Whitehall: Precinct and gardens

Pages 376-382

Old and New London: Volume 3. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.

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In this section



"Magnos Senecæ prædivitis hortos."—Juvenal.

The Privy Gardens and King Charles's curious Sun-dials—Name changed to Whitehall Gardens—Lady Hervey and Sir Thomas Robinson—Sir Robert Peel's House—Pembroke House and Gwydyr House—The Local Government Board—The Duchess of Portland's Museum of Sculpture—Montagu House—Richmond House—The Duke of Richmond's Gallery of Art—Richmond Terrace—Beating the Bounds—Cannon Row—The Civil Service Commission—Derby Court—Manchester Buildings—A Touching Incident in connection with the Last Days of Charles I.—Parliament Street—Messrs. Nichols' Printing-office—Assassination of Mr. Drummond—The Residence of Charles James Fox—Whitehall Club—The Whitehall Evening Post—Curious House Signs.

The gardens adjoining Whitehall Palace on the south and south-west were laid out in terraces, square and formal in plan, and adorned, after the fashion of the times, with statues of marble and bronze, many of which were subsequently removed to Hampton Court. "In the Privy Garden," says John Timbs, "was a dial, which was set up by Edward Gunter, Professor of Astronomy at Gresham College, and of which he published a description by command of James I., in 1624. A large stone pedestal bore four dials at the four corners, and the great horizontal concave in the centre; and, besides, east, west, north, and south dials at the sides." In the reign of Charles II. this dial was defaced by a nobleman of the court, when drunk; and Andrew Marvell wrote upon it the following epigram:—
"This place for a dial was too insecure,
Since a guard and a garden it could not defend;
For, so near to the court, they will never endure,
A witness to show how their time they mis-spend."

In the court-yard, facing the Banqueting House, was another curious dial, set up in 1669, by order of Charles II. It was invented by one Francis Hall, alias Lyne, a Jesuit and Professor of Mathematics at Liége. The dial consisted of five stages rising in a pyramidical form, and bearing several vertical and reclining dials, globes cut into planes, and glass bowls, showing besides "the houres of all kinds," and "many things also belonging to geography, astronomy, and astrology, by the sun's shadow made visible to the eye." Among the pictures were portraits of the King, the two Queens, the Duke of York, and Prince Rupert. Father Lyne published a description of this dial, which consisted of seventy-three parts, and was illustrated with seventeen plates. It would appear, from what the author of the "Curiosities of London" says, that it was subsequently set up at Buckingham House.

We read incidentally that the gardens were intersected by a brook or rivulet, which here ran into the Thames; for in 1667 there was an order made by the Court of Sewers, as to the "sluice near Sir Robert Pye's, and the outfall thereof into the river, near the old orchard at Whitehall, now the Bowling Green." This orchard dated back as far as the reign of Henry VIII.

The site of the old palace of Whitehall, which was made extra-parochial at an early date, formerly formed part of the parish of St. Margaret's, Westminster. In order to assert the extent of the parish, the authorities, in "beating the bounds," took a boat at Parliament Stairs and rowed to the centre arch of Westminster Bridge, where there was a mark, and then landing at Privy Garden Stairs, "passed before Montagu House to the house of the Earl of Lowden" (Loudoun), afterwards the Duke of Richmond's, of which we shall have more to say presently.

Down to a comparatively recent date, the gardens above mentioned were called by the old name of the "Privy Gardens," but this has now become changed to "Whitehall Gardens"—a name given to a row of houses in the rear of the Banqueting House, which, until the formation of the Victoria Embankment, had its gardens and lawns sloping to the Thames. Whitehall Gardens were very fashionable residences in the reign of William IV. In 1835, No. 1, the present home of the National Club, was the town residence of the Marquis of Ailsa, and afterwards of the Dowager Marchioness of Exeter; and further on were the houses of Lord Farnborough (better known as Sir Charles Long) and the Earl of Malmesbury. Here, too, lived, in the time of Pitt and Fox, old Lady Townshend, who in her early days had been one of the "queens of society" in the court of George II. Here used to drop in of an evening George Selwyn and the other wits of the age; and it was said of her by Sir N. W. Wraxall, that, "in the empire of mind, she had succeeded to the place left vacant by Mrs. Hervey and Lady Mary Wortley Montague, in the previous generation." The Right Hon. Benjamin Disraeli took the house, No. 2, in 1873, after the death of his wife, Lady Beaconsfield.

