Chapter II

Whitehall: Historical and Architectural Notes. Originally published by Seely, London, 1895.

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W J Loftie, 'Chapter II', in Whitehall: Historical and Architectural Notes, (London, 1895) pp. 22-43. British History Online [accessed 26 May 2024].

W J Loftie. "Chapter II", in Whitehall: Historical and Architectural Notes, (London, 1895) 22-43. British History Online, accessed May 26, 2024,

Loftie, W J. "Chapter II", Whitehall: Historical and Architectural Notes, (London, 1895). 22-43. British History Online. Web. 26 May 2024,


Accession of the Stuarts—Walling ford House—Henry, Prince of Wales—Masks at Court—Inigo Jones—The Banqueting House—The Great Design of 1619.

The accession of the Stuarts marks a new epoch in the history of Whitehall. In spite of edicts against building, Charing Cross had become a populous place, and one of James's first acts had been to build new stabling and a barn in the Mews on the site now occupied by Trafalgar Square. North-east of Whitehall, the Strand had become a continuous street, which ended with what we remember as Northumberland House, then called Northampton House, and subsequently Suffolk House. South of the palace, King Street had also been completed, and in a house there Edmund Spenser, the poet, died "for lake of bread," as Ben Jonson reports. He "refused 20 pieces sent to him by my lord of Essex, and said he was sorrie he had no time to spend them." East of King Street, where now we see Mr. Norman Shaw's fine police office and Richmond Terrace, were green fields and gardens sloping to the Thames. The curious old Gothic gate made an entrance to King Street, and stood just at right angles to where we see the chief entrance to the Foreign and India Offices. The Palace garden, with its sun-dial lawn, was separated from the King Street slopes by the Bowling Green, where is now the house of the Duke of Buccleuch. On the other side of the roadway of Whitehall, beyond, that is to the northward of, the Tilt Yard and Horse Guards, Sir William Knollys, who was Treasurer of the Household to Queen Elizabeth, built himself a house to be near the Court. James I. made him a peer, as Lord Knollys, in 1603. In 1616 he became Viscount Wallingford, and his house long bore this name. Ten years later he was advanced to the earldom of Banbury, and died in 1632. There were complications as to his marriage, in 1606, with Lady Elizabeth Howard, and his titles have been claimed unsuccessfully, at intervals ever since, by his reputed descendants. We shall have more to say about Wallingford House presently.

The King Street Gate. From the Engraving by G. Vertue, 1725.

The new King must have looked on Whitehall as but a poor lodging. The Queen had Somerset House, between the Strand and the Thames, for her separate residence, and the Prince of Wales had St. James's. To be more accurate, we may quote Mr. Sheppard to the effect that, though St. James's was granted to Prince Henry the year after the King's accession, he did not go into residence there for six years. Two years later he died. It is worth while to go into these things, because, among the four hundred persons and personages who composed the Prince's train, was a "surveyor," or, as we should say, an architect, named Inigo Jones, reputed to be a great traveller, but more in vogue at Court as a "devyser of maskes." He had three shillings a day for his pay, and the Prince gave him as much as thirty pounds on one occasion (which, as Cunningham, his biographer, remarks, was equal to one hundred and twenty pounds of our money), and sixteen pounds on another. When the Prince died, Jones, who had a promise of the Royal Surveyorship at the next vacancy, went to Italy, no doubt to study, having probably saved something during his two years at St. James's.

There are many notices of masks performed before the King's Majesty at Whitehall in the early years of the new dynasty. These plays took place in the Hall, which, as we have seen, was near the Chapel in the eastern part of the palace. It must have been small and inconvenient for such purposes, but Inigo, who on many occasions is mentioned as having looked after the arrangements, was fertile in resource, and made the most of the space at his disposal. He was destined to furnish the palace with an adequate hall, which is now the sole relic of the old royal residence existing. It is quite worth while to quote (from Cunningham) Jones's account of one of these plays. It was written by Chapman, and was acted by the gentlemen of the Middle Temple and Lincoln's Inn at the time of the marriage of the Princess Elizabeth with the Palsgrave, afterwards King of Bohemia. First, a procession started from the Rolls House in Chancery Lane, and rode on horseback along the Strand, past Charing Cross, to the Tilt Yard at Whitehall, where they made one turn before the King, and then dismounted. The performance took place in the Hall. It is described as having for scenery an artificial rock, nearly as high as the roof. The rock was honeycombed with caves, and there were two winding stairs. The rock turned a golden colour, and "was run quite through with veins of gold." On one side was a silver edifice labelled in Latin, "The Temple of Honour" (Honoris Fanum). There were various allusive devices, and after Plutus, the God of Riches, had made a speech, the rock split in pieces with a great crack, and Capriccio stepped out to make his speech while the broken rock vanished. Next appeared a cloud. Then a gold mine, in which the twelve masquers were triumphantly seated. Over the gold mine was an evening sky, and the red sun was seen to set. There were white cliffs in the background, and from them rose a bank of clouds, which hid everything. The mask cost Lincoln's Inn alone more than a thousand pounds. Of course, scenery of the kind described must have been extremely costly, the designer having neither the appliances nor the skilled workmen who carry out such marvellous scenic effects in our modern theatres.

