1902 Encyclopedia > London > Palace of Westminster; Whitehall; St James's Palace; Buckingham Palace; The Tower; Houses of Parliament; Government Offices; Law Courts

(Part 31)


Palace of Westminster. Whitehall. St James's Palace. Buckingham Palace. The Tower. Houses of Parliament. Government Offices. Law Courts.

Stow mentions that in his time there was a large building called the Old Wardrobe in the Old Jewry, very ancient, but of which all that he knew was that it had been alluded to by Henry VI. As his principal p[alace in the Old Jewry. The palace of Westminster existed at least as early as the reign of Canute, but the building spoken of by Fitzstephen as an "incomparable structure furnished with a breastwork and a bastion" is supposed to have been founded by Edward the Confessor, who built what was afterwards known as the Painted Chamber, and also the apartment afterwards used by the House of Lords. The palace was probably enlarged by William the Conqueror, and William rufus built the great hall in 1097. The palace suffered severely from fire in 1263 and 1299, and after the great fire of 1512 it was no longer used as a royal residence, and was allowed for a time to fall into decay, with the exception of the great hall. Subsequently it was fitted up and made use of for the meetings of parliament until 1835, when again the whole, with the exception of the great hall, fell a prey to the flames. The apartment in which the House of Commons met was the beautiful St Stephen’s chapel, originally built by Stephen. Westminster Hall, which is 290 feet long, 68 feet wide, and 90 feet in height, with a carved timber roof remarkable for its beauty and the ingenuity of its construction, is used as the vestibule of the law courts and the Houses of parliament. According to Stow the :princess" after the destruction of Westminster Palace "lodghed in other places about the city, as at baynarde’s castle (which was destroyed in the great fire), at Bridewell, and Whitehall, sometime called York Place, and sometime at St James’s." It was at Bridewell, which occupies the site of an old Norma tower, and was for a long time the occasional residence of the kings of England, that Henry VIII., who, according to Stow, built there "a stately and beautiful house of new," was staying, on account of the destruction of Westminster Palace, when the interview took place in 1528 between him and his nobles, commemorated in the third act of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII. After the fall of Wolsey, York House, which from 1248 had been the residence of the archbishops of York, came into the possession of the crown, and obtained the name of Whitehall. The palace was almost reconstructed by Henry VIII., who made it his principal residence, and employed Holbein in its decoration; but a new banqueting hall, erected by James I. in place of the old one burned down in 1615, was the only portion of the building which escaped the destruction caused by fire in 1691 and 1697. This hall, converted into a royal chapel by George I., is a fine specimen of Palladian architecture, and its ceiling is adorned with allegorical paintings by Rubens. Through the banqueting hall Charles I. passed on his way to execution beneath its windows, and Cromwell breathed his last within an apartment of the palace.

St James’s Palace, which after the destruction of Whitehall continued to be the principal royal residence until it was nearly all destroyed by fire in 1809, with the exception of the old gateway, the chapel adjoining, and the presence chamber, was built by Henry VIII. for a country residence instead of Kennington, on the site of an old hospital for lepers founded in the 12th century.

Buckingham Palace, the town residence of Queen Victoria, occupies the site of Buckingham House, purchased by George III. in 1761. The present building in the Classic style was erected 1825-35 by Nash, a west wing with a dull façade 460 feet in length, facing St James’s Park, being added in 1846, and a large ball-room in 1856. The picture gallery contains a specially fine collection of pictures by the great Dutch masters.

Kensington Palace, a favorite residence of several English sovereigns, is noticed under Kensington. Marlborough House, built by the first duke of Marlborough in 1710 from the designs of Wren, came into the possession of the crown in 1817, and has been occupied by he Prince of Wales since 1863.

