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Whitehall 2012.JPG
Whitehall pictured in 2012, with The Cenotaph and Monument to the Women of World War II in the middle of the carriageway, and the Elizabeth Tower housing Big Ben in the background.
Westminster London UK location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Location within Central London
Former name(s)The Street, King Street
Part ofA3212
Maintained by Transport for London
Length0.4 mi [1] (0.6 km)
Location Westminster, London, United Kingdom
Postal code SW1
Nearest Tube station
Coordinates 51°30′15″N0°07′35″W / 51.504167°N 0.126389°W / 51.504167; -0.126389 Coordinates: 51°30′15″N0°07′35″W / 51.504167°N 0.126389°W / 51.504167; -0.126389
North end Trafalgar Square
South end The Cenotaph
Known for

Whitehall is a road in the City of Westminster, Central London, which forms the first part of the A3212 road from Trafalgar Square to Chelsea. It is the main thoroughfare running south from Trafalgar Square towards Parliament Square. The street is recognised as the centre of the Government of the United Kingdom and is lined with numerous departments and ministries, including the Ministry of Defence, Horse Guards and the Cabinet Office. Consequently, the name 'Whitehall' is used as a metonym for the British civil service and government, and as the geographic name for the surrounding area.

City of Westminster City and borough in London

The City of Westminster is an Inner London borough that also holds city status. It occupies much of the central area of Greater London including most of the West End. Historically in Middlesex, it is to the west of the ancient City of London, directly to the east of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and its southern boundary is the River Thames. The London borough was created with the 1965 establishment of Greater London. Upon its creation, it inherited the city status previously held by the smaller Metropolitan Borough of Westminster from 1900, which was first awarded to Westminster in 1540.

Central London Innermost part of London, England

Central London is the innermost part of London, in the United Kingdom, spanning several boroughs. Over time, a number of definitions have been used to define the scope of central London for statistics, urban planning and local government. Its characteristics are understood to include a high density built environment, high land values, an elevated daytime population and a concentration of regionally, nationally and internationally significant organisations and facilities.

A roads in Zone 3 of the Great Britain numbering scheme class of road in Great Britains Zone 3

List of A roads in zone 3 in Great Britain starting west of the A3 and south of the A4.


The name was taken from the Palace of Whitehall that was the residence of Kings Henry VIII through to William III, before its destruction by fire in 1698; only the Banqueting House survived. Whitehall was originally a wide road that led to the front of the palace; the route to the south was widened in the 18th century following the destruction of the palace.

Palace of Whitehall building in the City of Westminster, London

The Palace of Whitehall at Westminster, Middlesex, was the main residence of the English monarchs from 1530 until 1698, when most of its structures, except for Inigo Jones's Banqueting House of 1622, were destroyed by fire. It had at one time been the largest palace in Europe, with more than 1,500 rooms, overtaking the Vatican, before itself being overtaken by the expanding Palace of Versailles, which was to reach 2,400 rooms. The palace gives its name, Whitehall, to the street on which many of the current administrative buildings of the present-day British government are situated, and hence metonymically to the central government itself. At its most expansive, the palace extended over much of the area bordered by Northumberland Avenue in the north; to Downing Street and nearly to Derby Gate in the south; and from roughly the elevations of the current buildings facing Horse Guards Road in the west, to the then banks of the River Thames in the east —a total of about 23 acres (9.3 ha). It was about 710 yards (650 m) from Westminster Abbey.

Henry VIII of England 16th-century King of England

Henry VIII was King of England from 1509 until his death in 1547. He was the second Tudor monarch, succeeding his father Henry VII. Henry is best known for his six marriages, in particular his efforts to have his first marriage annulled. His disagreement with the Pope on the question of such an annulment led Henry to initiate the English Reformation, separating the Church of England from papal authority. He appointed himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England and dissolved convents and monasteries, for which he was excommunicated. Henry is also known as "the father of the Royal Navy"; he invested heavily in the Navy, increasing its size greatly from a few to more than 50 ships.

William III of England 17th-century Stadtholder, Prince of Orange and King of England, Scotland and Ireland

William III, also widely known as William of Orange, was sovereign Prince of Orange from birth, Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland and Overijssel in the Dutch Republic from 1672 and King of England, Ireland and Scotland from 1689 until his death in 1702. As King of Scotland, he is known as William II. He is sometimes informally known as "King Billy" in Northern Ireland and Scotland, where his victory at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 is still commemorated by Unionists and Ulster loyalists.

As well as government buildings, the street is known for its memorial statues and monuments, including Britain's primary war memorial, the Cenotaph. The Whitehall Theatre, now the Trafalgar Studios, has been popular for farce comedies since the mid-20th century.

