can, of course, view the debates from the respective public galleries – no tickets required except for PMQs. The visitor’s gallery in the Commons is formally known as the Strangers’ Gallery. Back in the 1930’s according to my guidebook “any Foreigners desirous of listening to a debate” needed to apply to their Ambassadors”. There was also a separate Ladies’ Gallery back then though persons of the female persuasion had recently also been granted access to the main viewing gallery. The grilles referred to below were installed over the windows in the Ladies’ Gallery (earning it the nickname “the Cage”) so the women could see out but men could not see in, and therefore not be distracted by the women watching them. They were removed in 1917 following a petition from the London Society for Women’s Suffrage and just a couple of months after the passing of the bill giving the vote to women over the age of 30.

Galleries

Once the tour is over we leave the HoP and head across to the South-West corner of Parliament Square and follow Broad Sanctuary down to the entrance to Westminster Abbey.  As ever my timing is the complete opposite of impeccable since if I’d just waited a couple more weeks then the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries would have been open. Reached via the newly-built Weston Tower, the first major addition to the abbey since 1745, these apparently offer stunning views down into the nave of the church as well as housing 300 treasures from the Abbey’s collection selected to reflect it’s thousand-year history. Still, I expect the queues are going to be absolutely horrendous. It’s busy enough on the day of my visit though having pre-booked a ticket online I get in pretty quickly. At £20 a time (£22 if you buy on the day) the revenue from visitors to the Abbey is probably sufficient to keep the Church of England solvent all on its own. Despite the crowds it’s not that unpleasant shuffling round; I suspect it’s the free audio guides rather than piety that keeps the noise to a minimum and the no-photography rule is universally adhered to.

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Westminster Abbey can trace its origins back to the middle of the eleventh century when Edward the Confessor built a new stone church dedicated to St Peter alongside an existing Benedictine monastery founded around a hundred years earlier. This church became known as the “west minster” to distinguish it from St Paul’s Cathedral (the east minster) in the City of London. Unfortunately, when the new church was consecrated on 28 December 1065 the King was too ill to attend and died a few days later, his mortal remains being entombed in front of the High Altar. This set something of a trend since when King Henry III (1207 – 1272) had the Abbey rebuilt in the new Gothic style he died before the nave could be completed. Henry did however have time to transfer the body of Edward the Confessor (by then sanctified as Saint Edward) into a more magnificent tomb behind the High Altar in the new church. This shrine survives and around it are buried a cluster of medieval kings and their consorts including Henry III himself, Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, Edward III and Philippa of Hainault, Richard II and Anne of Bohemia and Henry V. Westminster Abbey is of course irrevocably linked with the history of the English/British monarchy. Every monarch since William the Conqueror has been crowned in the Abbey, with the exception of Edward V and Edward VIII (abdicated) who were never crowned. The ancient Coronation Chair can still be seen in the church. Elizabeth I was buried in the vault of her grandfather, Henry VII, in the so-called Lady Chapel which he had constructed in 1516. Her successor, James I, didn’t attend her funeral service but he later had a white marble monument erected in her memory in a chapel adjacent to the Lady Chapel. Although a few years after that he had a taller and grander memorial installed for his mother, Mary Queen of Scots.

But it’s not just royalty that’s buried and/or commemorated in the Abbey of course. When Geoffrey Chaucer was buried here in 1400 it was because he was Clerk of The King’s Works not for his literary achievements. However, nearly 200 years later, when Edmund Spenser (of Faerie Queene fame) asked to be buried next to Chaucer the concept of Poet’s Corner was born and continues to this day. Deciding which dead writers merit the honour of being immortalised in Poet’s Corner is the prerogative of the Deans of Westminster.  Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Handel and Laurence Olivier are among those whose actual remains lie here while Shakespeare, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Lord Byron and a host of others are memorialised in brass or stone. The most recent additions to the pantheon include Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin and David Frost.

As I noted already there’s no photography allowed inside the abbey so the next selection of photographs are all of or from within the College Garden and the Little Cloister Garden. Before we get to that those though I just wanted to record one personal highlight of the tour which is the murals in the Chapter House. These were painted in the late 14th century at the instigation of one of the monks of Westminster, John of Northampton, and depict scenes from the New Testament’s Revelation of St John the Divine (otherwise known as the Apocalypse). Only fragments of the paintings remain and many of those that do are extremely faint but this ghost-like appearance only adds to their macabre impact.

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We exit the Abbey on its west side opposite the Crimea and Indian Mutiny memorial which sits inside a triangular island created by Victoria Street and The Sanctuary. Turning south we pass through the gatehouse of the octagonal turreted building  known as The Sanctuary built to the design of Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1853-54. Nowadays this accommodates the Deanery of the Abbey and also the Attorney Generals’ Office.

