Westminster and Buckingham Palace

Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square

A very handy starting point for tours of London is Trafalgar Square, named after Lord Nelson’s famous victory in 1805; his statue (17 feet high) crowns the pillar rising from the centre of the square (total height 170 feet). Along the north-west side of the square extends the National Gallery of Art, with the National Portrait Gallery behind it; in the north-east corner is the church of St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields, built 1721—6, when the site was obviously more rural. On the east side of the square are the London offices of the Government of South Africa; on the west those of Canada and the Royal College of Physicians. The square is a very popular place for meetings and demonstrations; at other times the pigeons and the fountains provide the entertainment.

Horse guards

Horse guards

The fine view down Whitehall to the Houses of Parliament leaves no doubt about the direction of our first walk, so we proceed past the excellent statue of Charles I and the Admiralty Arch, through which we have a glimpse of Buckingham Palace, to the building which for so long housed the Admiralty. Across the road, a little further down, is the building which was long the home of the War Office; both these offices are now part of the Ministry of Defence as also is the large modern building still further down which was erected as Air Ministry Headquarters. On the right, however, attention is claimed by the mounted sentries before the Horse Guards – it is a moot point whether the horses or the riders are more motionless among  the crowd of visitors, mostly with cameras, who throng round them. Across the road is the Banqueting House of the old Palace of Whitehall; a charming work by Inigo Jones. More government offices follow, and then comes

10, DOWNING STREET

10, DOWNING STREET

Downing Street on the right, a short thoroughfare containing the famous No. 10, residence of the Prime Minister, No. 11, that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and No. 12, of the Government Chief Whip. On the left is the Foreign Office building.

Returning to Whitehall we have before us the Cenotaph commemorating those who fell in both World Wars. Across the road a narrow lane leads to Scotland Yard, long the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police (now in Victoria Street) and then ahead the view widens to include the whole frontage of the Palace of Westminster, better known as the Houses of Parliament although the Palace also accommodates numerous parlia­mentary offices and committee rooms. At the north end of the block is the clock tower (316 feet high), familiar around the world from the sound of the bell (Big Ben) on which the hours and quarters are struck. The clock-or rather the bell-on which the hours are struck was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, who was Commissioner of Works in 1858 when the clock was made. It is reached by 374 steps. The dials are 23 feet in diameter, the figures 2 feet long and the minute spaces 1 foot square. The-minute hands are 14 feet long and weigh about 2 cwt.; the hour hands are 9 feet long and weigh much more. The pendulum is 13 feet long.

THE HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT AND WESTMINSTER BRIDGE

THE HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT AND WESTMINSTER BRIDGE

When the House is sitting a flag flies from the top of the tower by day, and if the House is sitting after dark a light can be seen shining from just above the clock. Entrance for visitors to the Houses of Parliament is at the far end of the block, by the Royal Arch below the Victoria Tower. Guides conduct parties through the Royal Gallery to the House of Lords, with the famous Woolsack on which the Lord Chancellor sits. Then by the Peers’ Lobby to the Central Lobby, passing historical frescoes, and on to the Commons Lobby and the House of Commons. At the far end is the Speaker’s Chair; on his right are the government benches, the opposition sitting on his left. We return to the central lobby and descend to St. Stephen’s Hall, with more frescoes, and then to Westminster Hall, one of the oldest buildings in London, having been built by William Rufus. The roof was added by Richard II and it has been calculated that the trees which provided the main timbers were growing in Sussex as early as the 6th century. Unfortunately death-watch beetles have since been at work.

Before crossing to St. Margaret’s Church, turn back to the Jewel Tower, opposite the archway by which we entered the Houses of Parliament. This little tower was built in 1365-6 to provide a treasury for the private jewels and vessels belonging to Edward III and it was so used until the death of Henry VIII, after which it was put to various uses until its recent restoration by the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works. It is the only surviving building of the ancient private palace of the kings of England. Now return towards Parliament Square, on the corner of which is St. Margaret’s, ‘the Parish Church of Parliament’. Its interesting glass includes modern panels by John Piper and some of the monuments are of particular interest to Americans.