Trafalgar Studios theatre in London, England

Trafalgar Studios, formerly the Whitehall Theatre until 2004, is a West End theatre in Whitehall, near Trafalgar Square, in the City of Westminster, London.

Whitehall farce

The Whitehall farces were a series of five long-running comic stage plays at the Whitehall Theatre in London, presented by the actor-manager Brian Rix, in the 1950s and 1960s. They were in the low comedy tradition of British farce, following the Aldwych farces, which played at the Aldwych Theatre between 1924 and 1933.

Geography and name

The name Whitehall was used for several buildings in the Tudor period. [2] It either referred to a building made of light stone, or as a general term for any festival building. This included the Royal Palace of Whitehall, which in turn gave its name to the street. [3]

Tudor period historical era in England coinciding with the rule of the Tudor dynasty

The Tudor period is the period between 1485 and 1603 in England and Wales and includes the Elizabethan period during the reign of Elizabeth I until 1603. The Tudor period coincides with the dynasty of the House of Tudor in England whose first monarch was Henry VII. In terms of the entire span, the historian John Guy (1988) argues that "England was economically healthier, more expansive, and more optimistic under the Tudors" than at any time in a thousand years.

The street is about 0.4 miles (0.64 km) long and runs through the City of Westminster. It is part of the A3212, a main road in Central London that leads towards Chelsea via the Houses of Parliament and Vauxhall Bridge. It runs south from Trafalgar Square, past numerous government buildings, including the old War Office building, Horse Guards, the Ministry of Defence, the Cabinet Office and the Department of Health. It ends at the Cenotaph, the road ahead being Parliament Street. Great Scotland Yard and Horse Guards Avenue branch off to the east, while Downing Street branches off to the west at the southern section of the street. [1]

Chelsea, London area of central London, England

Chelsea is an affluent area of South West London, bounded to the south by the River Thames. Its frontage runs from Chelsea Bridge along the Chelsea Embankment, Cheyne Walk, Lots Road and Chelsea Harbour. Its eastern boundary was once defined by the River Westbourne, which is now in a pipe above Sloane Square Underground station. The modern eastern boundary is Chelsea Bridge Road and the lower half of Sloane Street, including Sloane Square. To the north and northwest, the area fades into Knightsbridge and Brompton, but it is considered that the area north of King's Road as far northwest as Fulham Road is part of Chelsea.

Vauxhall Bridge arch bridge in central London

Vauxhall Bridge is a Grade II* listed steel and granite deck arch bridge in central London. It crosses the River Thames in a southeast–northwest direction between Vauxhall on the south bank and Pimlico on the north bank. Opened in 1906, it replaced an earlier bridge, originally known as Regent Bridge but later renamed Vauxhall Bridge, built between 1809 and 1816 as part of a scheme for redeveloping the south bank of the Thames. The original bridge was built on the site of a former ferry.

Trafalgar Square Public space and tourist attraction in central London

Trafalgar Square is a public square in the City of Westminster, Central London, built around the area formerly known as Charing Cross. Its name commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar, a British naval victory in the Napoleonic Wars over France and Spain that took place on 21 October 1805 off the coast of Cape Trafalgar.

The nearest tube stations are Charing Cross at the north end, and Westminster at the south. Numerous London bus routes run along Whitehall, including 12, 24, 53, 88, 159 and 453. [4]

Charing Cross tube station London Underground station

Charing Cross is a London Underground station at Charing Cross in the City of Westminster, England. The station is served by the Bakerloo and Northern lines and provides an interchange with Charing Cross railway station. It has entrances in Trafalgar Square, Strand and the mainline station. On the Bakerloo line it is between Embankment and Piccadilly Circus and on the Northern line Embankment and Leicester Square.

Westminster tube station London Underground station

Westminster is a London Underground station in the City of Westminster. It is served by the Circle, District and Jubilee lines. On the Circle and District lines, the station is between St. James's Park and Embankment, and on the Jubilee line it is between Green Park and Waterloo. It is in Travelcard Zone 1. The station is located at the corner of Bridge Street and Victoria Embankment and is close to the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Parliament Square, Whitehall, Westminster Bridge, and the London Eye. Also close by are Downing Street, the Cenotaph, Westminster Millennium Pier, the Treasury, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the Supreme Court.


Map of Whitehall in 1680, showing the Palace of Whitehall and Scotland Yard. To the west of Holbein Gate, the road was known as The Street. Whitehall1680.jpg
Map of Whitehall in 1680, showing the Palace of Whitehall and Scotland Yard. To the west of Holbein Gate, the road was known as The Street.