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On the other side of the gatehouse is Dean’s Yard which comprises most of the remaining precincts of the former monastery of Westminster, not occupied by the Abbey buildings. The East side consists of buildings occupied by Westminster School, the South by Church House, the headquarters of the Church of England and the West by Westminster Abbey Choir School.
Historically the Abbey was one of the last ecclesiastical sanctuaries to surrender its ancient rights, with the result that the precincts were largely occupied by the most undesirable and dangerous of inhabitants. They were held in check by the Abbot’s own penal jurisdiction, and by the knowledge that the Abbot could instantly expel them to their fate at the hands of the Common Law. Westminster School displays a royal pardon of Charles II for the King’s Scholars who murdered a bailiff harassing the mistress of one of the scholars in Dean’s Yard, allegedly in outrage at the breach of traditional sanctuary although it had been legally abolished by then.

After a circuit of Dean’s Yard we leave the same way we came in, head back up to Victoria Street and after a few steps to the left turn south down Great Smith Street. Take a right next into Abbey Orchard Street past the Department of Education building and down to the end where it forks in two by Companies House. This unprepossessing building is just the London office and information centre; the actual Registrar of Companies (for England & Wales) is down in Cardiff.

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Taking the left fork we drop down onto Old Pye Street and continue west. On reaching Strutton Ground we turn south as far as Great Peter Street where we head back eastward. On the corner with Perkin’s Rents we have today’s pub of the day (the first in a long while), The Speaker. Aptly-named given its location of course and though it doesn’t look much from the outside the interior is salubrious enough and they do a damn fine bacon, brie and onion chutney bagel to go with a decent selection of beers. Used by male House of Commons researchers as a venue for mansplaining to their female colleagues (on the evidence of this one visit).

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In Victorian times, the area round here was a notorious slum known as the Devil’s Acre.  The houses were mostly occupied by what a contemporary described as “mendicants, hawkers, costermongers, lodging house keepers, thieves and abandoned females of irregular and intemperate habits” and it wasn’t unusual for 10 to 12 people to share a room. The slum was cleared from 1877 onward and the Peabody Trust built one of their estates to replace a large part of it.

We pass through the middle of the estate up Perkin’s Rents back to Old Pye Street then follow that east to its junction with St Ann’s Street and turn south back down to Great Peter Street. Here we turn east as far as Great Smith Street and head north towards the Abbey again. On the west side of the street is the Westminster Library which when it was built in 1891 incorporated a public baths and wash house. The baths themselves were removed in 1990 when that part of the building was turned into the Westminster Archive Centre but if you look in the top left corner of the picture below you can see the original sculpted panels of swimmers created by Henry Poole (1873 – 1928).
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We turn right opposite into Little Smith Street which runs through to Tufton Street. At no.11 resides J. Wippell & Company, suppliers of clerical vestments and church furnishings. The Wippell family set up in business in the West Country in 1789 but this London shop was established just over a hundred years later.

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Proceeding north up Tufton Street brings us to Great College Street where we turn right briefly, past the southern end of Westminster School, before diverting into Barton Street. Barton Street and Cowley Street, which comes off it at a right angle, are fertile ground for blue plaque hunters. No.14 Barton Street is the one-time home of T.E Lawrence (1888 – 1935) better known of course as Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence lived here while writing Seven Pillars of Wisdom and account of his experiences working for British Military Intelligence in the near east during WW1.

Round the corner at no.6 Cowley Street Lord Reith (1889 – 1971), the first Director-General of the BBC, lived from 1924 – 1930. Despite having no broadcasting experience (though it’s hard to see where he would have got any at that time) he got the job as general manager of the newly formed BBC in 1922 and stayed in the lead role until 1938. He is memorialised by the BBC’s annual series of Reith Lectures which began in 1948.

Across the road no.16 was the home of legendary luvvie Sir John Gielgud (1904 -2000) from 1945 to 1976. Gielgud’s career spanned almost 80 years, ranging from leading roles in Hamlet and King Lear on the stage to playing the butler to Dudley Moore’s Arthur for which he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Nothing to do with these famous ghosts but if I could have my pick of somewhere to live in London then Barton Street / Cowley Street would be very high up on the list.

There’s a small second section of Cowley Street, perpendicular to the main stretch, which emerges back out on Great Peter Street. Then the next northward turning is Little College Street which takes us back to Great College Street from where it’s a short hop east to Abingdon Street, on the other side of which are the Victoria Tower Gardens. At the entrance to the gardens stands the memorial to the mother and daughter leading lights of the Suffragette movement, Emmeline (1858 – 1928) and Christabel (1880 – 1958) Pankhurst. The main feature of the memorial is a bronze statue of Emmeline by Arthur George Walker which was unveiled in 1930. Shortly after Christabel’s death the statue was moved to its present location and bronze reliefs commemorating her achievements were added.