The Tower of London, to the east of the city on the left bank of the Thames, called by Fitzstephen the Palatine Tower, was, according to tradition, originally built by Julius Caesar, but the nucleus of the present building was begun in 1078 by William the Conqueror, who erected the part now known as the White Tower to take the place of a portion of the walls and towers of the city which had been washed away by the Thames. This tower was completed in 1098 by William Rufus, who also began the St Thomas Tower and the Traitor’s Gate. Additions were made at various periods, especially by Henry III., who used it frequently as a residence; and it now occupies an area of 13 acres surrounded by a moat, constructed in 1190, enclosing a double line of foritifications, behind which is a ring of buildings consisting of various towers, and the barracks and military stores, while in the center is the massive quadrangular White Tower, with Norman arches and windows, and adorned with a turret at each corner. The St John’s chapel in this tower is one of the finest and most complete specimens of Norman architecture in England. The Tower of London has an extensive collection of armor, and is the repository for the regalia of England. The execution of the long list of important political prisoners confined in the Tower took place on the neighboring Tower Hill, and most of them were buried in the chapel of St Peter Ad Vincula.

The new palace of Westminster (1840-67), built at a cost of about 3,000,000 pounds from the designs of Barry, for the Houses of Parliament, on the site of the ld palace destroyed by fire in 1835, is a vast and ornate building in the Tudor-Gothic style, covering altogether an area of about 8 acres. Towards the river it presents a very richly adorned and effective façade. At the north-east corner is the clock tower, 320 feet in height, resembling the clock-tower at Bruges; above the dome over the central hall a spire rises to the height of 300 feet; and the Victoria tower, 340 feet, surmounts the royal entrance at the south-west corner. The central hall, which is entered by St Stephen’s Porch and St Stephen’s Hall, built above St Stephen’s Crypt, a portion of the old building, separates the House of Peers, which, along with the royal rooms, occupies the western portion of the building, from the House of Commons, to which the eastern portion is assigned.

The Government offices, situated in Whitehall and Downing Street, form several miscellaneous groups erected at different periods and in very various styles of architecture. The Treasury, Whitehall (1737)m containing the official residence of the premier, the Education Office, the Privy Office, and the Board of Trade, was improved in 1847 by the construction of a new façade designed by Barry. The Horse Guards, the headquarters of the commander-in-chief, an insignificant building with a central clock-turret, was erected in 1753 on the site of a guard-house built in 1631 for the security of Whitehall. The Admiralty, a plain structure with a Grecian façade, was erected in 1726. The new Public Offices, a fine range of buildings in the Italian style, erected from the designs of Sir Gilbert Scott at a cost of over 500,000 pounds, contain the Home, Foreign, Colonial, and Indian Offices, and various other departments. Somerset House, Strand (1776-86), a large quadrangular structure, the finest façade of which is that towards the river, occupies the site of a palace founded by Protector Somerset in 1547. It contains the Exchequer and Audit Office, the Inland Revenue Office, the Office of the Registrar-General, the Admiralty, Register, and the Prerogative Will Office, removed from Doctor’s Commons in 1874. The other Government offices at present occupy unpretentious buildings in various streets, chiefly in the neighborhood of Whitehall and Westmisnter. Herald’s College (College of Arms), the authority in regard to pedigrees and armorial bearings, is located in Queen Victoria Street, in a building re-erected in 1683 from the designs of Wren. The General Post-Office, St Martin’s-le-Grand, City (1825-29), designed by Smirke in the Grecian style, and occupying the site of St Martin’s church and abbey, will probably soon be removed farther westwards. The General Telegraph Office, opposite the Post-Office, was erected 1870-73 at a cost of 450,000 pounds. The new Record Office in the Tudor style (1851-56) is situated in Fetter Lane.

The law courts, which are described in the article England, vol. viii. p. 261. and were accommodated in Lincoln’s Inn and in buildings adjoining Westminster Hall, where they were first established in 1224, will soon be all removed to the New Law Courts in the Strand, designed by Street, and estimated to coast about 500,000 pounds.

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