Old and New London: Volume 3. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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WHITEHALL.—THE WESTERN SIDE.
Wallingford House—Pope's Lines on the Death-bed Scene of Villiers, Duke of Buckingham—Wallingford House converted into the Admiralty Office—The Semaph ore Telegraph—Authority and Jurisdiction of the Admiralty—Career of Lord Sandwich at the Admiralty—Funeral of Lord Nelson—Anecdote of Mr. Croker—The Horse Guards—The Commander-in-Chief's Department—Pennant's View of the Old Horse Guards—Dover House—The Treasury—Downing Street: its Political Associations, and Anecdotes of Former Occupants—The Old Foreign Office—The New Foreign, India, and Colonial Offices—Library of the India Office.
Nearly the whole of the western side of Whitehall, between Charing Cross and Parliament Street, is occupied either by Government buildings or by other edifices of public importance. First of all we have, nearly opposite to Scotland Yard, the building known to all officers of Her Majesty's navy as the Admiralty. The present extensive building was erected in the reign of George II., from the designs of Ripley, on the site of Wallingford House, a fine mansion, built by William, Lord Knollys, Viscount Wallingford, and Earl of Banbury, in the second year of Charles I.
Wallingford House was subsequently used by
the "Lord Protector" and his councillors for the
purpose of holding consultations on public affairs.
Here, too, was born the notorious and reprobate
Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, the second of his
line who bore that fatal title—the son of the royal
favourite assassinated by Felton, and the man who,
having squandered a princely fortune, and thrown
away a splendid position, became the butt for
Dryden's satire, while his death-bed served to
"point a moral" for Pope:—
"In the worst inn's worst room, with mat half hung,
The floors of plaster and the walls of dung,
On once a flock-bed, but repaired with straw,
With tape-tied curtains never meant to draw,
The 'George' and 'Garter' dangling from that bed,
Where tawdry yellow strives with dirty red,
Great Villiers lies. Alas! how changed for him,
That life of pleasure and that soul of whim!
Gallant and gay in Cliefden's proud alcove—
The bower of wanton Shrewsbury and love;
Or just as gay at Council, in a ring
Of mimic statesmen and their merry King:
No wit to flatter left of all his store,
No fool to laugh at, which he valued more,
There, victor of his health, of fortune, friends,
And fame, this lord of useless thousands ends!"
Though the first line, as it has often been observed, embodies a poetical fiction, the picture as a whole is true, in spite of an error in topography. It was not at a paltry "inn" in Yorkshire, as commonly supposed, but at Kirby Mallory, in Leicestershire, at the house of one of his tenants, that Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, was suddenly struck with illness and died. From his biography, by his retainer Fairfax, and from an account of his deathbed in the "Collection of Letters of Persons of Quality and Others," it is clear that, although he did not die in actual want of the necessaries of life, yet he died in comparative poverty, having wasted his fortune to a mere nothing—he who had been literally "the lord of thousands."
Wallingford House was purchased in the reign of William III., and appointed for the Admiralty Office, which had been removed thither from Duke Street, Westminster. The present edifice is very extensive. The front elevation, facing the street, has two deep wings, forming a court-yard, and in the centre is a portico formed of four lofty columns of the Ionic order; these support the pediment, within which are the Admiralty arms. The interior is very convenient, and comprises a large hall and numerous offices appropriated to the transacting of maritime concerns. The screen before the court, which was subsequently built by Robert Adam, has been much admired; it consists of a piazza of the Doric order supporting its entablature, and enriched with marine ornaments. It must be owned that the heavy structure, as a whole, is better adapted for use than for show; and it may be remarked that Pennant speaks of the Admiralty as "a clumsy pile, but properly veiled from the street by Mr. Adam's handsome screen."
During the great war against Napoleon, and for several years subsequently, it was surmounted by a "telegraph," as the semaphore was then called. By this "telegraph" a message could be sent, on fine days and in clear weather, to Portsmouth, and to one or two other stations, in an hour, or even in less time; and the semaphore stood on the top of the Admiralty until its use was entirely superseded by the electric telegraph. Hence it is that Leigh Hunt quaintly remarks, in the year 1835; "Where the poor archbishop sank down in horror at the sight of King Charles's execution, telegraphs now ply their dumb and far-seen discourses, like spirits in the guise of mechanism, and tell news of the spread of liberty and knowledge all over the world." What would he have said if he could have looked forward only five short years and seen the machine on which he dwelt thus proudly laid quietly on the shelf, being superseded by a far more ingenious and subtle mechanism, the result of the scientific researches of Sir Charles Wheatstone and of Sir William Fothergill Cooke?