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On the river embankment wall is a green plaque in memory of Sir Thomas Pierson Frank (1881 – 1951) who as Chief Engineer for the London County Council during WW2  directed repair operations to public infrastructure including the Thames wall such that although this was hit at least 121 times during the war years the city never flooded.

Above left is a shot of the southern end of the Palace of Westminster showing the Victoria Tower after which the gardens are named. I mentioned earlier that there were just two statues in the grounds of the PoW and we pass the second of those as we return towards the Palace via Abingdon Street and through Old Palace Yard. The equestrian statue of Richard I (popularly known as Lionheart or Coeur de Lion) was created by Baron Carlo Marochetti (who collaborated with Landseer on the Trafalgar Square lions if you remember). The statue was originally produced in clay for the Great Exhibition of 1851 then funds were raised to enable it to be cast in bronze and it was installed in Old Palace Yard in 1860.

Having arrived back at the HoP we cross the road again and set off on an clockwise circuit of Parliament Square. Plans for the Parliament Square Garden were included in Charles Barry’s design for the new Houses of Parliament following the 1834 fire but the gardens weren’t laid out until 1868.  The first batch of statues were erected between 1874 and 1883 as monuments to the nineteenth century Prime Ministers; the Earl of Derby, Viscount Palmerston, Robert Peel and Benjamin Disraeli. Most of the others were installed after the post-WWII redesign of the garden to commemorate both giants of 20th century British parliamentary history and iconic world statesmen. So, in the slides below, we have, respectively :

  • Nelson Mandela, sculpted by Ian Walters (2007) in the foreground with Sir Robert Peel sculpted by Matthew Noble (1876) beyond him and in the background Abraham Lincoln (1920).
  • Mahatma Ghandi sculpted by Philip Jackson (2015) in the foreground and Benjamin Disraeli sculpted by Mario Raggi (1883) behind him.
  • The most recent addition to the pantheon and the first woman to be granted the honour – Dame Millicent Fawcett (1847 – 1929) sculpted by Gillian Wearing (2018). The statue was erected to coincide with the centenary of women being granted the vote. Millicent Fawcett was a leader of the suffragist arm of the campaign for votes for women who were less militant than the suffragettes though unlike the suffragettes they didn’t call a halt to their campaigning during the First World War.  The words on the banner her statue holds are from a speech she made after the death of suffragette Emily Wilding Davison.
  • George Canning sculpted by Sir Richard Westmacott (1832 but moved to its present location in 1949).
  • David Lloyd George sculpted by Glynn Williams (2007)
  • Winston Churchill sculpted by Ivor Robert-Jones (1973)

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Final port of call for today is the Supreme Court Building which stands on Little George Street which runs parallel with the west side of the square. The building, originally known as the Middlesex Guildhall, dates from 1913 and was designed in the neo-gothic style by Scottish architect, James Gibson. The Supreme Court is the highest court of appeal in the UK but it has only been in existence since 2009; prior to that the House of Lords (or rather the Law Lords) occupied the top-tier of the British legal pyramid. It was the Constitutional Reform Act of 2005 that led to the creation of the Supreme Court in order to fully separate the legislature from Parliament. The Supreme Court doesn’t conduct trials as such; it sits in order to determine whether the correct interpretation of the law has been applied in civil cases that are referred to it for appeal. The Justices of the SC, currently numbering eleven and appointed by an independent selection commission, determine which cases they will hear based on the extent to which they raise ‘points of law of general public importance’.  The same 11 justices also form The Judicial Committee of The Privy Council (JCPC) which is the court of final appeal for the UK’s overseas territories and Crown dependencies, as well as many Commonwealth countries.

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Day 51 (Part 2) – Victoria Embankment – Whitehall – Horse Guards Road

Second leg of this one resumes outside New (Old New) Scotland Yard on the Victoria Embankment, proceeds down to Westminster tube, goes up Parliament Street and Whitehall past Downing Street and cuts through Horse Guards Parade before finishing at the Mall.

Day 51 Route

I had hoped to take a look at the Crime Museum (aka The Black Museum) attached to New Scotland Yard but it turns out it’s only accessible to serving police officers. So with the river on my left I walk down the Victoria Embankment to Westminster Tube and then turn right up Westminster Bridge Road towards Parliament Square. Heading away from the square north up Parliament Street on its west side the next major government building that comes our way is HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs). This stands back to back with HM Treasury (of which more later) as part of a complex of government buildings developed between 1908 and 1917, originally called the New Public Offices but later referred to as GOGGS (Government Offices Great George Street). Great George Street flanks the southern side of the buildings.

