Friday, 16 September 2016

"London's burning!"

Some fires have changed the face of London drastically - such as the burning of the old Houses of Parliament on 16th October 1834 - which paved the way for Charles Barry and Pugin's  Gothick Revival Palace of Westminster.  This view by an unknown artist is in the Parliamentary Art Collection and clearly shows the old buildings, but not perhaps the excitement of onlookers in another view from that collection.



From the Parliamentary Art Collection, by an unknown artist:


"Good God!  I am just returned from the terrific burning of the Houses of Parliament.  Mary and I went in a cab, and drove over the bridge.  From the bridge the view was sublime.  We alighted and went into a room of a public house, which was full.  The feeling among the people was extraordinary - jokes and radicalism universal."  Benjamin Haydon, artist, Memoirs.

Another landmark fire was the destruction of the old 'White Hall' Royal Palace on the fourth of January 1698.  The rambling labyrinthine Palace suffered at least two large fires in the 1690s, a smaller fire in April 1691, and the major conflagration in January 1698, leaving only Inigo Jones' separate Banqueting Hall intact.

Whitehall Palace from St James's Park   Hendrik Danckerts c. 1674-5
©  Government Art Collection

Here is the layout of Whitehall Palace, in John Fisher's Plan of 1680, stretching north from the Thames,  and from  Old Scotland Yard on the east  to Horse Guards and Treasury Passage on the west.  It shows the sprawl of buildings begun by Henry VIII and continued piecemeal under the Stuart monarchs, a warren of lodgings and courts old and new which housed a small city of courtiers, visitors, nobility, administrators and servants coming and going;  plans to rebuild a whole new Palace in the style of the Palladian Banqueting House (1619-25)   seen on the left in Danckerts' painting, were never realised.   

  Reduced copy of Fisher's Ground Plan of the Royal Palace of WhiteHall  -- 1608
© British Library

Charles Hatton wrote to Viscount Hatton his account of the fire:

 "last Tuesday I acquainted you that Whitehall was then in flames, which burnt till six of the clock next morning, and by that time had consumed all the buildings except the Banqueting House….  the fire broke out about three or four of the clock in a garret in the lodgings, as some say, of Colonel Stanley, next to the Lord Portland, occasioned by a Dutch serving maid laying a sack of charcoal so near the fire it all took fire, …. All persons were intent to save their goods, and all the gates locked up to prevent the mob coming in; and, when the houses were blown up… the timber and the rafters were laid bare and there wanted hands to remove them, so that instead of stopping the fire it helped to increase it.
All the buildings westward joining to the Banqueting House by being blown up about six of the clock on Wednesday morning saved that which remains as monument where the Blessed Martyr, King Charles the First, was murdered by his rebellious subjects.  God divert his just judgements!"  (6 January 1698*  Hatton Family Correspondence)

The Old Palace of Whitehall  Hendrik Danckerts  c. 1670s.© Government Art Collection

The palace was never rebuilt, as William III preferred Kensington for its healthy country air, or St. James's Palace in town.  The area was gradually built over through the 1700s and the remains of Henry VIII's wine cellar are now deep under the Ministry of Defence building.   












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