This walk, which takes in most of the famous Royal Palaces, as well as Parliament and the Seat of the Church, Lambeth Palace, focuses on the history of power. Three figures - the Monarch, The Prime Minister and The Archbishop of Canterbury have held the balance of power in England - each more or less in control for a period.
1) We start in
Trafalgar Square, where atop his column sits
Lord Nelson - if it was not for him
Trafalgar Square would be in Paris. Nowadays
his worse enemies are not the French, but
the pigeons which infest the square, Nelson
has had to be coated in a special paint to
protect him from their droppings. However
the new Mayor, determined to 'tidy up' the
square has banned the pigeon-food vendors.
Feeding Trafalgar Square's pigeons is now
illegal in what is widely seen as a move to
earn money from fining tourists, as councils
do already with their anti-social parking
restrictions and other bye-laws. You don't
have to show your passport and if the
attendants get stroppy, give a false name.
In the Northeast corner of the Square is St Martins-in-the-Fields, which like St Germain in Paris used to be out in the country. It's the official exact centre of London (a plaque marks the spot), the architecture dates from 1722, but there's been a church here since about 1000. Buried there are Hogarth, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Chippendale. The Academy of St Martins in the Fields is named after it, though that's the only association (they once used to rehearse here) - the oft advertised concerts are not usually up to that group's high standard.
The north side of the square is made up by the National Gallery, but we're going to be taking Whitehall out of the South side. Look right at the bottom of the square, through Admiralty Arch you can see Buckingham Palace at the end of The Mall - our walk's final destination. The Arch belongs to the Admiralty though candidates for the Secret Services are interviewed here. Whitehall - synonymous with Government - was actually the site of Charles I's Palace, where Samuel Pepys used to come on Naval business to his successor - he is credited with the making of the Navy as we know it - Nelson would not be on his column if it weren't for him. The admiralty building is on the right side of the street - closed to tourists, but inside is a magnificent quad. It was built in 1722, incorporating elements of an earlier building by Wren. Britain's Navy is 'The Senior Service' - it was no co-incidence that James Bond was a Naval Commander - sailors sit atop the tree of military power.
Next down on your right is 2) Horseguards - you can smell it before you get to it - home of the mounted division of the Queen's bodyguard. There are usually guards on duty outside the building between 10:00 and 16:00 in their characteristic helmets with plumes of horsehair. They're relieved every hour - and the butt of much tourist attention (their sangfroid is absolute) while they're on duty. Through the arch is their Parade, where the Queen annually inspects the troops (on her official birthday) in a pageant of military history. Only members of the Royal Family are permitted to drive through the arch. But we'll continue down Whitehall to visit 3) The Banqueting House - the last remainder of Whitehall Palace.
It was designed by Inigo Jones and dates from 1622 - the magnificent ceiling painting is by Reubens. Charles I walked out to his execution here, and Charles II celebrated the Restoration here as a sop to the Puritans. Charles I's head was cut off outside the fourth window from the right, at first floor level.
port of call is where political heads roll -
Margaret Thatcher's rolled here at No
10 Downing Street when she was deposed
by a palace coup. Although the Premier
traditionally lives at No 10, Tony Blair,
father of four, lives in No 11 - the
Chancellor's house, because there's more
room. When a new Prime
Minister comes into power, s/he visits the
Queen at Buckingham Palace, then has a
victory ride back to No 10 - followed by the
television cameras. Sadly public access is
limited due to the current vogue for
In the middle of the road is the Cenotaph, where the dead of the wars are remembered, in a ceremony attended by the good and great on Armistice day. Looming over it you'll see the tower of Big Ben - the name actually refers to the large bell within. The tower is called St Steven's Tower. You can set your watch by it - everyone else does. The thirty-nine steps are here and allegedly provide a sniper with a clear shot at the PM, if you believe the novel by John Buchan. Between 1859 and 1913 when it went automatic, it used to take two men 32 hours to wind up the clock - the pendulum is regulated by the addition of pennies. Women's Suffrage campaigner Emily Pankhurst was the last person to be incarcerated in the prison cell at the bottom of the tower, in 1902.