Lady Townshend's house was celebrated for the bon mots of its mistress. Lady Lepel Hervey tells a good story of her and two Sir Thomas Robinsons, who had both offended her. The one was very tall and thin, the other very plump and short. "I can't bear them; and I can't imagine," remarked her ladyship, "why the one should be preferred to the other, one bit. I see but little difference between them; the one Sir Thomas is as broad as the other is long." Lady Townshend's pleasantry, however, it should be remarked here, was scarcely just. The "broad" Sir Thomas was a man of merit and ability, and for some time Secretary of State, and afterwards was created Lord Grantham. The "long" Sir Thomas was a celebrated bore and butt of the day. Lord Chesterfield used to bear with his dulness for the sake of laughing at him. "One day," adds Lady Hervey, "when Sir Thomas requested his lordship to honour him with some poetic mention, Lord Chesterfield qualified his whim by the following couplet:—
Unlike my subject will I frame my song,
It shall be witty, and it shan't be long.'"

In No. 4, a house with a large bow window, the late Sir Robert Peel lived, before and during his premiership; and here he died, July 2nd, 1850, from the effects of a fall from his horse, a few days previously, on Constitution Hill. In this house, which is still occupied by the Peel family, there is a fine gallery of paintings by the old masters, and the best collection of modern portraits by Sir Thomas Lawrence. Those of Canning, Wellington, &c., are there, and a variety of others too many to enumerate here.

Among the other mansions built on the site of the old Privy Gardens two deserve to be mentioned here—viz., Pembroke House and Gwydyr House.

"Lord Pembroke's house at Whitehall," writes Lady Hervey, in 1762, "is taken for the Duc de Nivernois, the French Ambassador." His name will be remembered as one of the Quarante and an inveterate versifier; and it is said that not a sitting of that illustrious body took place at Paris which the duke did not enliven by reading out a fable. It is to be hoped that he was more merciful to West-end society here. The mansion known as Pembroke House was afterwards occupied by the late Earl of Harrington, and passed, in or about the year 1853, into the hands of the Government, who turned it into one of the departments of the State.

At Gwydyr House, for many years, were the offices of the Commissioners of Revenue Inquiry, the Commissioners for Promoting the Fine Arts, and the Commissioners of the Health of Towns. Within its walls is now carried on the business of the newly-constituted branch of the public service—the Local Government Board. Upon the establishment of this Board, in 1873, the Poor Law Board ceased to exist, and all the powers hitherto exercised by the Secretary of State and the Privy Council were transferred to this department. The powers exercised by the Local Government Board relate to the registration of births, deaths, and marriages, public health, drainage, public improvements, local government, &c., and also to the prevention of disease. Close by is the office of the Board of Trade and Plantations, and also that of the Statistical and Commercial Department of the Board of Trade.

One of the almost forgotten memories of the neighbourhood of Whitehall, is the celebrated Museum of Sculpture and Works of Art made by the Duchess of Portland. "Here," writes John Timbs, "Pennant was shown a rich pearl surmounted with a crown, which was taken out of the ear of Charles I., after his head was cut off. Here, also, was the Barberini or Portland Vase, purchased by the Duchess from Sir William Hamilton for 1,800 guineas, and subsequently deposited by the Duke of Portland in the British Museum."

Sir Christopher Wren was ordered by Queen Anne, in 1705, to erect a wall to enclose that part of the garden which contained the fountain, as a pleasure-ground to the house inhabited by the Scotch commissioners appointed to settle the terms of the union of the two kingdoms.

At the southern end of Whitehall Gardens is Montagu House, the town mansion of the Duke of Buccleuch, who inherited it from the noble family of Montagu. The old house was a low building, and, with the exception of the pictures it contained, had little or nothing to call for special remark. The building was demolished about the year 1860, when the present magnificent mansion, in the Italian style, was built upon its site, the architect being Mr. George Burn.

