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The letters of Peter Lombard (Canon Benham) online

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and Constitution Hill. Now let the reader fix his
attention on that narrow street.

On the north side, where the private garden ended,
it was as wide as it is now, in fact wider, for it opened
right into St. James's Park, but at the contraction,
Henry VIII. commissioned Holbein to build a gate
leading into the narrow part. This was known as
" Holbein's Gate," and the fine temporary gateway
which is being constructed by the Canadians for the
Coronation nearly occupies its site. At the other end
of this contracted street just where you turn into
Downing Street was another gate, and then came
King Street leading down to the Abbey.

Such was the original mass of buildings known as
old Whitehall, most irregular, but covering a very
large area, no less than twenty-three acres. Hampton
Court covers between eight and nine, St. James's
Palace four, Buckingham Palace not quite three.


Henry VIII. intended many more buildings ; so did
Queen Elizabeth, but it was James I. who really set
to work. Inigo Jones designed for him the building
which we now have facing the street. It is the only
part of the palace now standing, and was intended for
the Banqueting House.

This in his plan was one of the corners of a
magnificent quadrangle. Mr. Sheppard's book gives
a copy of the drawing (p. 22), but the design never
got beyond good intentions.

Charles I. had not money enough to go on, though he
employed Rubens to paint the roof of the Banqueting
Hall, as we see it still. Charles II. planned
a vast outlay at Winchester, a palace which should
surpass Versailles, and so Whitehall was left as it was.
The godless King kept up his revels there till death
suddenly laid hands on him, in the midst of his shame-
less and debauched life, on the 2nd of February, 1685.
James II. fled from Whitehall, on the 28th of
November, 1688.

Whitehall Palace was finally destroyed by fire, on
the 4th of January, 1698. A Dutch woman had left
some linen to dry before the fire, it caught, and after
a seventeen hours blaze the palace was a thing of the
past. The poor woman perished in the flames. The


Banqueting Hall alone survived, the sole relic of a
Whitehall that never rose out of the ground, the sole
relic of the Whitehall that was.

Of course the absorbing interest of this building lies
in its being the scene of the death of King Charles I.
* In the public street before Whitehall," was specified
in the death-warrant.

And though there is some doubt as to the exact spot
it is certain that the street in question was what we
call Parliament Street, and the probability is, that the
King came out of the middle window, on to the
scaffold. When he was brought there from St. James's
Park, on the fatal morning, he entered by the present
entrance on the north side, but was kept in a room at
the back for some time as the scaffold was not ready.
At the back of the building there stood a few years
ago a statue of James II., pointing with a baton to
the ground. It was the popular tradition that he
ordered this to be made, and purposely ordered
that he should be represented weeping, and that
the statue should be placed so that the baton should
be pointing to the place on which his father's hood
had fallen.

For many years I felt assured of the truth of that
tradition, and I claim for myself, that I urged this


upon Mr. Shaw Lefevre, in a conversation which I had
with him at the London Institution.

I think I may venture to say, that in consequence
of this, the statue was moved round to its present
position. It is as near the spot as it could be placed
under present conditions of the traffic. There used to
be a memorial stone on the spot under the scaffold,
but it disappeared more than a hundred years since.

In the reign of George I. (1724) the Banqueting
Hall was turned into a chapel, and was a "fashionable "
place of worship for many years. In 1890 it ceased
to be used, and Queen Victoria handed it over for the
United Service Museum, which purpose it still serves.
But I must yet take one more paper to bring our
procession down to the Abbey.

Tune 2Jth, 1902.

The rest of our Coronation perambulation is almost
over a desert. We had last time " Holbein's Gateway,"
on the left hand the wall of the Whitehall Garden,
and then another gateway leading into King Street.
King Street indeed, where is it now ? I can see King
Street with the eye of memory, as clearly as I see
to-day's Cheapside. But King Street is as clean gone
as Prospero's vision. They are building over the site
but haven't got above ground yet !