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Across the road is the Red Lion pub which is the closest hostelry to Downing Street, though the last sitting Prime Minister to pop in for a drink apparently was Edward Heath. Less surprising is the fact that Charles Dickens was a regular back in the day (since just about every pub in central London claims the old literary boozehound as a one-time habitué).

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The next block up, standing to the west of the cenotaph where Parliament Street changes into Whitehall, is home to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This was completed in 1868 and was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811 – 1878) who was later responsible for the Midland Hotel at St Pancras (see Day 9).  Scott designed the new Foreign Office as ‘a kind of national palace or drawing room for the nation’ with the use of rich decoration to impress foreign visitors. The building is adorned with a series of sculptural reliefs which, in typical Victorian fashion, take the form of a woman with her top at least half off accessorised to represent either a geographic area or a high concept. So in these creations of H.H Armistead and J. Birnie Philip we have Australia, Africa, America, Asia and Europe (more modestly depicted than the others of course) along with Education, Government, Law, Literature, Agriculture, Manufacture and Commerce. And I didn’t choose this one so I could make some cheap jug-based quip – it just happened to be the easiest to photograph.

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Which brings us to Downing Street and something of a breakdown in the mission because, since 1989, access to the street has been blocked by a security checkpoint and it has been patrolled by armed police since the IRA mortar bomb attack of 1991. The street is named after the diplomat George Downing (1624 – 1684) who had the street and its houses built in the 1680’s. Described by the official Government website as unpleasant, miserly and brutal, Downing came to prominence under Cromwell and then switched allegiance with alacrity when the Restoration became inevitable. For his assistance in purging many of his former Parliamentarian allies he was knighted by Charles II in 1660. The first Prime Minister to take up residence at no. 10 was Sir Robert Walpole in 1735, it having been presented to him by King George II. It was used on and off by subsequent 18th century Prime Ministers more as an office than as a home. Viscount Goderich engaged Sir John Soane to do a makeover on the house in the 1820’s but this didn’t tempt any of his immediate successors to move in. And although no.11 was made the official residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1828 the surrounding area became increasingly seedy and demolition looked a real possibility. However during the era when Disraeli and Gladstone traded the premiership the house was refurbished and modernised several times. It was later fully renovated during the 1950’s and again in the Thatcher and Blair years. The IRA mortar bomb mentioned above was fired from a white transit van in Whitehall and exploded in the garden of Number 10, only a few metres away from where then PM John Major was chairing a Cabinet meeting to discuss the Gulf War.

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We’ve passed over many of the statues and memorials on Whitehall but I quite admire this equestrian bronze of Field Marshal Earl Haig (1861 – 1928), a 1936 work of Alfred Hardiman. At the time, however, it aroused considerable controversy on account of the riding position and the stance of the horse. Earl Haig commanded the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front during WW1 including during the Battle of the Somme which saw the highest number of casualties in British military history. Although treated as a national hero in the aftermath of the war subsequent reappraisals of his wartime strategies have earned him the soubriquet “Butcher of the Somme”. Bizarrely there is a football club in Argentina named after him. Club Atletico Douglas Haig was founded in 1918 and currently plays in the second tier of Argentinian football.

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We continue a short way further up Whitehall and turn left to pass through the central arch of the Horse Guards building to get to Horse Guards Parade. The first building on the site was commissioned by Charles II in 1663 but the current one dates from the reign of George II. The originally commissioned architect for the new building, William Kent, more or less retained the plan of the original with its clocktower, courtyard and two oversize sentry boxes but utilised the then fashionable Palladian style of architecture. The Duke of Wellington was based here while Commander in Chief of the British Army. The building is still in use by the military and also houses the Household Cavalry Museum (gave that one a miss). There are a lot of jobs I don’t envy people having to do but standing for hours in full military regalia while gurning tourists act the prat in front of you must be high up on the list.

Horse Guards Parade occupies the site of the old Palace of Whitehall’s tiltyard where jousting tournaments were held in the time of Henry VIII. For much of the 20th century is was used as a car park for civil servants but following that mortar attack a review of security arrangements recommended that it be restored to public use. So in 1996 it was resurfaced and a year later car parking banned (apart from tourist coaches apparently). Horse Guards Parade notoriously hosted the beach volleyball tournament during the London 2012 Olympics.

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Circling around the Parade we arrive on Horse Guards Road to the east of St James’s Park and head north back up to the Mall. We turn right towards Admiralty Arch as far as the bronze statue of Captain James Cook (1728 – 1779), by Thomas Brock and erected in 1914, before doubling back. Cook, born the son of a farm worker, is one of the most remarkable examples of 18th century social mobility. After his success in exploring and mapping the Antipodes, Cook’s luck ran out on his third voyage to the South Pacific when a dispute with Hawaiian islanders escalated to the point where he tried to take a local leader hostage and in the ensuing melee was stabbed and killed.

