Saturday, July 4, 2015

17th Century Whitehall, Part 2, by Katherine Pym

Whitehall Palace

Previously, I told you the history of Whitehall Palace, its beginnings and its end. Today, I want to talk of the structure, and how London’s activities affected Whitehall Palace.

Part II, Other stuff about Whitehall:

Castles have a tendency to be drafty, and it was no different with the Palace of Whitehall. Due to the compilation of various buildings crammed together, the palace was more drafty than normal. During storms, winds whistled down chimneys and spread ash across the chambers. Fires sparked, then smoldered.   

London and its suburbs used sea coal and brown coal to heat their homes. It was inferior and smoked. London also seemed to have existed under a pall of inversion. Smoke and pollution hung stagnant over the city and its suburbs for weeks on end.

Coal was used to brew ale or beer. Dyers used coal to heat water. Soap boilers manufactured their product with ash. Glass houses, founders and most industries used coal for their fires and their products. As a result, smoke settled heavy on everything with a gritty dust. Not a good place for asthmatics, the air was hard to breathe.

John Evelyn (1620-1706) loved London. He observed everything within and without the great city.

In 1661, he wrote Fumifugium: or, The Inconvenience of the AER, and SMOAKE of London Dissipate, a diatribe of the damages smoke can do to a person, city, and anything alive. In this pamphlet, he also proposed remedies for this damage. This, he gave to King Charles II in the year of his coronation (1661).

A visit to Whitehall provoked Evelyn to write this pamphlet. While he strolled through the palace, looking for a glimpse of His Royal Majesty, Evelyn said, “a presumptuous smoke issuing from one or two tunnels near Northumberland House, and not far from Scotland Yard, did so invade the Court that all the rooms, galleries, and places about it were filled and infested with it, and that to such a degree, as men could hardly discern one another for the cloud...”

Apparently, the smoke was so thick in the palace, people had to stretch their arms to make it from room to room. I can imagine with the uneven floors, bridges, and stairways that linked strange floor levels, this could be dangerous.
Alleged Whitehall Floor-plan
Evelyn continues, “...upon frequent observation, but it was this alone, and the trouble that it must needs procure to Your Sacred Majesty, as well as hazard to your health…” Yes, wandering a palace so filled with smoke, it would be difficult to breathe, to see without your eyes tearing.

In 1662 a strong storm hit London, and Whitehall was not spared. A few fires started but fortunately, they were doused without any real damage. After this, regulations were enforced to have at each hearth a leather bucket filled with water.

In 1691, Whitehall nearly burned down. By this time, it was a maze of complexity, and the largest palace in Europe. On April 10th of this year, a fire broke out that damaged a great deal of the structure(s), but not the State Apartments. By this time, William III and Mary II lived most of the time in Kensington Palace.

Then, in 1698 what remained of Whitehall burned, along with many treasures garnered over the ages. Among other treasures, scholars believe Michelangelo’s Cupid, the Portrait of Henry VIII, and Bernini’s marble bust of King Charles I were all lost.

John Evelyn wrote: “Whitehall burnt! Nothing but walls and ruins left.”

Can you imagine the stories those old walls could have told, so rich, historical, and so often tragic?

Many thanks to the following sources:
Adrian Tinniswood. By Permission of Heaven, The true Story of the Great Fire of London. Riverhead Books, NY, 2003

John Evelyn. Fumifugium: Or, The Inconvenience of the AER, and SMOAKE of London Dissipated. Together With some Remedies humbly proposed by J.E. Esq; To His Sacred MAJESTIE, and To the Parliament now Assemble. Published by His Majesties Command. London 1661


The Hardest Thing About Writing by Stuart R. West

Click to purchase! Everyone loves lists, right? So who am I to stand in the way of love? Here we go... As an author, the hardest thing...