There is here a splendid gallery of pictures containing many examples of the first masters. One, having special reference to the locality, is Canaletti's fine view of Whitehall, showing Holbein's Gateway, Inigo Jones's Banqueting House, and the steeple of St. Martin's Church, with the scaffolding about it. Then there are a large number of portraits by Vandyck and others, formerly belonging to Sir Peter Lely, and purchased at the sale of his effects by Ralph, Duke of Montagu. There are also other fine pictures by Vandyck, and a series of family portraits.

On the site of what is now Richmond Terrace was formerly Richmond House, the town residence of the Dukes of Richmond. This mansion stood at the southern end of the Privy Gardens, and faced Whitehall and Charing Cross, on ground previously occupied by the apartments of the Duchess of Portsmouth, Louise Renée de Perrencourt, whose son, by Charles II., was the first Duke of Richmond. The house was built for George, second Duke, by the famous architect Boyle, Earl of Burlington, concerning whom Pope asks, "Who builds like Boyle?"

Among those enlightened noblemen and gentle men who co-operated practically, and not merely by word of mouth, with George III. in his zeal for the promotion of the fine arts, Charles, the third Duke of Richmond, who held the title from 1750 down to 1806, claims a prominent notice. After his return from "the grand tour," the Duke munificently opened a school for the study of painting and sculpture at his house, at the end of Privy Gardens. Here a spacious gallery was provided, with every convenience and accommodation for the students, and a fine collection of casts, moulded from the most select antique and modern statues at Rome and Florence, was procured. These were set out as models, and young artists were invited, by public advertisement, to make the gallery a school for the study of art. In consequence of this generous invitation several young artists, whose names were afterwards known to the world, entered themselves as students. Cipriani, the painter, and Wilton, the sculptor, presided as instructors, till the students were sufficiently advanced to follow their bent unaided, and silver medals were occasionally awarded. This benefit was given to the rising school without fee or emolument. The gallery was opened in 1758, ten years before the foundation of the Royal Academy. In 1770 it contained upwards of twenty-five statues, and among them may be noted the Apollo Belvidere, the Gladiator, the Venus de Medici, the Dancing Faun, Group of Hercules and Antæus, the Rape of the Sabines, and a variety of casts from the Trajan Column, &c. The value of such a school in London, at a time when there were no railways and other facilities for foreign travel, can hardly be exaggerated. Among the artists who owed some of their early art-training to this school, the Somerset House Gazette mentions John Parker, a painter of historical portraits, long resident in Rome; John Hamilton Mortimer, the pupil of Robert Edge Pine (known to his friends as "Friar Pine"), who outstripped all his compeers in the drawing of the antique figure, and obtained several prizes from the Society of Arts for drawings made here; Richard Cosway, the miniature painter, and William Parrs, whose productions figured on the walls at the first exhibition of the Royal Academy. This artist was a great traveller, and much patronised by the Lord Palmerston of that day. Another was John A. Grosse, a native of Geneva, and a pupil of Cipriani; another was William Parry, son of a blind Welsh harpist, who obtained several prizes for drawings made in this gallery, and afterwards was a favourite pupil of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Parry made a drawing of the Duke's gallery itself, into which he introduced several portraits: to the curious the discovery of this representation of a place so memorable would be a prize indeed. The Duke of Richmond, too, was a liberal patron of the meritorious artists of his time, as is proved by their numerous works in the Gallery at Goodwood. In other respects the Duke was often attacked for a want of hospitality and liberality; but, possibly, if he had squandered his wealth in giving costly banquets at Whitehall the artists of a century ago would have been so much the more poorly off. It would be well indeed for art, and indeed for literature also, if there were amongst us more noblemen endowed with the same generous feelings as Charles, Duke of Richmond. There is a deep truth in the old line which says:—
Sint Mæcenates, non deerunt, Flacce, Marones."

WESTMINSTER BRIDGE. (From Canaletti's View.)