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Incidentally, the flag on the left there is that of Mozambique, one of the many put up along the Mall for the meeting of the Heads of Commonwealth. As you can see it includes an image of an AK-47 rifle – meant to represent defence and vigilance. It’s one of three national flags to feature a firearm, the others being Guatemala and Luxembourg (only kidding it’s actually Haiti). In 2005 a competition was held to design a new flag; a winner was selected from 119 entries but rejected by the ruling government.

So we head right down to the southern end of Horse Guards Road and HM Treasury which occupies the western side of GOGGS (hopefully you were paying attention earlier) and has been based here since 1940. The royal treasure was originally located in Winchester, and was moved to the Whitehall area following the Norman Conquest. The Treasury then operated from the Exchequer Receipt Office in Westminster Cloisters until the Restoration in 1660. On ascending to the throne Charles II, perhaps wanting to keep a close eye on his finances, allocated it rooms in Whitehall Palace. In 1698 a huge blaze, caused by a servant airing some linen too close to the fire, destroyed all of the Palace but the Banqueting House (see last post) and Cardinal Wolsey’s wine cellar which is now under the Ministry of Defence building. Following the fire, the homeless Treasury moved to Henry VIII’s former Cockpit (near today’s Horse Guards Parade). Then in 1734 a new Treasury was built by William Kent on Horse Guards and this was later joined by an adjacent expansion building designed by John Soane. Both those buildings were severely damaged by bombs in 1940 prompting the move to GOGGS.

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In the north-west corner of GOGGS you can visit Churchill’s Cabinet War Rooms. In the build–up to the Second World War, the government began looking for a strong basement in which a map room and a Cabinet Room could be constructed without major alterations. The basement of GOGGS was chosen, not only because it was convenient for Downing Street, but because its concrete frame 2 would help prevent the collapse of the building if it received a direct hit from a bomb. Initially, only a few rooms were commandeered but when Horse Guards was bombed on October 14, 1940, wrecking parts of 10 Downing Street, all Churchill’s staff moved into GOGGS. After the war the War Rooms were left in aspic, with access restricted to small groups and strictly regulated, until the Imperial War Museum took them over and opened them up to the public in 1984.

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The entrance to the War Rooms is located at the western end of King Charles Street which intersects GOGGS (I may have overdone that particular acronym just a tad) and the Foreign Office. In the middle of the steps leading up to the street stands a statue of Robert Clive (aka Clive of India) (1725 – 1774) by John Tweed which was positioned here in 1916 having been unveiled outside what is now the Welsh Office on Whitehall four years earlier. Clive is indelibly associated with the British East India Company and its excursions into India, laying the foundations for the establishment of the Raj. His finest hour came in 1756 when, having just been appointed as a Lieutenant Colonel and Deputy Governor of Fort St David, he re-took the city of Calcutta from the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj ud Daula, with just 3,000 men against the Nawab’s 68,000-strong French-backed army. This led to release of 23 out of 146 captured Britons held in the so-called “Black Hole of Calcutta”, a cell just 18 feet square. Though that doesn’t necessarily compensate for his overall impact on Anglo-Indian relations.

At the other end of King Charles Street is a triumphal arch connecting the Foreign Office and Treasury buildings erected in 1908 and incorporating a frieze by sculptor Paul Montford of nine figures representing trade and travel by sea.

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And so with just a short stroll back to Westminster tube station to finish that’s Whitehall and its surroundings done and dusted. Next time it’s the turn of Parliament.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 51 (part 1) – Trafalgar Square – Northumberland Avenue – Whitehall

So, technically this should probably be Day 51 and Day 52 (part1) as I had to have two cracks at it. First time out I only got as far as covering the few missing streets east of Charing Cross station when I realised I’d lost my wallet somewhere en route. I retraced my steps a couple of times to no avail and then it started to pour with rain so I gave it up as a bad job and went to see Black Panther at the cinema instead. When I resumed several weeks later the weather couldn’t have been more different; hottest day of the year in fact. Less than ideal for fighting my way through the wilting hordes of tourists loitering in Trafalgar Square and wandering up and down Whitehall.

Day 51 Route

That ill-fated first foray kicked off at Embankment Tube from where we weaved through the Victoria Embankment Gardens to the York Watergate which we originally encountered quite a few posts back. As a reminder, this was built in 1626 by Inigo Jones for George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham and marks the original northern bank of the Thames prior to the construction of the Embankment. On the other side we follow Watergate Walk east to York Buildings then turn north up to John Adam Street. At no.16 a blue plaque identifies this as a one-time residence of the Georgian artist and caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson (1756 – 1827).

