Views of Whitehall from St. James's Park

Pages 101-104

Survey of London: Volume 14, St Margaret, Westminster, Part III: Whitehall II. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1931.

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By the kindness of the Earl of Berkeley, of Mary, Countess of Ilchester, and of the Viscountess Astor, the Council is enabled to reproduce in this volume three oil-paintings depicting Whitehall from St. James's Park at various dates in the reign of Charles II. These views are not only very interesting in themselves, but, taken together in combination with other evidence, are of great importance in determining the early history of the buildings on the site of the rear portion of No. 10, Downing Street.

The first (Plate 2) is an oil-painting by Hendrick Danckerts, in the possession of the Earl of Berkeley. The picture (fn. n1) as a whole forms an admirable commentary on the plan of 1670 (Plate 1), and in the following account some of the correspondences are pointed out.

Towards the left end of the picture the most prominent building is the Banqueting House, and slightly further to the left, above the trees, the lantern of the Great Hall is visible. In front of the Banqueting House are several low buildings, indicated on the plan as partly adjoining, and partly within, the Tilt Yard. Immediately to the right of these is seen the gateway giving entrance to the Tilt Yard, and adjoining this are the Park Stairs leading up to the Tiltyard Gallery, the two flanking towers of which are shown in the plan. Behind is the Holbein Gate. Next to the Park Stairs are two long structures. The higher of the two, with dormer windows, obviously represents the rear portion of the Ormonde premises, while the other, with flat roof, is the northern part of the covered-in "Passage from the Park." The tall building behind, with high-pitched roof, must be the southern part of the Ormonde premises fronting the street. Adjoining is the turreted and battlemented structure of the old tennis-court, at this time the front portion of the Monmouth premises. Between this and the park is shown an old, low building, with a fenced garden. This is clearly indicated on the plan, immediately to the north of the Cockpit, and is almost certainly to be identified with the Duke of Monmouth's Nursery (see pp. 69–70). To the right of this is the Cockpit, with battlemented walls adorned with figures of animals, etc., on high pedestals, (fn. n2) and octagonal roof (fn. n3) surmounted by a lantern finished with a large vane. Rising behind the Cockpit roof is the octagonal, battlemented top of the round staircase, and to the right of this is another battlemented structure, probably to be identified with the rear portion of the Duke of Monmouth's lodgings on the south side of the Treasury Passage (see p. 69). Adjoining the Cockpit on the right is a three-storey building, running north to south, and in situation generally corresponding with the most westerly part of the Albemarle premises shown on the plan of 1670. It is not, however, the same building, but, as is shown on pp. 113 ff., a quite new building erected in 1671–3 for the Duke of Buckingham. On the extreme right of the picture may be seen the wall dividing St. James's Park from Hampden Garden, and the large house, with steep roof, behind the wall is in all probability Hampden House.

The foreground of the picture is full of life. Among the many figures is that of Charles II, striding fast, as was his custom, accompanied by his dogs, and attended by a train of courtiers, one of whom (either the Duke of York or Prince Rupert) is wearing a hat. Near the Tilt Yard is a detachment of soldiers in scarlet uniforms. "The colour carried at their head agrees with that mentioned by F. Sandwith, Lancaster Herald 1676–89, as the ensign of the Lieutenant-Colonel of the Coldstream Guards 'from 1670 or thereabout to 1683.' According to his description, the ensign was of 'blue taffeta with a plain white cross, surmounted by a cross of crimson or a cross of St. George.'" (fn. n4) The right-hand portion of the foreground is occupied by the eastern extremity of the ornamental water (The Canal). By it are deer, and it is covered with water fowl. "On the bank is a copy (in bronze) of the Borghese statue of a gladiator, executed at Rome by Hubert le Soeur, removed by Queen Anne to Hampton Court, and by George IV to Windsor." (fn. n5)

The date of the picture can be closely fixed. The fact that it shows the Duke of Buckingham's house, erected in 1671–3, but does not include the building erected by the Earl of Ossory next to the Park Stairs in 1674, (fn. n6) proves that it must lie between those dates. If, as seems probable, the low wall surmounted with railings shown in front of Buckingham's house, is that which was erected (fn. n7) shortly before May, 1674, the limits can be drawn still closer. In any case a date of 1674 may be regarded as approximately correct.

The second picture (Plate 3) is an oil-painting, by an unknown artist, in the possession of Mary, Countess of Ilchester. Its view-point is nearer to Whitehall than is Danckerts', and the ornamental water is accordingly not visible. The top of the Great Hall is seen over the buildings on the left, which include the Guard House, with clock turret, an earlier building than the present Horse Guards. The remainder of the view is very similar to that of Danckerts, but there are two important differences. (i) To the right of the Park Stairs is a house not shown in the earlier view. There can be no doubt that this is the building which in February, 1674, was ordered to be erected for the Earl of Ossory. (ii) The old Cockpit has disappeared, and in its place is a four-storey brick building. In the foreground are several figures, among which a black woman and a black page are prominent.