There has been a route connecting Charing Cross to Westminster since the Middle Ages; the 12th-century historian William Fitzstephen described it as "a continued suburb, mingled with large and beautiful gardens, and orchards belonging to the citizens". [5] The name Whitehall was originally only used for the section of road between Charing Cross and Holbein Gate; beyond this it was known as The Street as far as King Street Gate, then King Street thereafter. It had become a residential street by the 16th century, and had become a popular place to live by the 17th, with residents including Lord Howard of Effingham and Edmund Spenser. [2] [6]

The Palace of Whitehall, to the east of the road, was originally named York Palace, but was renamed during the reign of Henry VIII. [lower-alpha 1] The palace was redesigned in 1531–32 and became the King's main residence later in the decade. He married Anne Boleyn here in 1533, followed by Jane Seymour in 1536, and died at the palace in 1547. Charles I owned an extensive art collection at the palace [3] and several of William Shakespeare's plays had their first performances here. [8] It ceased to be a royal residence after 1689, when William III moved to Kensington Palace. The palace was damaged by fire in 1691, following which the front entrance was redesigned by Sir Christopher Wren. In 1698, most of the palace burned to the ground accidentally after a fire started by a careless washerwoman. [3]

Wallingford House was constructed in 1572 by William Knollys, 1st Earl of Banbury along the western edge of Whitehall. [9] It was subsequently used by Charles I. During the reign of William III, it was bought for the Admiralty. [10] The Old Admiralty Buildings now sit on the house's site. [9]

Whitehall, looking south in 1740: Inigo Jones' Banqueting House (1622) on the left, William Kent's Treasury buildings (1733-37) on the right, the Holbein Gate (1532, demolished 1759) at centre. A View of Whitehall, looking south, 1740.jpg
Whitehall, looking south in 1740: Inigo Jones' Banqueting House (1622) on the left, William Kent's Treasury buildings (1733–37) on the right, the Holbein Gate (1532, demolished 1759) at centre.

Banqueting House was built as an extension to the Palace of Whitehall in 1622 by Inigo Jones. It is the only surviving portion of the palace after it was burned down, and was the first Renaissance building in London. [11] It later became a museum to the Royal United Services Institute and has been opened to the public since 1963. [12]

Oliver Cromwell moved to the street in 1647, taking up residence in Wallingford House. [10] Two years later, Charles I was carried through Whitehall on the way to his trial at Westminster Hall. Whitehall itself was a wide street and had sufficient space for a scaffold to be erected for the King's execution at Banqueting House. [2] He made a brief speech there before being beheaded. [13] [lower-alpha 2] Cromwell died at the Palace of Whitehall in 1658. [3]

During the Great Plague of London in 1665, people boarded coaches at Whitehall, then at the edge of urban London, in an attempt to escape. The King and court temporarily moved to Oxford to avoid the plague, while Samuel Pepys remarked in his diary on 29 June, "By water to Whitehall, where the Court is full of waggons and people ready to go out of town. This end of town every day grows very bad with plague". [15]

By the 18th century, traffic was struggling along the narrow streets south of Holbein Gate, which led to King Street Gate being demolished in 1723. Holbein Gate, in turn, was demolished in 1759. Meanwhile, Parliament Street was a side road alongside the palace, leading to the Palace of Westminster. After the Palace of Whitehall was destroyed, Parliament Street was widened to match Whitehall's width. [16] The present appearance of the street dates from 1899 after a group of houses between Downing Street and Great George Street were destroyed. [2]

Government buildings

Map of Whitehall and surrounding streets, showing government buildings Whitehall OS OpenData map.png
Map of Whitehall and surrounding streets, showing government buildings

By the time the palace was destroyed, separation of crown and state had become important, with Parliament being necessary to control military requirements and pass laws. The government wanted to be some distance from the monarch, and the buildings around Whitehall, physically separated from St James's Palace by St James's Park, seemed to be a good place for ministers to work. [17]

The Horse Guards building was designed by William Kent, and built during the 1750s on a former tiltyard site, replacing an earlier guard-house erected during the Civil War. The building includes an archway for coach traffic and two pedestrian arches that provide access between Whitehall and Horse Guards Parade. The central archway is marked with "SMF" and "StMW", and denotes the boundary between St Martin-in-the-Fields and St Margaret's church parish boundaries. [18]