The interior of the Admiralty, although convenient and capacious, offers nothing remarkable; nor do any particular ceremonies take place within its walls; it is business, not ceremony, that is here the order of the day. It has been remarked with truth that, "without any very extravagant stretch of fancy, the Admiralty may be said to be the mighty steam-engine which sets in motion and gives energy to all the rest of the matériel and machinery of our naval power, and consequently contributes much to that of the whole empire."
The authority and jurisdiction now vested in the Admiralty was originally exercised by an individual, a high officer of state, called the Admiral of the King. The first upon actual record was William de Leybourne, "Admiral de la Mer du Roy d'Angleterre," in 1297. The office of High Admiral continued to be held by an individual until the early part of the seventeenth century; in 1632 it was, for the first time, "put into commission," or its duty and authority confided to a Board of Commissioners, consisting of all the chief officers of state. At the Restoration the Duke of York was appointed Lord High Admiral, and he retained the office till 1684, when Charles II. took it upon himself; but James resumed it in the following year, on becoming king. The Revolution caused it again to be put into commission, till 1707, when Prince George of Denmark became Lord High Admiral, with an assisting council of four members. On his death, in the following year, the Earl of Pembroke was appointed to succeed him, in similar form; but within about a twelvemonth he resigned, and from that time to the present the office has always been in commission, with the exception of a brief interval in 1827–8, during which the title of Lord High Admiral was again restored, in the person of the Duke of Clarence, afterwards William IV. The Admiralty Board consists of six members, styled the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, who are not, however, all of equal dignity and authority; for besides taking official precedence of the others, the First Lord of the Admiralty has higher privileges and emoluments than his colleagues, and he is, by virtue of his official position, a member of the Cabinet.
The Great Room used to be, during the last century, hung round with pictures of the South Sea Islands, and decorated with naval emblems and curiosities; and in the good old days, when Lord Sandwich held the office of First Lord of the Admiralty, it was the scene of many hospitable and frolicsome dinners, presided over by the elegant Miss Ray, whose murder by the Rev. Mr. Hackman, on the 7th of April, 1779, we have recorded at some length in our chapter on Covent Garden.
Lord Sandwich, whose name is most intimately connected with the control of the Admiralty during the early part of the reign of George III., was a man of high ability as a statesman, and one to whom history has scarcely done justice. He died in April, 1792. He was educated at Eton and at Trinity College, Cambridge, and in early life had spent two years in a classical tour round the coasts of the Mediterranean, of which he published an illustrated account, at a time when "illustrated" works were less common than now. In Lord North's ministry, in 1770, he was Secretary for Foreign Affairs, but exchanged his portfolio for that of First Lord of the Admiralty—a post for which his knowledge of maritime affairs especially fitted him. Sir N. W. Wraxall writes: "I saw, in 1782, the furniture of Lord Sandwich being carried off from the Admiralty, of which Keppel, who had been named as his successor, was just taking possession." Lord Sandwich's public career ended with the year 1784, after which date he divided his time between London and his seat at Hinchinbrooke, in Huntingdonshire. He knew most ancient and modern languages, was a collector of coins, and an excellent musician. "Others," observes Mr. Cradock, who knew him well, "received great emoluments for what they performed; Lord Sandwich was always content to know that he had deserved them. He was also, in many ways, a great practical benefactor to Greenwich Hospital."