PLAN OF WESTMINSTER. (From Norden's Survey, taken in Queen Elizabeth's Reign, 1593.)
A. The Abbey. B. Westminster Hall. D. Long Ditch. E. Thieving Lane. F. The Amnerie. G. Way to Tothill Fields. H. The Lord Dacres. K. King Street. L. Round Woolstaple. M. The Park Lodgings. N. The Tilt Yard. O. St. Martin's-in-the-Fields. P. Clement's Lane. Q. New Inn. R. St. Clement Danes. S. Temple Bar.

But the house has also yet another claim to be remembered, for it was here that the first meeting of the friends of Parliamentary Reform was held, in May, 1782, a week or two before the subject was brought forward by Mr. Pitt in the House of Commons.

The mansion was burnt to the ground in December, 1791. There is an engraving of the house by Boydell; and Edwards, in his "Anecdotes," mentions the drawing of the gallery by Parry, alluded to above, which he considered curious, as being "the only representation of the place." On the site of this mansion, as already stated, has risen Richmond Terrace, a noble row of houses overlooking Montagu House and Whitehall Gardens, standing at right angles to the Thames Embankment, and having an entrance from Parliament Street through handsome iron gates.

We read in Macaulay that in the panic arising out of the perjuries of Titus Oates patrols were marched up and down the streets, and that cannon were planted round Whitehall. The same, too, was the case during the agitation respecting the bill for excluding the Duke of York from the throne.

The house No. 3 in Richmond Terrace is rich in some historical traditions of the last generation. On the formation of Lord Grey's ministry, in 1830, it was occupied by the Premier's brother-in-law, the late Mr. Edward Ellice, M.P., who had a very extensive acquaintance and influence among the Liberal party. As it was near to the Treasury and to the House of Commons, it soon became the head-quarters of the Whigs, and the chief centre of communication between the friends of the intended Reform Bill which was engrossing the attention of the public, including not only the old Whigs and modern Liberals, but also the Radicals of Birmingham. When Parliament was dissolved, in 1831, this house again became the chief centre of action, where candidates came to make inquiries for vacant constituencies, and deputations from near and distant boroughs came in search after eligible candidates, a committee for that purpose sitting there en permanence, under the auspices of Mr. Ellice, who here gave Parliamentary dinners and Liberal reunions. After the death of his wife, Lady Hannah Grey, the house passed into the hands of another leading Liberal, a son-in-law of Earl Grey, Sir Charles Wood, who, in the year 1866, was created Viscount Halifax in reward of his long official services.

It was conclusively shown, in the trial of Sir C. Burrell v. Nicholson, before Lord Denman, in December, 1833, that when the Palace of Whitehall was seized upon by Henry VIII., he added to its precincts the ground on the south, where Richmond Terrace now stands, the land originally being part of St. Margaret's parish, and belonging to the Abbot of Westminster. The two gardens and three acres of land which the king got from Wolsey were not enough for his Majesty.

At Richmond Terrace, on making the customary perambulation of the bounds of St. Margaret's parish every third year, a little parish apprentice usually was whipped soundly in order that the tradition might be kept up of the limits which marked off the precinct of Whitehall from the mother parish out of which it had been carved.

Extending from the back of Richmond Terrace to Bridge Street, Westminster, and about midway between the Thames and Parliament Street, is a narrow thoroughfare called Cannon (or Canon) Row, which has a little history of its own. We learn from Stow and from John Selden that Cannon Row—or, as it was often called, Channel Row—derived its name from being the residence allotted to the canons of St. Stephen's Chapel. Stow informs us that among its inhabitants in his time were "divers noblemen and gentlemen," as Sir Edward Hobbes, John Thynne, Esq., Henry Clinton, Earl of Lincoln, and the Earl of Derby and the Duchess of Somerset, mother of the Earl of Hertford, who both occupied "stately" houses.

On the south side stands a dull and heavy building, erected in 1784 for the Ordnance Board, but appropriated to the then newly-formed Board of Control. The architect was a Mr. W. Atkinson. It is now occupied by the Civil Service Commissioners.

In Cannon Row was "the Rhenish Wine House of good resort," to use Strype's quaint expression, and mentioned by Prior and Montague in terms which imply that it was well known in their day:—
What wretch would nibble on a hanging shelf
When at Pontack's he may regale himself,
Or to the house of cleanly Rhenish go,
Or that at Charing Cross, or that in Channel Row?"