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After a quick visit to the dead-end that is Durham House Street we head west on John Adam Street before cutting through Buckingham Arcade up to the Strand. Keep left and then turn left down Villiers Street just for a few paces before turning left again down York Place and allowing Buckingham Street to take us back down to the Watergate. This time we cross back over Villiers Street and follow Embankment Place west beneath the railway. At the end of the tunnel we emerge onto Northumberland Avenue and swing north before forking right into Craven Street by the Playhouse Theatre. It’s been a while since we had a West End theatre on our route and this one is a bit of an outlier stuck down here by the river. It opened for business in 1907, reconstructed from the ashes of the Avenue Theatre of 1882 which suffered extensive damage when part of the roof of Charing Cross Station collapsed on it in 1905. The interior was being remodelled at the time and sadly six workmen lost their lives. The Playhouse was used by the BBC as a studio from 1951 until the mid-Seventies when it fell into dereliction and was threatened with demolition before being rescued in the late 80’s.

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No.25 Craven Street has a blue plaque commemorating the Moby Dick writer Herman Melville (1819 – 1891). Inspired by the five years he spent as a seafarer, working on merchant ships and as an ordinary seaman in the US Navy, Moby Dick was published in 1851. In the UK it originally came out under the title The Whale in three separate volumes.

It was at this point that things went pear-shaped as described above and three weeks went past before I picked up where I left off.

Another one-time literary resident of Craven Street was the German poet, Heinrich Heine (1797 – 1856) who lived here in 1827 having left Germany to avoid the fallout from his latest work which contained a satire on German censorship.

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Next we head back under the railway through the Arches, first passing between the two halves of the Ship and Shovell pub. As I heard some chap ahead of me explain to his partner, this is the only pub in London divided in this way. The pub takes its name from the brilliantly-monickered 17th century admiral, Sir Cloudesley Shovell (so not a sanitising misprint).

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The Arches is also home to the iconic gay nightclub, Heaven, which opened in 1979 replacing a roller-disco called Global Village. The club has also played host to many live performances over the years including the first London gig by New Order in 1981.  Goth pioneers, Bauhaus were filmed here in 1982 performing their classic Belo Legosi’s Dead, footage of which was used in the Catherine Deneuve / David Bowie film The Hunger.

At the other end of the Arches we turn northward back up to Charing Cross Station. Charing Cross was opened by the South Eastern Railway in 1864. After the aforementioned roof collapse of 1905 it was extensively rebuilt, and at the same time the tube lines were constructed. The Charing Cross monument which stands in front of the station is an 1865 replica of one of the 12 Eleanor Crosses built by Edward I to mark the funeral route of his wife Eleanor of Castile who died in 1290. The original Charing Cross was demolished on the orders of Cromwell’s Parliament in 1647. By the 21st century the replica itself needed serious renovation work which was completed during 2009/10.

To the west of the station we turn south down Craven Street again then take a right along Corner House Street into Northumberland Street. Continuing south takes us past the Sherlock Holmes pub, which houses a collection of memorabilia relating to the eponymous detective that originally formed an exhibit of the 1951 Festival of Britain.  Whitbread, then owners of what was then called the Northumberland Arms, acquired the collection in 1957 and refurbished and renamed the pub to be its permanent home.

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We nip down Craven Passage to make a final visit to Craven Street, the section which contains at no.36 the 1730 built house where Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790) lived from 1757 to 1775. During this time Franklin’s main occupation was mediating unrest between Britain and America, but he also served as Deputy Postmaster for the Colonies and pursued his love of science (exploring bifocal spectacles, the energy-saving Franklin stove, inoculation, air baths and cures for the common cold).

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Having made the return trip along Craven Passage we head up the eastern side of Northumberland Avenue towards Trafalgar Square. No.18/21 is now the Citadines Hotel but it was built in 1934 as the headquarters of the Royal Commonwealth Society, “a meeting place for gentlemen interested in colonial and Indian affairs”. The building is unremarkable except for the pair of nude male statues supporting the balcony above the entrance and the keystone over the door which features a pair of mythical merlions, half lion half fish creatures that crop up in Etruscan and Indian art as well as Western heraldry. IMG_20180419_145803

On the corner with the Strand stands the Grand Buildings, a 1990’s redevelopment of the 1879 Grand Hotel which is adorned with carvings of endangered animals and human faces by sculptor Barry Baldwin.