One more example of Inigo's powers as a "devyser" may be quoted from Cunningham. In 1611, in January, the Prince, then nearly at the end of his short life, presented a mask at Court, that is, at Whitehall. It was written by Ben Jonson, and called "Oberon, the Fairy Prince." It cost 289l. 8s. 5d. for mercery, 298l. 15s. 6d. for silk, and 143l. 13s. 6d. for tailor's work; in all, the Prince had to pay 1092l. 6s. 10d. The interest of these details lies in the fact that it was by making stage scenery that Inigo Jones was taught how to extract the greatest amount of effect from the smallest amount of material or means. It let him into the secret of proportion, and the marvellous amount of influence proportion alone, without ornament or expense, can be brought to exercise. Other men at that time also understood stage scenery, but stage scenery was to them nothing more. The information so gained fell on fertile soil in the mind of Inigo, and brought forth eventually those splendid architectural designs for which he can never be too much praised.

Inigo Jones carried the information and experience thus obtained with him on this his second visit to Italy. He enquired why such a building had such an effect. He made careful measurements, and compared and combined the figures so arrived at until he wrung the secret of the old Roman builder from the ruins. Cunningham dwells at some length on this subject. There can be no doubt that, like Wren's, the genius of Jones consisted mainly in his extraordinary power of taking pains. Where one man was content to observe the completeness and harmony of some palace or church, Jones must find out to what cause that harmony was due. Thus he went about making measurements. For instance, he always carried a copy of the great work of Andrea Palladio with him wherever he went. On the flyleaves he constantly wrote such notes as this:—"The length of the great courte at Windsour is 350fo, the breadth is 260; this I measured by paaces the 5 of december, 1690. The great court at Theobalds is 159fo., the second court is 110fo. square, the thirde courte is 88fo.—the 20 of June, 1621." The book is now at Worcester College, Oxford. One of his notes is very curious as showing his subtle analysis of proportion. He had a great admiration for the Temple of Jupiter at Rome, and set seriously to work to find out the reason for its satisfactory effect. In the result he came to the conclusion that its design was based on a series of circles, and that its proportions were fixed by dividing the largest diameter into six parts, and then recombining them. In June, 1639, he noted of this temple that it had just been destroyed by the Pope's permission for the sake of the marble built into the walls. The Bishops of London have here ancient precedent for their treatment of Wren's City churches, and what Inigo would have thought of some recent doings may be gathered from the next two notes:—"This was the noblest thing which was in Rome in my time. So as all the good of the ancients will be ruined ere long."

On the 1st of October, 1615, he was put in possession of the office of Surveyor to the King, which had been promised him before he left England. His predecessor, Simon Basil, had died in that year, and we cannot doubt that he immediately commenced the series of designs by which it was intended to transform the shabby rabbit-warren, that, as we have seen, the so-called Palace of Whitehall had become. Otherwise, it is impossible to believe that when, in 1619, the old hall of which I have so often spoken, was destroyed by fire, he was ready within six months to begin the building of the Banqueting House. We must remember that this house, which is so familiar to all Londoners, was part of a design intended to cover a space of 1152 feet by 874. It was expected to rival the great palaces of the continental kings. The Vatican may be said to have been completed in 1588, and the smaller palace of the Lateran in 1586. At that time the largest of these palaces was the Escurial in Spain, which had been completed late in the previous century. The front is more than 680 feet in length. Versailles had not been begun, and neither had the largest of all, the palace of Mafra, on the west coast of Portugal, not far from Lisbon.

Mafra is 760 feet in width, east and west. It forms at the present day a conspicuous, but not beautiful, object from the deck of the passing steamer, but is seldom visited, as it has nothing except its vast size to recommend it. But the palace of Whitehall was designed by Inigo Jones to be both larger than any other, and also so beautiful that even the little fragment with which we are familiar has challenged the admiration of every one who has any architectural taste for more than two hundred and fifty years.

Detail of Banqueting House. From Kent's "Inigo Jones."

