Blog > The Banqueting House in London

July 11, 2013

The Banqueting House located in Whitehall is one of the jewels of London.  Construction began in 1619 and the building was dedicated in 1622.  It is the only remaining structure of the Palace of Whitehall complex. It can be reached from Safestay Hostel by walking to Larcom Street (Stop C).  Take the 12 Bus towards Soho.  It will take about 17 minutes and 9 stops.  Disembark at the Horse Guards Parade Stop.  The Banqueting House will be a short walk away.  Total travel time is less than 20 minutes. 

The Banqueting House is usually open 7 days a week from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm (17:00). The last admission is at 4:15 pm. It can close at short notice for special functions so it is advisable to check if it is open to the public before visiting. Tickets are not currently available on line or by phone but can be purchased at the gate for the adult admission price of 5 British pounds ($7.54 US) and children under 16 are admitted free.

This London attraction accepts students and visitors with I.D. are admitted for 4 British pounds. Multi-language audio guides are available. If it is part of your plan to visit other palaces in the area you might be interested in buying a multi-pass ticket that would include the following: Tower of London, Hampton Court, Kensington Palace, and Kew Palace. It can provide a substantial savings to the visitor.

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The Banqueting House is the first building to be completed in the neo-classical style which would later transform English architecture. It is the grandest and best known survivor of the banqueting style of building which provided a separate structure for entertainment purposes only.

In Italy they are known as casinas. The Banqueting House was built at a cost of 15,618 pounds sterling. This was a huge sum at the time. The building would be refaced in Portland stone in the 19th century amid great controversy. However the details of the original facade were mostly preserved. It and along with the other Historic Royal Palaces listed above are run by an independent charity and receive no funding from the crown or the government.

The Banqueting House was part of the Palace of Whitehall complex that was largely the creation of King Henry VIII who had confiscated the original mansion from his subject Cardinal Wolsey who made the mistake of building too grand a palace for the English king's sensibilities. King Henry was determined that his new palace would be the biggest one in Christendom. The Palace of Whitehall was thus created after a major expansion of the original structure.

During the reign of Henry the palace had no designated banqueting house as was the custom of the time. He preferred to banquet in a temporary structure built in the gardens. The first permanent building constructed for James I was destroyed by fire in 1619. An immediate replacement was presented by the famous architect Inigo Jones. He built it in a totally new style for England the neo-classical. There was no attempt at harmonization with the former Tudor Palace complex built in the previous century.

Plans were drawn to incorporate the Banqueting House as part of a new palace complex in the 1630's but the new king Charles I did not have the funds for such a grandiose scheme. The arrival of the Civil War would end these plans and the king would find himself on trial. He would be convicted and executed at the Banqueting House in 1649.

The great fire of 1698 would raze the Tudor Palace to the ground with the Banqueting House remaining along with the Whitehall and Holbein Gates. Although the famous architects Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor were contracted to design a new palace nothing much came of it. William III was not really interested in a new complex on the site.

The Banqueting Hall was the venue for many royal receptions, ceremonies, and other activities. The entertainments provided would be some of the finest in Europe. Even Pocahontas was presented to King James I here in 1617 at a masque performance.

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The interior ceiling of the Banqueting House was painted by Rubens in 1635 at great expense. He had arrived in England for a promised knighthood and large pension. The painted panels were put up in sections and have remained there since their original installation. James II was the last monarch to live at Whitehall in the 1680's. William III preferred Hampton Court. The Banqueting House would later be converted to a chapel. In 1893 it would be given by Queen Victoria to the Royal United Services Institute. The planned partition of the building were fortunately not realized.

A museum was created instead which displayed personal items of famous commanders including the skeletal remains of the horse ridden by Napoleon. This museum would close in 1962 and the great south window closed by the RUSI would be fully restored as would the rest of the building to its present appearance. Today the museum is often the venue where many elaborate functions both governmental and private take place. It therefore continues a dual role in the modern era as a museum and a place for entertainment on a large scale.

Don't forget to check for more updates on the Safestay blog for more great things to do in London.