And so we come to Trafalgar Square, created in the 1840’s and named in commemoration of victory against the French and Spanish in the naval Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. By this time the National Gallery, which we covered way back in Day 33, was already in situ on the north side. When its architect, William Wilkins, died in 1840 responsibility for the layout of the square was handed to Charles Barry (1795 – 1860). The final designs included a terraced area in front of the National Gallery, four sculptural plinths and two ornamental fountains at an estimated budget of £11,000. When construction work  began the earth removed was used to level Green Park. The hero of Trafalgar was of course Lord Horatio Nelson (1758 – 1805) and a memorial in his honour was planned as a separate project. A competition was held and won by the architect William Railton, who proposed a 218ft Corinthinan column topped by a statue of Nelson and guarded by four sculpted lions. The design was approved, but received widespread objections from the public. Construction still went ahead but with the height reduced to 145ft. The column was completed and the statue raised in November 1843. The four lions were only installed at the base in 1867 having been designed by Sir Edwin Landseer in collaboration with Baron Marochetti (a French sculptor ironically). The two plinths on the south side of the square are occupied by statues of General Sir Charles James Napier (1782 – 1853) and Major-General Sir Henry Havelock (1795 – 1857) both of whose reputations rest on their service during various campaigns in India. On that basis  the opprobrium that Ken Livingstone received when, in 2000, he suggested they be replaced by more familiar figures seems more than harsh.

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An equestrian statue of George IV stands on the plinth in the north-eastern corner while the fourth plinth in the north-west corner, which was originally reserved for a similar equestrian statue of William IV, was left empty right up until the end of the last century. Since 1998 it has been used to show specially commissioned works of art. By coincidence the latest such work, and the 12th in the series, was unveiled on the day of my aborted first excursion, 28 March 2018. The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist by Michael Rakowitz is a recreation of the statue of a Lamassu, a deity with a human head and the body of a winged bull, that guarded the ancient city of Nineveh (in modern day Iraq) and was destroyed by ISIS in 2015. Rakowitz’s sculpture is made from 10,500 empty Iraqi date syrup cans and is a welcome return to form following David Shrigley’s little admired giant erect thumb.

As you can probably tell the photos above were taken on that earlier date.

Across the road on the west side stands the Canadian High Commission which, on the latter date. was subject to additional security on account of President Trudeau’s attendance for the meeting of the Heads of Commonwealth. What came to be known as Canada House was built between 1824 and 1827 to designs by Sir Robert Smirke, the architect of the British Museum. The Canadians acquired the building in 1923. In 1993 their government of the time closed it as a cost-cutting measure but the succeeding government reversed that decision four years later and then got the Queen to officially re-open the building.

On the other side of Canada House in the apex of Pall Mall East and Cockspur Street is an equestrian statue of George III. The so-called “Mad King” presumably wasn’t deemed suitable for a starring role in the Square itself.

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On the other side of Cockspur Street, the Embassies of Brazil and Kazakhstan stand side by side, the former somewhat more imposing than the latter.

There’s a former Embassy at 21-24 Cockspur Street as well. Built at the time of the First World War with sculptural adornments by Louis Roselieb (later Roslyn) it became Norway House after the war. The name remains even though the Norwegians decamped to Belgrave Square in 1949.

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 Warwick House Street is another road to nowhere…

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….as is Cockspur Court which leads off from Spring Gardens by the side of the HQ of the British Council and the offices of NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence though why they don’t rename it the National Institute for Clinical Excellence to fit the acronym heaven knows).

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Anyway in front of this lovely building is a cut-through down onto the Mall right by Admiralty Arch. The Arch was commissioned by Edward VII in memory of his mother Queen Victoria. It was designed by Aston Webb and completed in 1912. The sculptural figures, Navigation and Gunnery, at the end of the two wings are the work of Thomas Brock. The building originally served as official residence for the First Sea Lord and later housed various government offices. In 2011 as part of the Cameron government’s austerity programme it was put up for sale and acquired (for a reported £75m) by a Spanish real estate developer who (well I’ll go to the foot of our stairs !) are currently converting it into a Luxury Hotel and Private Members’ club.

Turning left underneath the Arch we circle round the equestrian statue of Charles I which stands on its own separate island to the south of Trafalgar Square and head back down the west side of Northumberland Avenue.

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About half way down is the Nigerian High Commission which was under siege from marchers demonstrating for an independent Biafra. While familiar with the horrors of the Biafran War (1967 – 1970) I am ashamed to say I was unaware that the struggle for secession by the tiny home state of the Igbo people continues to this day.

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We continue to the end of Northumberland Avenue then turn right through Whitehall Gardens which are laid out in front of what is now the Royal Horseguards Hotel but was built as a block of luxury residential apartments, modelled in the style of a French chateau, in 1884 by the Liberal MP and property developer Jabez Balfour. The building’s construction was the centrepiece of an elaborate pyramid scheme fraud by Balfour, through the Liberator Building Society which he controlled. In 1892 the Society collapsed, leaving thousands of investors penniless.

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At the southern end of the gardens we turn west on Horse Guards Avenue then swing right into Whitehall Court which takes from the memorial to the Brigade of Gurkhas to the memorial to the Royal Tank Regiment on the junction with Whitehall Place.