When the fire in Whitehall Palace took place, it did not require that the King should summon Jones to repair the damage. Any work of that kind was part of his daily round: but two interesting points should be mentioned here. Inigo made no attempt to restore the burnt building, nor did he undertake, as a modern architect would have done, to make a new hall, and persuade his employers that it was exactly as Cardinal Wolsey had left it. On the contrary, he offered the King plans of which the Banqueting House was but a small part. Evidently he had carefully examined the site, and found that there was ample room for a building on the greatest possible scale. The palace as it then was, reached from the very bank of the Thames to the roadway of Whitehall; and, on the western side, looking into the park, there was a kind of village of buildings attached to the palace more or less slightly. The whole space available was about 4000 feet from north to south, and 1300 from east to west. On the side of the park the space was practically inexhaustible; the King could take as much as he pleased in that direction. We shall give some description of the whole design presently. Jones within six months was ready to begin upon his new Banqueting House, and on the 1st of June, 1619, the first stone was laid, the architect having submitted a model to the King. The building was finished at the end of March, 1622, the expenditure having been 14,940l. 4s. 1d. It is remarkable that the account was not finally settled until long after the death of King James, namely, in 1633. It may be well here to give the technical account of the new building, probably written by Jones himself. It was described as 110 feet in length, and 55 in width within. The wall of the foundation is 14 feet in thickness. The first storey to the height of 16 feet was of Oxfordshire stone, rusticated on the outside and bricked on the inside. The Banqueting Hall was 55 feet in height to the roof, the walls being 5 feet thick, made of Northamptonshire stone, with two orders of columns and pilasters, the lower Ionic and the higher Composite, with their architrave, frieze, cornice, and other ornaments of the kind; also rails and "balustres" round about the top of the building, all of Portland stone, with fourteen windows on each side; one great window at the upper end, and five doors of stone with frontispieces and cartouches; the inside brought up with brick, finished over with two orders of columns and pilasters, part of stone and part of brick, with their architectural frieze and cornice, with a gallery upon the two sides, and the lower end borne upon great cartouches of timber carved, with rails and "balustres" of timber, and the floor laid with spruce deals; a strong timber roof covered with lead, and under it a ceiling divided into a fret made of great cornices enriched with carving; with painting, glazing, &c. The master-mason was the famous Nicholas Stone, who sculptured the water-gate at the foot of Buckingham Street, and to whom Cunningham attributes the monument of Sir Francis Vere in Westminster Abbey. If the beautiful wreaths and the capitals of the pilasters are still as he left them, they show exactly that kind of reticence which is one of the most charming characteristics of really high art. Inigo was too good an architect to leave anything like this to a workman in whom he could not thoroughly confide, but it is evident that what Gibbons did for Wren, Stone did for Jones.

Detail of Banqueting House. From Kent's "Inigo Jones."

It will have been perceived that the proportions of the interior were those which all but the modern anomalous architects have found to be the best. The room is formed of a double cube, the height being equal to the width, and the length double the height. A gallery was supported on engaged columns of the Ionic order. An upper order was of Corinthian pilasters. The roof was flat and divided into nine compartments, with very handsome mouldings between. The central compartment was oval, and contained Rubens's principal picture of the "Apotheosis of James I." This beautiful chamber was never designed for a chapel. We shall have occasion to describe further on what Jones designed for that purpose. It is reported that Rubens was assisted in these pictures by Jordaens. He received three thousand pounds for them, and they have been cleaned and restored several times at considerable expense. The figures are colossal, the children being more than nine feet high. The Banqueting House, though never consecrated, was made a Royal Chapel in 1724. Two years ago it was handed over to the United Service Institution, who have added to the south side a building which, in my opinion, forms a serious eyesore. It is curious that with all the wealth of design left by Inigo Jones, and ready to the hands of the Institution, they could not find something better than that by which they have disfigured every view of the Banqueting House. A great French architect named Azout, who visited England about 1685, is said to have declared that this "was the most finished of the modern buildings on this side the Alps." To a sincere lover of beauty in architecture, this opinion will commend itself. It is sometimes said that the famous cartoons of Raphael were brought to England as designs for the tapestry for the Banqueting House. After the death of King Charles, they were sold, and were purchased by the Spanish Ambassador, Alonso de Cardanas. This is likely enough, as also that he sent them into Spain. Some hangings, said to be the same, but of this there could be no proof, were brought to London and exhibited at the Egyptian Hall, in Piccadilly, in 1825. They represented passages in the Acts of the Apostles. What became of them we do not know. I have only seen them mentioned in Tymms's account of Whitehall in the second volume of Britton's Edifices.