In the large room on the ground-floor, to the right as we enter, lay Nelson's body in state, on the night of January 8th, 1806, previous to its being buried the next day in St. Paul's. It had been brought from Greenwich by water to Whitehall, and thence carried to the Admiralty. The procession is described at full length in the Gentleman's Magazine, from which we abridge the following account:—It consisted of ten gun-boats, two and two; boats containing the River Fencibles; nine state barges, draped in black, containing the mourners, officials connected with the Admiralty, and also the Heralds of Arms, bearing the insignia of the deceased. The third barge, which contained the body, was covered with black velvet (the other barges being covered with black cloth), the top adorned with plumes of black feathers, and also with armorial bearings, and a viscount's coronet. The body was covered with a large sheet, and a pall of velvet adorned with six escutcheons. This part of the procession was flanked by eighteen row-boats of River Fencibles. Then came the state barges of eight of the City companies, flanked by the like number of row-boats with Harbour Marines. The funeral barge was rowed by sixteen seamen belonging to the Victory; the other barges by picked men from the Greenwich pensioners. As the procession passed the Tower minute-guns were here fired. The procession arrived at Whitehall Stairs about three o'clock, having been about three hours rowing up from Greenwich, when the King's, Admiralty, Lord Mayor's, and City barges drew up in two lines, through which the barge with the body passed, the bands at the same time playing the "Dead March" in "Saul," "with other dirgeful strains, with the most impressive effect, the gunboats firing minute-guns all the time." During the time of disembarking there was a tremendous hailstorm. In the procession from Whitehall Stairs to the Admiralty the coffin was surmounted by a rich canopy, supported by six admirals. Every necessary preparation had been made at the Admiralty for receiving the body. The Captains' Room, in which it was placed, was hung with black cloth, and lighted with wax tapers placed in sconces on the sides. The body remained in the room, guarded by the officers of the house and the undertakers, till the ceremony of its removal to St. Paul's commenced. This took place on the following day, when the remains of Nelson were conveyed by the old sailors of the Victory, and a large military and naval procession, on a magnificent funeral car, or open hearse, decorated with a carved imitation of the head and stern of the Victory, surrounded with escutcheons of the arms of the deceased, and adorned with appropriate mottoes and emblematical devices; under an elevated canopy in the form of the upper part of an ancient sarcophagus, with six sable plumes and the coronet of a viscount in the centre, supported by four columns representing palm-trees, with wreaths of natural laurel and cypress entwining the shafts; the whole upon a four-wheeled carriage, drawn by six led horses, the caparisons adorned with armorial bearings.
A capital story in connection with the Admiralty is told by Mr. Cyrus Redding, in his "Fifty Years' Recollections:"—Mr. Croker, the Secretary of that department, happening to dine one day at the Pavilion at Brighton, under the Regency, entered, in the course of the evening, into conversation with the Duke of Clarence. The latter liked nothing better than a sly cut at that department, and especially at Croker himself, whom some of the naval officers were in the habit of calling in joke "the whole Admiralty Board." In reply to some chance remark of the Secretary, the Duke said, "Ah! if ever I am king, I will be my own First Lord of the Admiralty." "Does your royal highness recollect," asked Croker, "what English king was his own First Lord the last time?" The duke shook his head, and replied in the negative. "It was James II., sir." There was a general laugh among the party, as well there might be; but the duke was taken aback, and the regent was greatly annoyed at the remark when repeated to him afterwards.
Adjoining the Admiralty, on the south side, is the extensive range of buildings known as the Horse Guards. It is so conventionally named because a troop of Horse Guards is constantly on duty there. The building, which is heavy and tasteless, is from the designs of Kent, and was erected about the year 1753, at a cost of £30,000. It consists of a centre, in which are the principal rooms and offices, and two wings. The central archway forms a passage to St. James's Park, through which Her Majesty passes on her way to and from opening or proroguing Parliament. The clock in the turret which surmounts the centre of the building has always been regarded as an authority for its correctness; inasmuch as to render it the grand regulator of all the timepieces in London in its vicinity.
The open space at the back is the Parade Ground: here are two curious pieces of ordnance—one a large howitzer or mortar captured at the siege of Cadiz, in 1810, and the other a Turkish piece, taken at Alexandria, in 1801. Under two small pavilions in front, on either side of the entrance in Whitehall, sentinels, mounted, and in uniform, do duty from ten to four o'clock every day.
The Horse Guards is somewhat appropriately placed, occupying as it does the site of the Tiltyard (or place for military exercises), of which we have already spoken. The origin of the name is this:—Soon after the Restoration Charles II. raised a body of troops, which he designated his "Horse Guards," to whom the special duty was assigned of protecting the king's person. For this troop stables and barracks were built in the Tilt-yard, but in 1751 these were pulled down to make way for the present edifice. Accommodation for the troops quartered here is provided by two lateral pavilions, which flank the east face of the main building. The apartments on the groundfloor, on either side of the central arches, are occupied by the clerks of the Royal Engineers' Department. Here were for many years the headquarters of the Commander-in-Chief, the AdjutantGeneral, and the Quartermaster-General, whose duties are now performed at the War Office, in Pall Mall.