We turn left up Whitehall Place the right into Scotland Place which leads out into Great Scotland Yard where the rear (and what became the public) entrance to the original headquarters of the Met Police is to be found. The Met was formed in 1829 with the passing of Robert Peel’s Metropolitan Police Act and took over 4 Whitehall Place, formerly a private house, as its base of operations. The commemorative blue plaque is sited at this front entrance. The Met expanded into several adjoining properties during the 19th century and then in 1890 moved to a new location on the Victoria Embankment (more of which later).

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Proceeding west (m’lud) on Great Scotland Street takes us onto Whitehall itself. Whitehall is of course synonymous with the upper echelons of the UK Civil Service and the first of many government departments residing here is the Department for International Trade, where I imagine they have their work quite cut out at the moment. Beyond the DIT and covering the entire block between Whitehall Place and Horse Guards Avenue is the Old War Office Building. This massive 1906 neo-Baroque edifice took five years to build at a then whopping cost of £1.2m. Its approximately 1,000 rooms spread across seven miles linked by 2.5 miles of corridors became the new home for the Imperial General Staff. The building was a focal point for military planning throughout the major conflicts of the 20th century, housing numerous secretaries of state, including Winston Churchill. When the War Office as an institution was abolished in 1964 the building continued to be used by the Ministry of Defence up until 2013 when it was announced that it would be put up for sale on the open market. It was acquired by the Hinduja Group and OHL Developments for more than £350m and I guess I really don’t need to spell out what they intend to do with it. You have to wonder though whether once the whole of central London has been turned into luxury hotels anyone will bother coming to patronise those hotels.

Next stop heading south down Whitehall is Banqueting House which Charles I appointed Inigo Jones to design and was completed in 1622. The USP of the Banqueting House is its carved and gilded ceiling containing 9 paintings by Rubens that were installed in 1636. Unfortunately the building was closed to visitors when I got there so you’ll have to visit the link above to see the ceiling in all its glory.

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Behind and extending beyond the Banqueting House lies the monolithic and more than a touch 1984-ish Ministry of Defence building. This covers the site where once stood the Palace of Whitehall, main residence of English Monarchs from 1530 to 1698 when most of the structures other than the Banqueting House were destroyed by fire. Subsequently it was occupied by Georgian townhouses a number of which were taken over as government offices. The decision to construct a new large-scale government building was taken as far back as 1909 but the outbreak of WW1 put the plans on hold. A new Neoclassical design of architect Vincent Harris was agreed in 1933 but work didn’t start until five years later and was halted again almost immediately by the onset of WW2. Construction recommenced after the war and in 1951 the Board of Trade moved into the completed northern end. It was another eight years before the Air Ministry occupied the southern end. When the MOD as we know it today was created in 1964 it took over the entire building. The northern portico entrance to the building, on Horse Guards Avenue, is flanked by two large statues, Earth and Water, each weighing 40 tonnes, by the sculptor Sir Charles Wheeler (1892 – 1974) who was also responsible for some of the fountain figures in Trafalgar Square. During the 1950s, building staff nicknamed the statues “Mr and Mrs Parkinson”, after Cyril Northcote Parkinson, the Board of Trade civil servant who devised Parkinson’s Law which states “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. More recent MOD staff refer to the statues as the “two fat ladies”.

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The southern entrance is on Richmond Terrace which is flanked on its other side by the Department of Health which occupies Richmond House the façade and wings of which date back to 1822.

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There are several more memorials in the section of Victoria Embankment Gardens behind the MOD including another statue of General Charles Gordon (1822 – 1885). Gordon’s heroic but ultimately doomed defence of Khartoum against the Muslim revolt of 1884 seized the Victorian popular imagination and his death, after nearly a year withstanding the siege, just two days before relief forces arrived led to an “unprecedented wave of public grief”.

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We’ll wrap things up for this time on the corner of Richmond Terrace and Victoria Embankment where you’ll find New Scotland Yard (or re-New Scotland Yard as it should probably be called). After leaving 4 Whitehall Place in 1890 the Met moved to a new building at this location on the Victoria Embankment which became known as New Scotland Yard. In 1906 and 1940 respectively two further buildings were added but by the Sixties even that wasn’t room enough for the burgeoning force and a new New Scotland Yard was built at 10 Broadway in Victoria opening in 1967. Then in 2014 (as we covered in Day 48) the Broadway building was sold to the Abu Dhabi Financial Group and two years later the Met returned to the Victoria Embankment moving into a redeveloped Curtis Green Building (the third building of the original New Scotland Yard). The new New Scotland Yard building was to have been opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 23 March 2017, but that same day it was announced that the Royal opening would be postponed, due to the preceding day’s terrorist attack at Westminster.

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