Section of the Banqueting House. From Kent's "Inigo Jones."

A curious question arises, which is not very easily answered: Where would this building have stood in the complete palace? The visitor entering the great court would have found three other buildings resembling this one. Two were to be at the northern end on either side, and two more at the southern end. Connecting them were two buildings of much greater beauty and of large size, the whole court being no less than 378 feet wide and 728 feet long. If, as Fergusson and others have asserted, the Banqueting House was at the north-eastern corner, it would be on the visitor's left, while a chapel would have been on his right. At the centre of the façade on the right was the entrance to the royal apartments, which were thus arranged to be on the western side and to look out on the park, to the south of the Treasury. On the opposite side of the great court access was to be obtained to a noble hall, suitable for state occasions, and, in fact, the buildings on this side, which were to look on the river, were of a public character as distinguished from the private apartments of the King and the royal family. If, as seems probable, the Banqueting House stood at the north-east corner, and if we look at the plan of Whitehall which George Vertue engraved for the Society of Antiquaries, we find that Inigo's building is nearly in the middle of the palace. If we measure 728 feet to the southward, it takes us all that distance towards Westminster, and overwhelms in building-stone the whole of the Privy Garden and part of the Bowling Green. All the great ranges of buildings to the northward—the kitchen court, the wood-yard, the small beer-buttery, and the two Scotland Yards—would have had to go. We can but conjecture that Inigo wished to have a grand open space before his Charing Cross façade—what the French call a "place d'armes." On the Westminster side there could not have been much space beyond the Bowling Green. The park, of course, was open, and so was the river. Much thought accordingly was spent on these fronts, and perhaps that to the Thames shows Jones at his very best. No description can do it any kind of justice; but it may be worth while to mention the principal points. The centre was of three storeys, the lowest with rusticated pilasters. The next storey has features common to much of the design, but two flanking buildings only two storeys high are marked by a studied plainness, flat pilasters being between the windows. At either end of the front we find three-storey pavilions—we can hardly call them towers. They, like the centre, have engaged columns standing well out. The most beautiful thing on this front is a projecting portico in the centre, three arches wide and one deep. This beautiful balcony—the most elegant little bit in the whole design—is of the Corinthian order, two storeys high, the lower rusticated, and on a balustrade above are the statues with which Inigo always liked to relieve his sky-line.

Apotheosis of James 1.

Plan of Whitehall. Engraved by G. Vertue, from a Survey made in 1680.

The Westminster side had an archway "for the street of Whitehall" and the right of way. It is open through the ground storey and an entresol, and is flanked by two massive towers of four storeys, crowned by small cupolas.

The Charing Cross front being to the north was kept studiously plain. It was not until our own day that an architect put lavish decorations on that side of a building. Wren knew as well as Jones that mass, not ornament, is appropriate to this aspect, and we used to be able to admire his taste in the north transept of Westminster Abbey, now altered. The delicate proportions, the fine central archway, and the arcade at the western end of the façade, make up a very pleasing composition, and, viewed across a wide parade-ground, would have produced a marvellously picturesque effect.

On the King's side—that is, to the westward of the street—was to be a circular court, which most architectural critics have highly praised. It has always been known as the Persian Court. Caryatides, we may remark, are female figures, Persians male. It consisted of a kind of circular corridor, two storeys high Kent gives several views with sections of this Persian Court. Instead of pillars or pilasters were Caryatides in the upper range, and Persians in the lower. Those in the lower range had Tuscan capitals above their heads; those in the upper had Composite or Corinthian capitals. Here Inigo departed from his usual rule, and covered the wall with the most elaborate ornament. The court looks very well in Müller's bird's-eye view, but not so well in Kent's elevations and sections. The plan shows that the circular corridor would have formed a most convenient passage connecting the King's and Queen's private apartments with those of their attendants. Two wide square courts were to north and south.

First Design by Inigo Jones for the Rebuilding of Whitehall. Waterside Front. From Müller.

The other wing, so called, of the palace had also three courts, the interior architecture of which we may judge of by looking at the back, or east, side of the Banqueting House, which was built to form part of the north-eastern court on one side, and to look on the street of Whitehall on the other. The Chapel was to have corresponded in the north-western corner. Jones left elaborate plans for this building, and a section in Kent is one of the most beautiful things in a beautiful book. It was a double cube, of course, but the roof was vaulted, or, at least, coved. Elaborate symbolical carving and angelic figures are on the wall. The chapel has a narrow gallery above, and the order, which is Ionic, fluted, below, is Corinthian above. Wide-arched openings are in the view in Kent, but he does not show us what the other, or chancel, end was to be like. It may be worth noting that, like Wren, Jones was very free in his use of the orders, and it is not always possible in the prints to distinguish Corinthian from Composite; but, of course, where the lower storey was Ionic, the upper would not be Composite.