The Commander-in-Chief's department is solely devoted to the government, discipline, and movements of the military; and to the Commander-inChief is unreservedly confided the rule and governance of the whole army. He is accessible not only to every commissioned officer of the British army, but to his immediate connections—his wife, sister, son, or daughter; and for this purpose he or his deputy (the Military Secretary) holds a levée every Tuesday during the "season." Every person desirous of attending it previously sends a letter expressing that intention, and stating the object of his visit; and as these interviews are considered strictly confidential, by endorsing it "for the levée," he ensures its being opened and read by the great military authority addressed, and by him only. His (or her) name is then transferred to a list, against a number which regulates the order of the applicants' reception; the ladies being always, of course, admitted first. That number is copied upon the back of each visitor's letter, which is also endorsed with a memorandum, from which the answer is orally delivered at the interview. Thus the Commander-in-Chief is at no loss, and time is not wasted in discussion. During this levée there is an entire absence of ceremony of every description, and the Commander-in-Chief is the only personage who appears in regimentals. The suite of rooms, also, used for the purpose consists only of three—namely, a waiting-room, a vestibule (in which the ladies abide their turn), and the audiencechamber. The first of these is a good-sized apartment, and faces Whitehall; the walls are almost covered with maps, and the chairs surrounding the room are placed, with military precision, exactly equi-distant. The vestibule is a small circular hall, possessing nothing more remarkable than the boundary-line of the parishes of St. Martin's and St. Margaret's, Westminster, which is cut through its centre, and accompanied with suitable inscriptions. The audience-chamber, which overlooks the parade-ground in St. James's Park, partakes of the same degree of military formality that distinguishes the other rooms.
The ladies, as we have stated, are presented first. All being in readiness, the attendant in waiting, bearing a copy of the numbered list above mentioned, calls out the name of the visitor who is to be seen, and ushers her into the presence of the Commander-in-Chief. The confidential nature of the interview admits the presence of no other person—not even the private secretary. Thus there is every encouragement offered for the most minute and circumstantial detail of private interests and domestic matters, into which the head of the army fully enters, with a view to serving the applicant in proportion to the claims put forward. The ladies having all been received and dismissed, the gentlemen are then summoned, seriatim, in such a manner as to ensure that no moment of time shall be lost. Some of the visits are merely ceremonial; others—and by far the greater number—are made to follow up previously forwarded applications for some one or other of the few military appointments in the gift of the Commander-inChief.
Pennant gives an interesting view of the old Horse Guards from the Park, as the building must have appeared in 1660–70. In the background it shows the Banqueting House, the Holbein Gate, the Treasury in its ancient state, and the top of the Cock-pit adjoining. In the foreground is to be seen the "Merry Monarch," with his favourite dogs and an attendant train of courtiers. To the right of the spectator is the eastern end of the straight and formal "canal," which then almost bisected the Park. We have reproduced this print in a reduced form on page 384.
Between the Horse Guards and the Treasury stands Dover House, so called after its late owner, the Hon. George Agar-Ellis, afterwards the accomplished and lamented Lord Dover. It now belongs to his grandson, Viscount Clifden. It was built in 1774, by Payne, for Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh, who sold it to the first Lord Melbourne, father of the late Premier. In 1789 it was bought by the Duke of York, who added the domed entrance-hall and the grand staircase, and after whom it was called York House. A print of it was published by Colnaghi in 1795, dedicated to Lord Melbourne. Of this view we have given a copy on page 385. This mansion faces the Banqueting House of Whitehall at the point where Holbein's Gate once stood, and commands a front prospect of the broad and open thoroughfare from Charing Cross to Parliament Street.
The Treasury Buildings, which occupy some 300 feet of frontage to Whitehall extending from Dover House to Downing Street, were originally designed and built by Sir John Soane, on the site of the Cock-pit, a portion of Whitehall Palace occupied by the Princess Anne, whence she set off to join the Prince of Orange. A new façade, in the Corinthian style, was added by the late Sir Charles Barry, R.A., about the year 1850. By these alterations and additions, the whims and conceits of Sir John Soane have disappeared, and the order, which is a reduced and simplified model of that of the Temple of Jupiter Stator, has, by the enrichment of the frieze and the addition of considerable ornament above it, been brought more into harmony with the building (or rather the building with it), which would have been impossible with less enrichment. The building, which has a short return front towards Downing Street, contains the office of the Privy Council, the Home Office, and the office of the Board of Trade. Apropos of the first-mentioned of these offices, we may here insert the text of the oath taken by the Clerk of Her Majesty's Privy Council, on appointment, which is as follows:—"You shall swear to be a true and faithful servant unto the Queen's Majesty, in the exercise of the functions of the Clerk of the Privy Council in ordinary. You shall not know or understand of any manner of thing to be attempted, done, or spoken against Her Majesty's person, honour, crown, or dignity royal; but you shall lett or withstand the same to the uttermost of your power, and either do or cause it to be revealed, either to Her Majesty herself, or to the Privy Council. You shall keep secret all matters committed and revealed unto you, or that shall be treated of secretly in council. And if any of the said treaties or councils shall touch any of the counsellors, you shall not reveal it unto him, but shall keep the same until such time as, by the consent of Her Majesty or by the Council, publication shall be made thereof. You shall to your uttermost bear faith and allegiance to the Queen's Majesty, and shall assist and defend all jurisdictions, pre-eminences, and authorities granted to Her Majesty, and annexed to the Crown by Act of Parliament or otherwise, against all foreign princes, persons, prelates, states, or potentates. And generally in all things you shall do as a faithful and true servant and subject ought to do to Her Majesty. So help you God, and by the holy contents of this book."