Here stood the stately house built by the termagant Anne Stanhope, wife of the Protector Somerset, whose dispute about some trifling point of female precedence is said to have contributed in some degree to her husband's fall. Here, too, was Manchester House, which appears to have been cut up into tenements in the reign of Queen Anne.

Leading out of this row on the east side was formerly Derby Court, so called from the town residence of the Earl of Derby, which it adjoined. Stow describes it, in 1598, as "a stately house," then in the course of erection. It was surrendered in the time of Charles I. to the use of the Parliament, who occupied it for meetings of committees. Here died Pym, and here, as we learn from Ludlow's "Memoirs," his body was publicly exposed after his death. After the Restoration, the Stanleys removed elsewhere, and the mansion was occupied as the office of the Lord High Admiral.

A view of Westminster Bridge, whilst in the course of erection, painted by Canaletti (see page 378), shows the Middlesex bank of the river about Cannon Row and Whitehall covered with handsome mansions, most of which rise perpendicularly out of the river, with stairs and landing-places.

Between Cannon Row and the river, extending in a southerly direction, was a double row of private houses, principally occupied by bachelor members of Parliament, and known as Manchester Buildings. Their site is now covered by the Metropolitan District Railway Station and the St. Stephen's Club. They were so called because they adjoined the town residence of the Earls of Manchester, with "a very fine court which hath a handsome freestone pavement," as we learn from Strype; and adjoining the houses of the Earls of Derby and Lincoln. According to Mr. Peter Cunningham; a gaming-house in these buildings was once occupied by Thurtell, who murdered Mr. Weare.

Cannon Row is of historic interest on account of its connection with the very last days of the life of King Charles I. In Wood's "Athenæ Oxoniensis," we find the following touching narrative told by the King's faithful attendant, Herbert:—

"The same evening [January 28th, 1648–9], two days before his execution, the King took a ring from his finger, having an emerald set therein between two diamonds, and gave it to Mr. Herbert, and commanded him, as late as 'twas, to go with it from St. James's to a lady living then in Canon Row, on the back side of King Street, in Westminster, and to give it to her without saying anything. The night was exceeding dark, and guards were set in several places; nevertheless, getting the word from Colonel Matthew Tomlinson, Mr. Herbert passed currently through in all places where sentinels were, but was bid stand till the corporal had the word from him. Being come to the lady's house, he delivered her the ring. 'Sir,' said she, 'give me leave to show you the way into the parlour;' where, being seated, she desired him to stay till she returned. In a little time after she came in and put into his hands a little cabinet, closed with three seals, two of which were the King's arms, and the third was the figure of a Roman; which done, she desired him to deliver it to the same hand that sent the ring; which ring was left with her; and afterwards, Mr. Herbert taking his leave, he gave the cabinet into the hands of his Majesty (at St. James's), who told him that he should see it opened next morning. Morning being over, the Bishop (Juxon) was early with the King, and, after prayers, his Majesty broke the seals, and showed them what was contained in the cabinet. There were diamonds and jewels—most part broken Georges and Garters. 'You see,' said he, 'all the wealth now in my power to give to my children.'"

Parliament Street, the line of thoroughfare which forms a direct communication between Whitehall and Westminster, was driven through the heart of the "Privy Garden" and the "Bowling Green," displacing the terraces, sun-dials, and statues, about the year 1732, in order to supersede the narrow road which led to Westminster from Charing Cross. Previously the only access from the one spot to the other was by King Street, a narrow way, muddy and ill paved, which ran parallel to Parliament Street from the corner of Downing Street to the Abbey. At the northern end it was spanned by the lofty and imposing gateway, called, from its designer, Holbein's Gate, of which we have already spoken. So bad was King Street as a thoroughfare that we are told that, when the King went to open Parliament in the winter in the early part of the eighteenth century, it was often found necessary to throw down a supply of fagots in the ruts in order to allow the royal coach to pass along. But of King Street we shall have more to say hereafter.

