Banqueting House Pictures

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There follows down Whitehall the Foreign Office, mid Victorian pile, and the outcome of a long architectural saga designed by Gilbert Scott as Gothic, vetoed by Palmerston who wanted Italian; the architect countered by a face saving compromise, involving Byzantine elements, which Palmerston threw out as “a regular mongrcl afiair,” and Gilbert Scott after much expense on source books and homework produced reluctantly the present building in North Italian, an elaborately fronted palazzo lavishly inset with portrait medallions (it is now1964to be demolished).

And then the colossal block built round two courtyards and finished in, home of the Ministry of Housing and Local GovcmmcnJ overspilb from ihe Treasury, and ocher office, and with its southern flank bordering Parliament Square. Both the buildup, are of a complexly sombre surface texture, pointed happily by governmental window boxes, admirable backdrops to the highly coloured ceremonial of Whitehall on great occasions.

On the other (river) side of the road, reverting back to the War Office, is the Banqueting House, one of the most important buildings in the history of English architecture. It bean its importance, however, with a discretion that is almost self effacing thousands of people must have passed down Whitehall without seeing it. Built by Inigo Jones, starting in 1619, it was the first building within London to be conceived and earned out in the classic Italian tradition; before it, English architecture had slapped classical raotife happily about its structures, but not integrated them.

It does not look particularly big now, small even alongside its neighbours, two main stories only, but in the seventeenth and even eighteenth century prints it looms high above Whitehall and seems to rival Westminster Abbey. It has never quite been integrated into its surroundings, but rather remained through three and a half ccnturics almost a sample of style.

It is in fact essentially a hall, compact and self contained and self sufficient, its exterior composed in two stories of seven windows divided up by Ionic demi columns below and Corinthian pilasters above. U has symmetry, and a cool dignity of restraint, and a lovely delicacy across the slight advance and withdrawal of its facade, its expression. It was also one of the first, if not the first, big buildings in London in Portland stone; it is Portland stone that is a major ingredient in many of the more magic effects of the London townscapc, for it darkens in London dirt from the ground upwards, and then, where the rain catches it, for ever washes itself.

The shadowy modulation of Portland stone, touched in its deepest shadows with a sooty richness, ranging on its surfaces from purplish to ochre tones, lifts gradually in the spires and pinnacles and domes into a pallor that in certain lights, in certain hazes, becomes all but insubstantial as though the architecture were still floating in the first glimpse of the artist’s imagination. However, the Banqueting House itself has now been cleaned.

Inside, the Banqueting House has been used and abused through the centuries; for masques and feasts; as passage for Charles I in the last moments of hit life on hit way to the window in a now demolished annex that gave on to the scaffold outside (was it too from the Banqueting House that later, after the Restoration, the funeral effigy of Cromwell was hanged by the neck?).

1890 it was granted to the Royal United Service Institution as museum.

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