The offices and official residence of the First Lord of the Treasury, where the Cabinet Councils of Her Majesty's ministers are held, are, together with those of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, still located in Downing Street, in plainer buildings (partly erected for dwelling-houses), behind this handsome pile, and reaching to St. James's Park. The interior of the Treasury contains little or nothing very remarkable, excepting, perhaps, an old gilt state chair, or throne, which is placed at the head of the table in the Board-room.
Although all royal proclamations and diplomatic correspondence are dated "from our Palace at St. James's," yet for nearly the last two centuries the motive power, so to speak, of the administration of the country has had its head-quarters in Downing Street, a dull, narrow cul de sac running up westwards from the corner of the buildings of the Treasury. Almost the last of the houses which composed it disappeared in 1874, the work of demolition having been begun as far back as 1828; but its memory will long survive enshrined in the parliamentary history of the empire. Consequently, therefore, it must always be rich in its former associations; and probably no street in this metropolis, equally small in extent, can boast of having had such distinguished residents and tenants. Sir Robert Walpole, the Prime Minister of illustrious memory, made it his home during his long tenure of office; and he was the first Premier who did so. Lord North, as Premier, had his chambers here, occupying rooms on the first floor; and it is recorded of him that when he exchanged that post for the lesser responsibilities of a Secretary of State, he forgot that with the change of office came a change also of chambers, and walked mechanically into his old quarters instead of mounting another pair of stairs.
Different Prime Ministers have dealt differently with the official residence of the Premier in Downing Street. Some, like Pitt and Lord Grey, have made it really their home during their years of place and power; others, like Lord Melbourne and Sir Robert Peel, have used it only during the hours of business, preferring to live at their private houses. Lord Grey was the last Premier who took up his abode here in earnest; and it is here that R. B. Haydon has represented the earl pondering by his fireside after one of the great debates on the Reform Bill.
"Downing Street," says Mr. John Timbs, "has a host of political associations, and anecdotes of its former occupants abound. When Sir Robert Walpole removed from his official residence here, he found an old account-book in which his father had set down his personal expenses. In three months and ten days, which he had spent in London one winter as a member of Parliament, he had expended but sixty-four pounds seven shillings and fivepence. There were in it many entries for 'Nottingham ale,' many eighteenpences for dinners, five shillings to 'Bob' Walpole, afterwards Earl of Orford, and one memorandum of 'six shillings given to Mr. Williams in exchange for a wig;' and yet this old man—the grandfather of Horace Walpole—had a rental of £2,000 a year. He little thought, poor penurious old man that he was, that a sum which maintained him for a whole parliamentary session, would scarcely serve for one of his grandsons to buy a pair of fans for a princess at Florence!"
Here, in 1763, was the hospitable house of Sir John Cust, Speaker of the House of Commons, often mentioned by Cradock in his "Memoirs;" and in this street Belzoni, the African explorer, and his wife lodged in 1820, on their return from Egypt and Nubia.
If we may believe Mr. Peter Cunningham, it was in this street that the Duke of Wellington and Lord Nelson met for the only time in their lives. It was at the Colonial Office, at that time "No. 14, Downing Street," in a small waiting-room on the right hand upon entering, that the two heroes—the former then plain Sir Arthur Wellesley—both wanting an interview with the Secretary of State—were accidentally brought into each other's presence. "The duke knew Nelson from his pictures: Lord Nelson, however, did not know the duke; but he was so struck with his conversation that he stepped out of the room to inquire who he was!" This rencontre has been made the subject of a picture, which is engraved.
The "heaven-born minister," William Pitt, lived in Downing Street; and here, as he tells us in Wraxall's "Memoirs," the first Marquis Cholmondeley waited on Pitt as head of the establishment of the Prince of Wales. "The affair," he writes, "related to a matter of accounts. I find it impossible to do justice to the perspicuity and rapidity of his (Pitt's) calculations. In the course of a few minutes he went through and settled every item, leaving me lost in admiration at his ability."