For thirty-six years, from 1820 down to 1856, the Messrs. Nichols issued the Gentleman's Magazine at their printing-office in this street. The work of editing and printing the Gentleman's Magazine had for many years previously been conducted by the Messrs. Nichols at their office in Red Lion Passage, Fleet Street. As far back as 1792, the writers in the Gentleman's Magazine were thus satirised—much to their own credit—by "Peter Pindar:"—
"And see the hacks of Nichols's Magazine
Rush loyal to berhyme a King and Queen."

It was in Parliament Street, on the 26th of January, 1843, that Mr. E. Drummond, private secretary to Sir Robert Peel, was shot by a man named Macnaghten, who mistook him for the Premier. No. 52 in this street was for many years the residence of Charles James Fox.

At the corner of Derby Street, the short thoroughfare leading out of Parliament Street into Cannon Row, stands the Whitehall Club, which was built about the year 1866. The building, Italian in style, is constructed of stone, and consists of three storeys, besides offices in the basement. It was built from the designs of the late Mr. Parnell, at a cost of about £25,000. Over the doorway and upon the cornice is some admirable sculpture executed by Mr. Tolmie. The rooms are spacious and lofty, and well adapted to the purposes to which they are devoted.

Close by stood a small public-house, of which Charles Dickens tells us, that when a very young boy, he lounged in there and asked for a glass of ale, which the kind-hearted landlady gave him, after sundry inquiries as to his name, age, and belongings, and into the bargain a kiss, "half-admiring, halfcompassionate, but all womanly and good, I am sure."

With respect to this highly historical neighbourhood, Pope, as usual, minutely accurate in details, thus writes in a spirit of prophecy, which, it is needless to say, has never yet been quite fulfilled to the letter:—
"Behold! Augusta's glittering spires increase,
And temples rise, the beauteous works of peace.
I see, I see, where two fair cities bend
Their ample bow, a new Whitehall ascend;
There mighty nations shall enquire their doom,
The world's great oracle in times to come:
There kings shall sue, and suppliant states be seen
Once more to bend before a British Queen."
And yet, after all, the seer may be regarded as not so very wide of the mark, if we interpret a "new Whitehall" to mean the new Houses of Parliament, and the new Foreign, Indian, and Colonial Offices, which have lately risen on the Park side of Whitehall, and have well nigh effaced the narrow and close cul de sac of Downing Street.

Before closing our remarks on Whitehall, we may state that in September, 1718, De Foe, then busy in the midst of politics, secular and religious, started the Whitehall Evening Post, a newspaper consisting of two leaves, in small quarto, and published on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. De Foe was connected with it till June, 1720, but the paper continued to exist for many years after this date. Whether it was actually published at Whitehall, or near to it, is not known, but it is probable that it was connected with the courtly locality through some of its contributors.

It must be remembered that before the middle of the eighteenth century, nearly every house in the leading streets of London and Westminster had its sign. Thus an observer in the reign of James I. remarks: "On the way from Somerset House to Charing Cross we pass the 'White Hart,' the 'Red Lion,' the 'Mairmade,' the 'iii Tuns,' 'Salutation,' the 'Graihound,' the 'Bell,' and the 'Golden Lyon;' in sight of Charing Cross, the 'Garter,' the 'Crown,' the 'Bear and Ragged Staffe,' the 'Angel,' the 'King Harry (sic) Head.'" It is almost needless to add that all trace and nearly every record of these house signs have long since disappeared before the onward march of the prosaic spirit of modern progress. "The houses in the West-end, in 1685, were not numbered," writes Macaulay; "there would, indeed, have been very little advantage in numbering them, for of the coachmen, chairmen, porters, and errand-boys of London only a small proportion could read, and it was necessary to use marks which the most ignorant could understand. The shops were therefore distinguished by painted or sculptured signs, which gave a gay and grotesque aspect to the streets." If the walk from Charing Cross to Whitechapel lay through an "endless succession of 'Saracens' Heads,' 'Royal Oaks,' 'Blue Bears,' and 'Golden Lambs,' which disappeared when they were no longer required for the direction of the common people," the same, in a certain degree, must have been true of the walk from Charing Cross to Westminster Abbey.