During the 19th century, as private leases ran out on residential buildings, ownership reverted to the Crown, which began to use them as public offices. [6] The name "Whitehall" is now used as a metonym to refer to that part of the civil service which is involved in the government of the United Kingdom. [2] The street's central portion is dominated by military buildings, including the Ministry of Defence, with the former headquarters of the British Army and Royal Navy, the Royal United Services Institute, the Horse Guards building and the Admiralty, on the opposite side. [18] Government buildings on Whitehall, from north to south, include The Admiralty Buildings, [2] the Department for International Development at No. 22, the Department of Energy and Climate Change at No. 55, [19] the Old War Office, [2] the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel at No. 36, [2] the Horse Guards, [2] the Ministry of Defence Main Building, [2] Dover House (containing the Scotland Office), [2] Gwydyr House (containing the Wales Office), [2] the Cabinet Office at No. 70, [20] the Foreign and Commonwealth Office [2] and the Government Offices Great George Street (HM Treasury, HM Revenue and Customs and parts of the Cabinet Office). [2]

View of the Horse Guards Building from Whitehall, showing the three arches that link it to Horse Guards Parade Horse Guards London.JPG
View of the Horse Guards Building from Whitehall, showing the three arches that link it to Horse Guards Parade

Scotland Yard, the headquarters of London's Metropolitan Police Service, was originally located in Great Scotland Yard off the north-eastern end of Whitehall. The buildings had been lodgings for the Kings of Scotland, on part of the old Palace of Whitehall's grounds; by the 19th century, Little and Middle Scotland Yard had been merged into Whitehall Place, leaving only Great Scotland Yard. No. 4 Whitehall Place had become vacant by the 1820s, which allowed Sir Robert Peel to use it as the main headquarters when forming the police in 1829. It was formally named the Metropolitan Police Office, but became quickly known as Great Scotland Yard, and eventually Scotland Yard. The buildings were damaged in a series of bombings by Irish Nationalists in 1883, and an explosion from a Fenian terrorist attack on 30 May 1884 blew a hole in Scotland Yard's outer wall and destroyed the neighbouring Rising Sun pub. The headquarters was moved away from Whitehall in 1890. [21]

Downing Street leads off the south-west end of Whitehall, just above Parliament Street. It was named after Sir George Downing, who built a row of houses along the street around 1680 leading west from Whitehall. Following a number of terrorist attacks, the road was closed to the public in 1990, when security gates were erected at both ends. On 7 February 1991, the Provisional IRA fired mortars from a van parked in Whitehall towards No. 10, one of which exploded in the gardens. [22] [23]

Additional security measures have been put in place along Whitehall to protect government buildings, following a £25 million streetscape project undertaken by Westminster City Council. The project has provided wider pavements and better lighting, along with installing hundreds of concrete and steel security barriers. [24]

Richmond House, at No. 79, has held the Department of Health since 1987. The building is scheduled to be a temporary debating chamber from 2020, while the Houses of Parliament undergo a £7 billion refurbishment and modernisation programme. [25]


Whitehall, looking north in 1953, with the Earl Haig Memorial in the middle of the carriageway. London Whitehall, just before the 1953 Coronation geograph-3190134-by-Ben-Brooksbank.jpg
Whitehall, looking north in 1953, with the Earl Haig Memorial in the middle of the carriageway.

A number of statues and memorials have been built on and around Whitehall, commemorating military victories and leaders. The Cenotaph was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and erected at the southern end in 1919, commemorating victory in World War I and later used as a memorial for both World Wars. It is the main war memorial in Britain and an annual service is held here on Remembrance Sunday, led by the reigning monarch and leading politicians. [26] In 2005 a national Monument to the Women of World War II was erected a short distance north of the Cenotaph in the middle of the Whitehall carriageway. [27]

The Royal Tank Regiment Memorial is at the north east end of Whitehall, where Whitehall Court meets Whitehall Place. Erected in 2000, it commemorates the use of tanks in both World Wars and depicts five World War II tank crew members. The Gurkha Memorial is to the south of this, on Horse Guards Avenue to the east of Whitehall. [28]

Whitehall is also home to six other monuments. From north to south, these are of Prince George, Duke of Cambridge (Commander-in-Chief of the British Army), Liberal Party, Liberal Unionist Party and Unionists leader Spencer Cavendish, 8th Duke of Devonshire, Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig (known as the Earl Haig Memorial), [lower-alpha 3] Field Marshal Montgomery (commander of the 8th Army, the 21st Army Group and Chief of the Imperial General Staff), [3] William Slim, 1st Viscount Slim, Commander of the 14th Army and Governor-General of Australia, [30] and Alan Brooke, 1st Viscount Alanbrooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff. [31]


The Whitehall Theatre, now Trafalgar Studios, opened in 1930 and is a Grade II listed building. TrafalgarStudiosLondon.png
The Whitehall Theatre, now Trafalgar Studios, opened in 1930 and is a Grade II listed building.