Pitt, during his tenure of office, not only kept up
a house here, but made it his constant residence
to such an extent that he was never willingly
absent from its precincts. While his rival, Fox,
could unbend himself in the society of his friends
at Brooks's Club, or with his family at St. Anne's
Hill, near Chertsey, Pitt could do nothing of the
kind, and away from Downing Street he was
miserable. When forced, from 1801 to 1804, to
live in solitary grandeur at Walmer Castle, in the
company of his niece, Lady Hester Stanhope, while
Addington, whom he had raised to the highest
posts from comparative obscurity, filled his place,
he supported life only by the anticipation of a
speedy return to Downing Street. His wishes were
gratified. He resumed office after three years'
exclusion, but in less than two more years he died,
the victim of his own accomplished desires.
"Evertere domos totas optantibus ipsis
Preliminaries of peace with France were signed at Lord Hawkesbury's office in Downing Street, on the 2nd of October, 1801; and on the 10th of the same month General Lauriston, Buonaparte's first aide-de-camp, arrived with the ratification. "On his arrival in town," we read, "he was greeted with immense cheering by the populace. On the same and following evening the metropolis was brilliantly illuminated."
Mr. Cyrus Redding tells an anecdote, the scene of which must have been laid in the house of the First Minister of the Crown, in the time of Earl Grey. A gentleman named Stuart, who had lately become proprietor of the Courier newspaper, and said to have made his money as a coal merchant in the City, waited on his lordship, and, without any circumlocution or "beating about the bush," offered for his acceptance the support of the paper—which up to then had been of Tory politics—in exchange for the Treasury patronage. Lord Grey looked at him with indignation, and quietly rang the bell, and when the footman entered, bade him "show that gentleman the door." It is probable that he did not know the right way to approach a minister, and that he was not worse or more corrupt than scores of members of Parliament and high-born individuals who have preferred similar requests. He merely mistook the way.
Another good story is told about Downing Street by Mr. T. Raikes, in his "Diary." In the early Reform riots, a mob ran violently into Downing Street and rushed up to the sentinel at the door of the Foreign Office, crying, "Liberty or death!" The soldier presented his musket, and said, "Hands off, you fellows! I know nothing about liberty; but if you come a step farther, I'll show you what death is!" It is to be hoped that the brave fellow was rewarded for his pluck and his wit too.
The general appearance of Downing Street as it was in the reign of George IV. or William IV. is thus hit off by Theodore Hook: "There is a fascination in that little cul de sac; an hour's inhalation of its atmosphere affects some men with giddiness, others with blindness, and very frequently with the most oblivious boast fulness." And possibly those who know anything of public life and politics will confess that the wit was not far from the mark.
Between "The King's Printing-office" at Westminster and the various offices of State which centre in Downing Street, for many years there used daily to trudge a messenger or errand-carrier named John Smith, who was a favourite with several Premiers in succession, from Sir Robert Walpole down to William Pitt. What others accounted humble work became in his hands most important; and "the King's Messenger," as he styled himself, yielded to none of his Majesty's ministers in his idea of the dignity of his office, when entrusted with addresses, bills, royal speeches, and other State papers. At the offices of the Secretaries of State, when loaded with parcels of this description, he would throw open every chamber without ceremony; the Treasury and Exchequer doors could not oppose him, and even the study of archbishops has often been invaded by this important messenger of the press. His antiquated and greasy garb corresponded with his wizard-like shape, and his immense cocked hat was continually in motion, to assist him in the bows of the old school. The recognition and nods of great men were his especial delight; but he imagined that this courtesy was due to his character, as being identified with the State, and the Chancellor and the Speaker were considered by him in no other view than persons filling departments in common with himself, for the seals of the one and the mace of the other did not, in his estimation, distinguish them more than the bag used by himself in the transmission of the despatches entrusted to his care. The imperfect intellect given to him seemed only to fit him for the situation he filled. Take him out of it, he was as helpless as a child, and easily became a dupe to any one who was disposed to impose upon him. With a high opinion of his own judgment, however, he diverted himself and others by mimicking the voice and manner of his superiors, when he thought he perceived any assumption of character. Poor old John Smith, who felt as if he carried the world on his shoulders, and was as important a part of the constitution, in his own conceit, as the Prime Minister himself, died in 1818, at the age of ninety.