It is all Parliament Street now. But Parliament
Street is a new creation. When George II. ruled the
land, King Street was still the only road down to
Westminster. When His Majesty went to open
Parliament, he went down King Street, and Goldsmith
in his Citizen of the World tells how that it was in such
a disgraceful condition that they had to fill up ruts in
the roads with faggots, in order to allow His Majesty's
carriage to get along.

Parliament Street was made by Act of Parliament
in 1756. The site of that street previously was
covered with a labyrintrrof close, narrow lanes. Let
me give another personal reminiscence or two of even
this Parliament-street, which will show what differ-
ences can be made in one's own lifetime. One
autumn evening in 1856 I was passing a little watch-
maker's shop at the lower end of Parliament Street,
about a third of the size of the small room I am
writing in. I think the owner used to bring his wares,
or some of them, from home every day. Big
houses now cover the site of that little shop. On this
occasion a policeman was strictly guarding the door,
and there was a little crowd, but I didn't take much
notice. It was only the next morning that I learned
that a ruffian had entered the shop, knocked the poor


man on the head with a life-preserver, and helped
himself to jewellery. He was making off when a
passer-by happened to hear a groan inside, took in
the situation, and followed the robber. The latter
seeing this rushed down the ganglion of streets on
the left — they have nearly all gone now — for he was
in hopes that his knowledge of the neighbourhood
would favour his escape. But the pursuer stuck to
him, and when at length the hunted man emerged
into Great George Street, the other shouted to the
passers-by to seize him, and seized he was under
Canning's statue. Then the other had leisure to go
back and look after the poor victim. The latter died
but not for some days, and the murderer was hanged
just before Christmas.

There used to be a number of lateral streets lying
off Cannon-row, and reaching to the river bank, where
the Underground Railway is now. One of these was
Manchester Buildings. It was largely inhabited by
Members of Parliament, for living out of town had
not become so easy as it is now. Dickens tells how
Nicholas Nickleby went there to interview Mr.
Gregsbury, and offer himself as his secretary. Man-
chester Buildings, too, is gone. The National Society
had the living rooms of their Sanctuary students


there for several years. Then they went in for new
buildings in Victoria Street, and Prince Albert laid
the first stone in 1852. But difficulties arose, and not
another stone was ever placed. It stood there, a
solitary spectacle for months, and then at last was
removed. Victoria Street was opened in 185 1 ; it was
a long time before any houses were built in it.

But let us get back to King Street. On our right
first comes Downing Street, so called after Sir George
Downing, who was Secretary to the Treasury in the
reign of Charles II. There were a few houses in it
then with gardens at the back looking into the Park.
These houses belonging to the Downing family fixed
the name, but they were chiefly rented by Government
officials. They came at length to the Crown, and
George II. offered one to Sir Robert Walpole, who
would only accept it on the understanding that it
should be permanently attached to the Treasury. It
was in comparatively late years that the other houses
were merged in the Foreign and Colonial offices.
Smollett once practised as a surgeon here.

And so we leave the King at the Abbey.


Church Times, ^th August \ 1910.

For more than twenty years, with but few breaks,
this column has contained, week by week, the varied
and entertaining notes bearing the now familiar
signature " Peter Lombard." That pen of a ready
writer, so apt to set down on paper the outpourings
of a richly furnished mind, is laid aside. " Peter
Lombard " is dead. Dr. Benham, to give him his own
name, had been failing of late. The weight of all but
four-score years, to which was added a few years ago
the tragic death of a daughter, a Missionary of the
S.P.G., visibly pressed upon his bodily frame, and the
end came last Saturday. Yet, as our readers know, in
spite of failing health, his Varia went on. Last week,
however, we had to announce that he was not well
enough to send his weekly tale of Notes, but he sent
this message : — " Please give my loving regards to all


my readers. I hope they will join me in a prayer for
God's blessing on the Church." It was a beautiful
message. His thoughts were not for himself, but for
the Church which he had served faithfully with pen,
with voice, and with the active work of a priest.



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Online LibraryWilliam BenhamThe letters of Peter Lombard (Canon Benham) → online text (page 16 of 16)