The Whitehall Theatre opened in 1930 at the north west end of the street, on a site that had previously been Ye Old Ship Tavern in the 17th century. The revue Whitehall Follies opened in 1942, which drew controversy over its explicit content featuring the stripper and actress Phyllis Dixey. The theatre became known for its farces, reviving a tradition on Whitehall that had begun with court jesters at the palace during the 16th century; these included several plays featuring actor-manager Brian Rix throughout the 1950s and 60s, and 1981's satirical Anyone for Denis , written by John Wells and Private Eye editor Richard Ingrams. [32] The venue was Grade II listed in 1996 and renamed the Trafalgar Studios in 2004. [33]

Because of its importance as a centre of British government, several political comedies are based in and around Whitehall. These include the BBC's Yes Minister and The Thick of It . [34]

Whitehall is one of three purple squares on the British Monopoly board, along with Pall Mall and Northumberland Avenue. All three streets converge at Trafalgar Square. [8]

See also

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Horse Guards (building) barracks

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Horse Guards Avenue street in the City of Westminster, London

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Holbein Gate gateway in Whitehall, London

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Privy Garden of the Palace of Whitehall part of the Palace of Whitehall, London

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The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to London:

Ministry of Defence Main Building (United Kingdom) headquarters of the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall, London

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  1. Shakespeare's Henry VIII mentions the name change in Act IV, scene 1 : "You must no more call it York Place—that is past: For since the Cardinal fell that title's lost; 'Tis now the King's, and called Whitehall" [7]
  2. The English Civil War Society commemorate the death of Charles I annually on the nearest Sunday to 30 January, the anniversary of the execution. The society retraces the route the King took from St James's Palace to the Banqueting House, where a wreath is laid at the site of the scaffold. [14]
  3. The memorial, designed by Alfred Frank Hardiman and unveiled on 10 November 1937, proved controversial as it took several attempts to design a realistic head and horse. Haig's widow refused to attend the opening ceremony. [29]


  1. 1 2 "Derby Gate, London to Trafalgar Square". Google Maps. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Weinreb et al. 2008, p. 1019.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Weinreb et al. 2008, p. 1020.
  4. "Central London Bus Map" (PDF). Transport for London. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 March 2017. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  5. Shepherd 2012, p. 37.
  6. 1 2 Brown 2009, p. 120.
  7. Thornbury, Walter (1878). "Whitehall: Historical remarks". Old and New London. London. 3: 337–361. Retrieved 6 July 2016.
  8. 1 2 Moore 2003, p. 45.
  9. 1 2 Richardson 2000, p. 100.
  10. 1 2 Thornbury, Walter (1878). "Whitehall : The Western Side". Old and New London. London. 3: 383–394. Retrieved 4 July 2016.
  11. Weinreb et al. 2008, p. 39,1020.
  12. Weinreb et al. 2008, p. 40.
  13. Weinreb et al. 2008, p. 39.
  14. Shepherd 2012, p. 167.
  15. Brown 2009, p. 107.
  16. Weinreb et al. 2008, p. 626.
  17. Shepherd 2012, p. 191.
  18. 1 2 Shepherd 2012, p. 208.
  19. "Department of Energy and Climate Change". UK Government properties database. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  20. "Cabinet Office". HM Government. Retrieved 4 July 2016.
  21. Weinreb et al. 2008, p. 582.
  22. Weinreb et al. 2008, pp. 246–7.
  23. John Michael Lee, George William Jones, June Burnham (1998). At the Centre of Whitehall: Advising the Prime Minister and Cabinet. St. Martin's Press. p. 42. ISBN   0-312-17730-5.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  24. "Whitehall". Stone Restoration Services. Retrieved 5 July 2016.
  25. "Department of Health to leave Whitehall HQ to make way for Commons debating chamber". The Independent. 23 January 2016. Retrieved 4 July 2016.
  26. Weinreb et al. 2008, pp. 141,1020.
  27. "Memorial to war women unveiled". BBC News. 9 July 2005. Retrieved 3 July 2016.
  28. Matthews 2012, p. 18.
  29. Matthews 2012, pp. 20–21.
  30. Matthews 2012, p. 21.
  31. Matthews 2012, p. 22.
  32. Brown 2009, p. 78.
  33. "Trafalgar Studios". trafalgar-studios.co.uk. Retrieved 5 July 2016.
  34. Johnston, Philip (14 December 2009). "Yes, minister, we can get out of the thick of it". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 12 July 2016.


Further reading