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Old War Office, Whitehall, London (©

History & Attractions

Stretching from Trafalgar Square to Downing Street, toward the Houses of Parliament, Whitehall is has been the seat of the British government for centuries. The British Empire was administered from here, and Winston Churchill had his own quarters in the Secret Rooms in the Cabinet War Rooms during WWII. The term "Whitehall" has become synonymous with the politically neutral Civil Service of the United Kingdom.

The name of the street comes from the Palace of Whitehall, which occupied most of the area in the 16th and 17th century. It was the main residence of the English monarchs in London from 1530 until 1698, when it was destroyed by a fire.

Banqueting House is the only surviving part of the palace. It was designed by Inigo Jones, and constructed between 1619 and 1622. It was the first truly Renaissance-style building in England, and Peter Paul Rubens (see Famous Flemish painters) was commissioned by Charles I to paint the ceiling panelling. Charles I was accused of treason by Cromwell and executed on 30 January 1649 on a scaffold erected against the building, and Royalists still commemorate the regicide annually on the anniversary of the execution.

The Ministry of Defence is located just behind Banqueting House, while Scotland Yard (i.e. the London Metropolitan Police) used to have its headquarters in Great Scotland Yard, in the north-east section of Whitehall. New Scotland Yard is now based in Broadway, a few hundred metres west of Parliament Square.

On the west side of Whitehall is the Horse Guards Parade, where the ceremonial change of the guards takes place everyday from 11am (10am on Sundays).

At the southern end of the parade is Downing Street, where the official residence of the prime ministers of the United Kingdom has been located (at Number 10) since Robert Walpole in 1732. The Chancellor of the Exchequer resides at Number 11. Sometimes a prime minister will only use 10 Downing Street for formal occasions and otherwise live elsewhere. The allocation of the houses has generally been flexible, with William Gladstone occupying Nos 10, 11 and 12 with his family. Currently, PM Tony Blair lives at the larger No 11, while Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown lives at No 10. Gates were installed at either end of the Street during the Premiership of Margaret Thatcher to protect against possible terrorist attack from the IRA.

Admiralty building on Horse Guards Parade, Whitehall (© Anthony Baggett |
Horse Guards Parade, Whitehall (© Anthony Baggett |

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