The date of the picture can be fixed within fairly close limits. The fact that the Ossory building is shown requires a date not earlier than the latter part of 1674, and the further fact that the view includes the Duke of Buckingham's house (not very clearly visible), which had been pulled down and an entirely different building erected on its site by the beginning of 1677, shows that the picture cannot be much later than the middle of 1676. It may be described as circa 1675–6.

The third picture (Plate 4) is an oil-painting, ascribed to Thomas Van Wyck, (fn. n8) in the possession of the Viscountess Astor. It is taken from a slightly more westerly position than is the preceding view, and shows the eastern end of the ornamental water and the figure of the Gladiator, but in other respects the contents of the two pictures are almost identical. The most marked difference consists in the fact that the Duke of Buckingham's house, erected in 1671–3, has disappeared, and has been replaced by a four-storey building, of which only a small portion is visible. This building (see p. 116) was already in existence in the early part of 1677. The picture, which is obviously later than the one reproduced in Plate 3, must date at the earliest from 1676, and, if the ascription to Thomas Van Wyck is correct, cannot be later than the early months of 1677, for Van Wyck died at Haarlem in August of that year. If the ascription is incorrect, there is nothing, so far as the buildings shown in the view are concerned, to prevent the adoption of any date between 1676 and 1698, when the Great Hall (the top of which is visible in the picture) was destroyed.

A portion of a very similar picture, engraved by Rawle for J. T. Smith's Antiquities of Westminster, and stated to be then (1804) in the possession of Dr. Charles Gower, is reproduced on p. 104.

In this view "is represented a man walking, with his hat on, and his hands behind him, so like Charles II in figure and appearance, as to leave scarcely any doubt of its being intended for him, especially when it is observed that every man there introduced (of which, besides the figure in question, there are five) is, together with the only boy in it, all uncovered, and with their hats in their hands." (fn. n9) The view-point of the picture is much more distant from Whitehall than any of the preceding, and the figure of the Gladiator appears in the angle between the building on the site of the Cockpit and the 1677 building, of which somewhat more is shown than in Plate 4.

Figure 104:

View of Whitehall from St. James's Park, circa 1677.

From engraving by S. Rawle in J. T. Smith's Antiquities of Westminster

In the absence of any information as to the painter it is not possible to fix the date more closely than some time between 1676 and 1685, the year in which Charles II died. In this case, as in that of Plate 4, circa 1677 would suit the facts.

Reference may here be made to another picture by Danckerts, reproduced in the issue of Country Life for 6th June, 1931. The chief feature in the foreground of the picture is a six-horsed coach. The Ossory house is shown, as is also the building on the site of the Cockpit. Whether the Duke of Buckingham's house was still in existence, it is impossible to say, for whatever lay to the south of the Cockpit site is blotted out by the avenue of trees depicted also in Plates 3, 4. The view cannot be earlier than the latter part of 1674, nor later than 1679, when Danckerts returned to Holland.


  • n1. An engraving of the picture, by Mazell, is contained in Pennant's Some Account of London.
  • n2. The Chapel Royal was similarly adorned, see Survey of London, Vol. XIII, p. 54.
  • n3. This representation of the Cockpit roof should be compared with Wyngaerde's sketch (Plate ).
  • n4. Note by Dr. Philip Norman in the Catalogue of Pictures and Drawings of Old London, Burlington Fine Arts Club, 1920.
  • n5. Ibid.
  • n6. See p. 56. Unfortunately, the date is not certain. The order to Wren to erect the building is dated "Feb. first 1674," which normally would be interpreted "1674–5." As, however, the order is inserted in the volume (L.C. 5/140) between two warrants dated respectively 6th May, 1674, and 23rd April, 1674, and as the latest date, other than that in question, of any document in the volume is 30th August, 1674, it is probable that the date intended is 1673–4.
  • n7. The Works Accounts for May, 1674, contain references to payments: "To Isaack Corner for underpinning with brick worke the Pallisadoe pales sett up in St. Jameses Parke before the new building at the Cockpitt, containing one hundred twentie two fote in length, ij foote ii j inches high, one bricke thicke, and wrought faire on both sides … To John Angier for vij rodds and eleaven fot of Pallisado pales, doores and posts measured in and sett upp in St Jameses Parke before the new building at the Cockpitt." (P.R.O., Works, 5/23.)
  • n8. According to Pilkington (Dictionary of Painters) a picture by Van Wyck of the Parade in St. James's Park, "with Charles II and his courtiers walking in the Mall [?]," was in the possession of the Earl of Burlington. Walpole (Anecdotes of Painting, 1888 edn., II, p. 234) alludes to the picture as "a view of the Parade, with Charles II, his courtiers and women in masks, walking. The statue of the Gladiator is at the head of the canal." He does not, however, ascribe it to Van Wyck. The description does not agree with the view reproduced in Plate , but Van Wyck may have painted more than one picture of Whitehall from the Park.
  • n9. J. T. Smith's Antiquities of Westminster, p. 26.