Downing Street—though for a century and a half the name was almost synonymous with the existing administration—has become almost entirely a thing of the past; for though two or three of the houses which were so familiar to Spencer Perceval, George Canning, and Lord Liverpool are still standing at the farther end, yet most of these have been absorbed into the large block of new public buildings which have been erected on its southern side. The clearance of Downing Street, however, as we have already shown, has been long in progress, having been commenced as far back as the year 1828, when "The Cat and Bagpipes," at its south-eastern corner, disappeared. Here, in early life, George Rose, a clerk in a Government office, afterwards Secretary of the Treasury, used to dine on a plain mutton chop.
The old Foreign Office, which stood on the south side of the street, was a brick building, with no architectural pretensions. It consisted of a centre, with two slightly projecting wings, and presented—at all events, in its latter days—anything but a fitting appearance for the use to which it was applied. It was demolished about the year 1864, in order to clear a site for the new Government offices, of which we shall presently speak. The public business of the country had been for many years carried on in the double row of mean and unsightly houses which formed old Downing Street, when, at length, an elaborate report was presented to both Houses of Parliament, containing recommendations for the erection of a suitable block of buildings on a uniform plan, for the accommodation of ministers in the transaction of the business of the State. Nothing, however, came of these recommendations; and although the subject was from time to time brought forward in Parliament, and inquiries were made and plans suggested, nothing was done except the extension and decoration of the Whitehall front of the Treasury Buildings by Sir Charles Barry. In the meantime the question was in the way of one settlement by the fact that some of the old barns in Downing Street, and the Foreign Office especially, were on the eve of tumbling down. By the elegant and decorative aid of beams and girders the walls were secured for a time; but at length even this standfast system was found insufficient to prevent the crumbling to pieces of the mortar and brickwork, in consequence of which the business of our diplomacy was temporarily transferred to Pembroke House, in Whitehall Gardens.
As soon as the old Foreign Office was levelled with the ground a new and stately edifice was commenced. The block of buildings extends from King Street (part of which has been merged in an enlargement of Parliament Street) on the east, to St. James's Park, near Storey's Gate, on the west; and from Downing Street on the north to Charles Street on the south. The buildings, which cover a large space of ground, surround two quadrangular courts, and are devoted to the accommodation of the Secretaries of State for Foreign Affairs, for India, and for the Colonies. The whole exterior group of buildings was designed by Sir G. Gilbert Scott, R.A., the architect of the Foreign Office throughout; while the interior of the India Office, with the external work of the inner court belonging to that range of buildings, is the work of Sir M. Digby Wyatt, R.A.
The buildings are faced with Portland stone; granite is used for the window-columns, and granite, marble, and glass—mostly green and red—is largely employed in the decoration, in the shape of bosses and otherwise, in the friezes.
The various fronts display a large amount of carving, the execution of which was entrusted to several sculptors of eminence. The design for the buildings gave rise, from time to time, in the House of Commons, to some warm and animated discussions, which came to be familiarly called the "battles of the styles," and in which Lord Palmerston, the then Premier, vigorously defended the classical Italian or Palladian against the advocates; of the Gothic. The result has been the erection of an edifice which may be said to belong to a style strictly "Palmerstonian," the architect—although chiefly celebrated for his Gothic designs—having, with a grim humour, adopted a plan which, it is stated, owed a good deal to the Premier, and which may be put down as broadly Italian, with an occasional infusion of Gothic. The Park front, as seen on approaching it from the Parade behind the Horse Guards, is at once bold and massive, the principal features being the lofty tower which separates the Foreign Office from that devoted to the Indian Department, and the grand semi-circular sweep which rounds off the angle of the building towards the Park. The niches at the angles on this side of the India Office are filled with statues of Indian statesmen. The tower on the Foreign Office side, though lower by a storey, is much more bulky than that belonging to the India Office.
In the stone-vaulted entrances through the India Office from Charles Street, and through the Foreign Office from Downing Street, are columns each of a single stone, eleven feet high; the vaulting in each case is handsome, and the groins show an incised ornament, filled in with red Parian cement. Across Downing Street there will be an arcade, with a flight of steps down to St. James's Park; a flight of steps also already leads from Charles Street into the Park.
The portion of the building which fronts Parliament Street is devoted to the use of the Colonial Department. This part of the structure was only completed towards the commencement of the present year (1875). It is adorned with statues of several eminent statesmen, including the late Lords Granville, Liverpool, Melbourne, and Glenelg, Sir Robert Peel, Sir James Graham, Sir George Cornewall Lewis, Earl Russell, Sir George Grey, the late Earl of Derby, Earl Grey, and Sir William Molesworth.