WESTMINSTER ABBEY

WESTMINSTER ABBEY

Westminster Abbey was founded by Edward the Confessor on the site of earlier buildings but the present church was begun a century later. Kings and queens have been crowned here since William the Conqueror; they have been married and buried here with numerous of their illustrious subjects, and the Abbey remains the most important church in Britain. At the west end of the nave is the grave of the Unknown Warrior, with the chapel of the Unknown Warrior in the south-west corner. At the east end, beyond the Sanctuary, is Edward the Confessor’s Chapel, almost filled by his huge tomb, and here too is the famous Coronation Chair with the Stone of Scone below the seat. East again is Henry Vll’s Chapel, glorious with vaulted roof and swords and banners of Knights of the Bath and at the east end is the beautiful metal screen around the tomb of Henry VII and his wife, Elizabeth of York. By comparison, the Royal Air Force Chapel with the Battle of Britain Memorial is severely restrained.

From the Cloisters a passage leads to the octagonal Chapter House, dating from 1250. From 1377 to 1547 it was the meeting place of the House of Commons. The adjoining Chapel of the Pyx was so named because here, in a pyx, or box, were kept the standard gold and silver coins. Beyond it is the Norman Undercroft where are assembled a series of wax effigies of notable persons buried in the Abbey. Such figures were carried in funeral processions and can almost certainly be accepted as contemporary and almost lifelike reproductions.

From the west door of the Abbey we look across to the domed Central Hall, a Methodist building used, on account of its size, for many other purposes. On our left in Dean’s Yard is Church House, ‘the central business house of the Church of England’. Westminster School, refounded by Queen Elizabeth in 1560, is celebrated for its Shrove Tuesday custom of tossing the pancake and scrambling for pieces of it: the boy getting the largest piece being rewarded with a guinea by the Dean. Our way is ahead down Victoria Street, where are the offices of many famous engineering firms and the new headquarters of the Metropolitan Police. Those who do not wish to visit the Roman Catholic Cathedral can turn right here past St. James’s Park Station and, noting charming little Queen Anne’s Gate on the right, reach St. James’s Park, where Buckingham Palace is seen on the left.

Just beyond the new Police HQ is Caxton Hall, used for public meetings. The adjoining Registrar’s Office is the scene of many popular weddings.

WESTMINSTER CATHEDRAL

WESTMINSTER CATHEDRAL

On the other side of Victoria Street the little street known as Strutton Ground leads towards the Royal Horticultural Hall, where the Royal Horticultural Society arrange almost continuous shows throughout the year. Passing the large Army and Navy Stores we are suddenly confronted with a full-length view of the 273 foot tower of the Roman Catholic Westminster Cathedral. It was begun from designs by J. F. Bentley in 1895. The interior is lavishly decorated with marble and mosaics. In the Crypt are the tombs of Cardinals Wiseman and Manning. Splendid views can be enjoyed from the top of the tower which is served by a lift.

BUCKINGHAM PALACE

BUCKINGHAM PALACE

Return to Victoria Street and turn left to the busy crossroads facing Victoria Railway station. On the left, Vauxhall Bridge Road leads down to the Thames near the Tate Gallery, but we turn right along Buckingham Palace Road. Soon the wall surrounding the Palace garden comes in sight and then the door to the picture galleries, and as we round the corner we are faced by the familiar frontage of Buckingham Palace. The building ori­ginated in a mansion built in 1703 by the Duke of Buckingham. It was re­stored by Nash and in 1913 was given a new front designed by Sir Aston Webb. The Royal picture collection is open to visitors daily and the Royal Mews on Wednes­days to those who have written in advance for permission. The Palace and grounds cover nearly 40 acres. Large crowds of visitors usually gather to watch the Changing of the Guard at 11.30 a.m.

Thegreat white marble memorial before the palace commemorates the reign of Queen Victoria. To the north, the Green Park extends up to Piccadilly; ahead the tree-lined Mall runs straight to the Admiralty Arch, passing Lancaster House,St.James’sPalace and Marlborough House.

ST. JAMES'S PARK

ST. JAMES’S PARK

To the south of the Mall is St. James’s Park, one of the prettiest in London, with a lake and a nice collection of waterfowl. At the end of the Park you will see the lofty monument of the brave old Duke of York, and then by walking under the Admiralty Arch we are back again at our starting point in Trafalgar Square.

NEW BRIDGE, ST. JAMES'S PARK

NEW BRIDGE, ST. JAMES’S PARK

As already mentioned, the north side of the square is bounded by the National Gallery, which has been well described as ‘an incomparable collection representing all schools of European painting from the 13th to the 19th century’. There is an admirable series of handbooks and catalogues and lectures (free) are regularly given in accordance with programmes available at the bookstall. The National Portrait Gallery lies immediately behind the National Gallery, the collection containing some 4,000 paintings, drawings, busts, and miniatures of men and women of the past.

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