Houses of Parliament are a crowning glory of
the Thames, but
until the river was cleaned up, the stench
from the leatherworks at the Tower was such
that several times MPs had to stop sitting,
nowadays it's the smell of intrigue that
wafts through the corridors. Bits of the
building go back before 1066, but the only
bits that survived the fire of 1834 are the
Hall & cloisters, and the Jewel Tower.
The current building dates from 1832,
architecture by Barry, decorative bits by
Pugin - the greatest of the Victorian
ornamentalists - who even designed the
inkwells on the politicians' desks.
Bombed during the war, it was restored in
1950. You can visit - join one of the
queues - for either Lords or Commons. The best time to visit
is during Prime Minister's Question Time -
when political sparring occurs across the
floor of the house. However tickets for this
quipfest are like gold dust - it's virtually
impossible to get into PMQs without a ticket
from an MP or friendly Commons staffer;
people queuing don't normally get in before
4-4.30pm. If you just want to see the
chamber of the House, it's quicker to come
later in the evening when the queue's
6) Across from Parliament is the gothic fantasy of Old St Thomas' Hospital - which is with St Pancras Station the most Ghormenghastly piece of architecture in London. Although it was founded in the 12th century where Guy's hospital now stands in The Borough (see Walk one). It's named after St Thomas a Beckett who was disposed of in an unfortunate 'accident' in Canterbury Cathedral and canonised in 1173. The accounts show that the cook doubled as a gravedigger in 1583 at a salary of £1. Most of the current buildings date from 1871. The hospital food still tastes as if it was cooked by a gravedigger, according to the students. Florence Nightingale established her school of nursing here, and the nurses in the wards are still referred to as Nightingales (behind their backs).
Next to Tommy's is 7)Lambeth Palace, the seat of the Church separated from the State by a river and an act of Parliament. Built in 1200 - with Gothic additions in 1830. You can go in by arrangement with a vicar (your local one has to write a letter) but it's shortly to be opened to the public.
We stray away from the river to visit 8) Smith Square with its exquisite houses on the East side. It's the headquarters of the Conservative Party. The church in the middle is actually a concert-house that specialises in Baroque music.
Leave Smith Square at its Northeast corner, by Gayfere St, and diagonally opposite on the left hand side is Tufton St, which leads us, past an oddball Ecclesiastical outfitters, which makes the robes for the Archbishop of Canterbury, to 9)Dean's yard, which we enter by the gate to the right of the large arch. See also Little Dean's Yard. Westminster Abbey Choir School is on the west side, and if you're lucky you'll see the choirboys parading out in their uniforms for a service - usually just before 1700. Edward Gibbon's aunt used to live here. There are guided tours of the historic school during the summer holidays.
By now you may be wanting to stop for
refreshment - most of the pubs around this
area are renowned for having a division bell
- MPs are allowed to leave the Commons
during a debate but (especially
if the whips are at work) must return for
the vote at the end. Given the absolute
tedium on some of the more arcane bills
before the house, they often nip out for a
swift pint. When the vote (or 'division') is
about to take place a special bell is rung -
not only in Parliament but anywhere that has
a relay installed within the 'division bell
area' - ie: where MPs can get back to vote
within 10 minutes. So, if you're drinking in
a pub nearby and a bell rings and several
curmudgeonly types rush out suddenly you'll
know where they're going. One such pub is
the Storey's Wine bar on Storey's Gate which
is between the Methodist Central Hall and
the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre -
opposite Westminster Abbey.