The inner court of the Foreign Office, which is entered from Downing Street, is quite plain. Against the topmost storey, surrounding the quadrangle, stand, at certain intervals, a series of sculptured figures. Those on the Foreign Office front are emblematical of countries—Italy, France, and so on; whilst those on the other sides represent the Indian tribes—an Affghan, a Goorka, a Malay, a Mahratta, and so forth.
The principal apartments are on the first floor, and include the Cabinet-room, 70 feet long by 35 feet wide, and two spacious conference-rooms. All these rooms communicate, and afford accommodation for balls and other réunions. Over and below these rooms are libraries. The grand staircase occupies an area of 60 feet by 25 feet. On the India Office side there are four great staircases, but all much less in size than the Foreign Office staircase. One of these staircases has the walls ornamented with life-size statues of Indian statesmen, standing in arched niches; and upon the upper part of the wall is an oval-shaped allegorical painting brought from one of the ceilings of the old East India House in Leadenhall Street. The principal entrance to the India Office is in Charles Street. The court-yard occupies nearly a central position in the building, and affords means of light and air to a large number of the rooms on the north, east, and west sides, and to a portion of the main corridor on the south side. Above the windows of the upper storey, set within a large escalop-shell, are a series of busts—twenty-eight in number—of celebrated worthies, both civil and military, connected with our Indian empire, beginning with Admiral Watson and Lord Macartney, and including heroes of recent historical renown—as Havelock, Clyde, and Lawrence. At the four angles of the court are niches filled with statues; the four on the ground floor are of Lords Hastings, Minto, Amherst, and Wellesley, sculptured by Mr. Protat: those on the first floor, immediately above the others, are Cornwallis and Clive, by Mr. Nicholls; and Warren Hastings and Lord Teignmouth, by Mr. Phyffers, by whom also many of the panels have been elaborately carved.
This court is remarkable for the variety of materials employed for decorative purposes. The floor is composed of tiles, laid to a pattern. The main portion of the walling, plain and decorative, is of Portland stone. The bays of the ground floor and first storey are divided by piers faced with Doric columns of red Peterhead granite, with capitals of red Mansfield stone; whilst those on the second floor are of dark-grey Aberdeen granite, with stone capitals of the same colour; and the arches between the piers are filled with glass. In addition to these materials there are majolica and mosaic friezes and pateras, and tessellated floors and ceilings in the logias. The court is rectangular in plan, 115 feet long by 60 feet wide, and is covered by a roofing of iron and glass. Upon the floor of this court is the celebrated collection of antiquities known as the Elliott Marbles.
Some of the ceilings of the rooms in the India Office are handsomely worked in plaster, partly modelled from Indian fruits and flowers. In the committee-room there is a handsome fireplace of carved white marble, brought from the old East India House; and on the opposite wall hangs the life-size portrait of Warren Hastings which formerly occupied a conspicuous position in the old establishment. There is also a statue of Warren Hastings at the foot of the grand staircase.
In the basement floor of the building are a number of rooms and vaulted chambers. Some of these rooms are used for culinary purposes; others as engine-rooms in connection with the hot-water apparatus for heating the building, and also with the hydraulic lifts, tanks, and mains. A large part of the basement is made use of as workshops for carpenters and other branches of mechanical labour, a large number of hands being constantly employed. The space immediately beneath the pavement of the inner court of the India Office is entirely filled with racks in which are stowed away some thousands of volumes of the records from the old East India House.
At the top of this building, in a place by no means secure against fire, called the "Record Office," is a most valuable library of Oriental treasures, which contains Arabic manuscripts to the number of about 2,000; Persian to double that amount; while of Sanscrit there are not less than 4,500, and many of these are gorgeously illuminated. Besides these there are 50,000 printed volumes, the greater part of which are Oriental works. On the same floor, down to the beginning of the present year (1875), a series of rooms connected with each other had been set apart as the India Museum. This valuable collection, which had previously (since its removal from Leadenhall Street) enjoyed a temporary retreat at Fife House, in Whitehall Yard, has now been transferred to South Kensington, where it is to be permanently located in the building occupied by the late Industrial Exhibition.
The business of our Indian empire, as has been stated in a previous chapter (see Vol. II., p. 184), was formerly transacted to a very great extent at the old house of the East India Company, in Leadenhall Street. On the transfer, however, of the government of India to the Crown, in 1858, the old Board of Control in Cannon Row was abolished, and a Council of State for India was instituted. The official duties connected with the Indian Government were at the same time transferred to Westminster.