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Edwardian London: III Whitehall
Posted on Jun 09, 2005 - 09:19 AM by Bill McCann

In 1905 the Pall Mall Magazine published a "little book [which] will appeal to all who wish to possess what is really a portfolio, in a handy form, of beautiful drawings and photographs of the marvellous New LONDON which is rising up around them day by day." The first part of the guide was effectively a guide book for the Londoner and the visitor alike, but a guide book with a difference, as it includes architect's drawings of the many new buildings and streets which were still at the planning stage. Our guide now takes us for a walk along Whitehall and points out the historical, such as the Banqueting Hall, and the wonder of the new, such as the War office where only one corner of the site forms a right angle!"



Whitehall and the New government Buildings

EMERGING FROM THE PROCESSIONAL ROAD THE TOURIST IS ADVISED TO MAKE HIS WAY DOWN WHITEHALL TOWARDS WESTMINSTER ABBEY, OBSERVING AS HE GOES THE SPLENDID NEW GOVERNMENT BUILDINGS WHICH ARE NOW IN PROCESS OF ERECTION.

The new admiralty Building on Whitehall.

One would have to look abroad, say to Munich or the west side of Paris, to find a parallel for the official building scheme which is fast making Whitehall a region of new and palatial administrative offices. As we emerge from the Processional Road, which Londoners will doubtless continue to call the Mall, if only for old affection's sake, the first structure to meet the eye is the new extension of the Admiralty offices. It is a broad and commanding elevation, with an amplitude of window space and a plain quadrangular scheme repeated through a series of floors. Though the visitor may find its vistas and corridors bewildering without due guidance, the plan is simplicity and transparency itself to the intimates, and the facility of access and departmental contact which results is a boon that only those can understand who have had control of urgent and important work on a wholesale scale.

Drummond's Bank, adjoining, is an institution dating from time when a Jacobite, like its founder, was more an alien in London than if he had come from France or the Low Countries. Cox's Bank, on the other side of Whitehall, is major Pendennis's bank, and as much the headquarters of military finance, in its way, as the War Office or that of the Paymaster General further down the street, in a more official capacity. On the opposite side again, and facing that quaint survival, the Horse Guards, is the new War Office building, already overshadowing, in its growing bulk, its neighbours and supporters, the Board of Trade offices on the north and the old Banqueting Hall on the south. This (the work of the memorable Inigo Jones) is now the Royal United Service Museum, and will remain in history as he last scene in the life of the "Martyr King," for it was here that Charles I. walked over from St. James's Palace to his execution one winter's morning two centuries and a half ago. There is controversy still as to which was the window by which he stepped upon the scaffold. This was erected at the same height as the first floor of the building, and as a contemporary prints show the grim ceremony at the northern end of the building, the particular window is in all probability the one on the first floor, to the extreme left as we see the building from Whitehall; and this presumptive evidence is pretty nearly all that we have.

The new War office looking towards the Houses of Parliament.

There is a pathetic fact to link the new War Office with the new Government offices at the corner of Parliament-street. In both cases the architects have passed away long before their plans could arrive within sight of completion. The late Mr. William Young, in the case of the War Office, had to provide almost every desideratum that was lacking in the old offices in Pall Mall- light, ventilation, the right co-ordination of many branches, and an exterior worthy of the building's purpose and importance, in spite of the irregularity of shape attaching to the site. By skilful planning, however, and by the clever use of round pavilions at the angles, the architect has, to a great extent disguised the inevitable irregularities of the building, and any observer of the completed structure is more likely to be impressed with the fine effect of the fa ade to Whitehall than with the fact that the four sides of the building are of unequal length, and only one of its angles is a right angle. The conversion of a row of degenerate old mansions- grimy with age, congested with the occupation of many tenants, and tinkered out of all shape and reason by many repairs into a new and stately pile, finds its exact analogy in the new Government offices overlooking Parliament-square. Previously the site was occupied by nests of Parliamentary lawyers, railway agents, and bill promoters, but the design now being carried out will supersede all these with a structure well worthy of the architect, the late Mr. J. M. Brydon. When the scheme is fully carried out the block will extend from Parliament-street right back to St. James's Park. Dignified and imposing though it be, the building itself will not, perhaps, arouse very great interest. One cannot always make a coherent and stately whole out of several floors parcelled out into several hundred offices, each with its window. The main elevations are, as has been said, a trifle commonplace: perhaps the architect has been limited by the necessity of making his building harmonise with its next-door neighbour the Home Office of Sir Gilbert Scott. But what is likely to strike the observer very forcibly is the splendid improvement which the erection of this block makes in the general appearance of this historic corner of the Metropolis.

Regarded broadly, the group of great buildings here the Houses of Parliament, with their stately towers and beautiful Gothic detail, the venerable Abbey, with St. Margaret's Church nestling at its side, and the imposing mass of the new Government offices will form as fine an architectural combination as is to be found in any city in the world.


The new Government Buildings on Whitehall.


 

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