Carrying on we return to Parliament Square and head for the northeast corner, diagonally opposite from the entrance to Parliament, where a short road - St George Street leads off towards the park. We follow that until the park, when we turn right and walk along Horseguards Road - on our right is 11) the Cabinet War Rooms, where Churchill planned the end of Nazism. During the war their existence and location were top secret, but today anyone can visit. They have been left exactly as they were in 1945, with Churchill's chamber pot still visible. They are run by the Imperial War Museum.
Opposite the entrance to the War rooms you'll see the pelicans of St James' park on a small island in the lake. They are descendants of a pair presented by Russia in the 1650s.The park was once a hog-rearing ground for a leper colony (now St James' Palace) and has come on somewhat since then. Elizabeth I used to hunt here and Charles II used to play Pell Mell here - a kind of cross between basketball and golf - from which Pall Mall (properly pronounced Pell Mell) takes it's name. The park was by the 1760s a favourite haunt of prostitutes and as such features in many plays of the period. We'll walk towards Buckingham Palace along the lakeside, then turn right to cross the bridge.
The view from the bridge is one of the most sublime in London and has been made, in 2000, a protected view - the domes and turrets of Whitehall cresting the fountain - you might think you were in a country park - it's at its best after 18:00 on a sunny day. We cross the bridge and continue straight on to The Mall, cross over and turn right back towards admiralty arch. On our left is a flight of stairs looked over by a statue of George VI, which we take. At the top in a square is the official residence of The Foreign Secretary. We emerge onto Carlton Terrace, home of the Turf Club, one of the most exclusive, in money terms, Gentlemen's clubs in London.
12) The gardens that back onto Carlton Terrace are attached to the various gentlemen's clubs that line Pall Mall - left onto a road named Carlton Gardens and you emerge on that august thoroughfare - on our immediate right is the Reform club where Phineas Fogg set out to go round the world in 80 days. All the clubs are members only, but from the top of the stairs you can see the Florentine Courtyard within and the interior architecture is apparent through the windows. It was formed in 1832 and designed by Barry who did the Houses of Parliament. The head chef Alexis Soyer, a celebrity in his day, designed the kitchens. This club, for liberals, was one of the first to go mixed, in 1981. Stella Rimmington - former head of MI5, and on whom the current 'M' in James Bond films is modeled is a member - strange as she presided over a very illiberal regime of secret policing. More on Gentlemen's clubs
Heading down Pall Mall - in the direction
of the traffic flow, we pass other clubs,
the RAC and the Oxford
and Cambridge. Flambeaux
are lit outside clubs on special occasions.
A plaque on the wall indicates a house where
Charles II installed Nell Gwynne - an orange
seller from the South Bank (see Walk One)
who he made his mistress. He was living in
St James' Palace at the time so she was
always on hand should he need close
conference with her.
On the other corner of Pall Mall, a few
metres down Marlborough Road is the pale
yellow building of the Queen's Chapel - the
first classical church in England. It's part
of the Royal Palaces complex, but
politically and socially separate. It was
designed by Inigo Jones in 1623 as a catholic
chapel for various Queens imported from
Europe: Henrietta Maria, Catherine of
Braganza and Charlotte von Mecklenburgh. As
interbreeding continued between the royal
families of Europe, it's held services for
all religions outside outside the Church of
England tradition - Dutch reformed (William
& Mary) German Lutheran (for the
Hannoverians) and Danish (for Queen
Alexandra). Visiting times are posted
outside. You can attend services here in
summer, in Winter they are held in the
Chapel Royal in St James' Palace - the only
way for tourists to get into either building
- services are at 08:30 and 11:15 on
Beyond St James' Palace as we proceed down
Cleveland St, is 15) Clarence
Palace of the Queen Mother. We walk round
the courtyard to its northwest corner where
a small passageway takes us into Green Park,
and turning left we walk down Queen's Walk
to 16) Buckingham Palace - the
official residence of the Queen in London.She hates living there (a
small apartment on the northern wing
provides for her needs) and most of the
building is used to receive official guests
- it's a kind of Royal Conference Centre.
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