As to the merits of this design for a palace, critics have been very well agreed—except, unfortunately, during the madness of the supposed Gothic revival. Had Barry been desired to use, or adapt, Jones's design, or part of it, for the new Houses of Parliament, what a noble river-front we might have had! But it is useless to pursue such thoughts. The opportunity was lost, and, for certainly the past thirty years, there have been very few people in England who were really able to judge of the Houses of Parliament apart from their ornamentation. Inigo Jones's design would have been the better of any ornament that could have been bestowed on it, but ornament was not necessary. Marble columns and gilt capitals would have looked well, but plain stone would have been enough.

Fergusson well remarks that the greatest error in Jones's design for Whitehall was the vastness of its scale. It was as far beyond the means as beyond the wants of James I. It is not, he continues, in a long passage from which I only take a few sentences, so much in dimensions as in beauty of design that this proposal surpassed other European palaces. Externally, it would have surpassed the Louvre, Versailles, or any other building of the kind, "by the happy manner in which the angles are accentuated, by the boldness of the centre masses in each façade, and by the play of light and shade, and the variety of sky-line, which is obtained without ever interfering with the simplicity of the design or the harmony of the whole."

First Design by Inigo Jones for the Rebuilding of Whitehall. Bird's-eye View. From Müller.

Sir William Chambers, the last of the Inigo Jones and Wren succession, speaks especially of the circular court described above. There are few nobler thoughts, he observes, in the remains of antiquity. The effect of the building, properly carried out, would have been surprising and great in the highest degree. The diameter of the court was to be 210 feet, the ground floor being an open arcade or cloister.

Jones wholly misapprehended the depth of the King's purse when he made a design of so costly a character. Otherwise, we must conclude that he made these beautiful drawings for his own pleasure—a kind of vision which he knew could never be realised. That this is not a correct statement of the case seems to be proved by what followed. Let us take the Banqueting House as a unit. It cost, roughly speaking, 20,000l., of which sum 15,000l. was for the mere building. Three similar buildings in the same court would have cost at least 60,000l., the chapel more than the rest. This foots up at once to 80,000l. The Persian Court could not have cost less than 50,000l. Add to this the two magnificent halls, and we have 80,000l. more. Yet we have only accounted for two of the seven courts, and have said nothing of the four fronts. We feel tempted to think that Inigo, like the person mentioned by Tennyson, built his soul "a lordly pleasure-house, wherein at ease for aye to dwell," and that he neither intended nor expected that King James should carry it out. That this is not the case we can judge by the design he made for Charles I. in 1639. It was to be of only half the dimensions, and was to be studiously plain. Whereas the Banqueting House was one of the plainest and least costly features of the 1619 design, it would appear in the new view as one of the most elaborately ornamented. But he misjudged the purse of the son, as he had misjudged that of the father. Not a stone was ever laid, and when, a few years later, the war broke out, it was hopeless to think that Charles, though sorely in need of a commodious and really royal residence, could ever build, even after the new and modified design presented to him by his Surveyor.

Part of the First Design by Inigo Jones for the Rebuild of Whitehall, 1619. From Kent's "Inigo Jones."

Part of the Second Design by Inigo Jones for the Rebuilding of Whitehall. 1639. From Campbell's "Vitruvius Britannicus."

The chief points of this design may be briefly indicated here, as the next chapter will be filled with matters of a very different character. The western front was to be towards the street of Whitehall; that is to say, the palace was to be less than half the size of that designed for James I. No archways were needed across the road. In the middle of this façade was a fine arch, opening between the Banqueting House toward the north and the Chapel, the corresponding building toward the south. The wall between was very simple, only containing three rows of square - headed windows. What would have been a beautiful and picturesque feature were the domed towers which formed the ends of the front, each containing a triple Venetian window. The side to the river was to have a kind of arcade or cloister; but the Persians and the Caryatides have disappeared, with most of the reception-rooms and public halls. This design was brought forward again after the fire in 1698; but William III. was too busy with the Continental war, and probably also too poor to do anything. It is worth more than a passing glance, and includes some of Jones's most matured work. Campbell obtained it in 1717 from an "ingenious gentleman," probably an architect, and possibly the architect whom William proposed to employ in rebuilding the palace. It will be found in the second volume of the Vitruvius Britannicus.