The statues of Whitehall are positioned along the street from Trafalgar Square to Parliament Square. Whitehall is the home of some of the major buildings of state and so monuments placed along it’s route are prestigious. 10 Downing Street, the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Defence as well as Horseguards Parade can all can be accessed via Whitehall.
For this post we’ll explore all the statues and monuments which line the road. We’ll also get a sense of the history of Whitehall and just how it came to be at the heart of the UK government.
- Palace of Whitehall
- Map of Whitehall and the Statues
- Statues of Whitehall
- King Charles I (1630)
- George, Duke of Cambridge (1907)
- Spenser Compton Cavendish, 8th Duke of Devonshire (1911)
- The Gurkha Soldier (1997)
- Field Marshall Earl Douglas Haig (1937)
- Field Marshall the Viscount Slim (1990)
- The Women of World War II (2005)
- Field Marshall the Viscount Alanbrooke (1993)
- Field Marshall Viscount Montgomery (1980)
- Cenotaph (1920)
Palace of Whitehall
Historically the street is one of the most famous in London. The road connecting Charing Cross with Westminster was once the location of the Palace of Whitehall. Originally called York Place it started out as a complex of buildings between Westminster and Charing which occupied space between the river and King Street. First acquired by Hubert De Burgh he had purchased the complex in 1221 from Westminster Abbey and acquired some other properties around it. Following a fall from grace it was then sold to the then Archbishop of York, Walter de Gray, in 1241.
York Place, as it would become known, would then be occupied by a successive line of Archbishops until it passed to Thomas Wolsey in 1514. Wolsey would go on to make extensive improvements. Intending for it to rival the nearby Lambeth Palace in its grandeur. He held it until until 1529 when the now Cardinal Wolsey fell out of favour with Henry VIII. His assets were seized and York Place would go on to become the kings main residence. Henry VIII went on to make more extensive changes to the former York Place. Around this time it started to become known as Whitehall. The name was first recorded in 1532 and takes it’s name from the white Ashlar stone used in Wolsey’s palace.
Penned in by it’s location between the river and the public thoroughfare of King Street. Henry VIII acquired more land on either side of the road and began to expand. Eventually in 1532 he would connect the two parts of the palace with arched gates crossing the street. They were called the Holbein and Kings Street gates and between these spaces the road simply became known as ‘The Street’. The gates spanned the street and allowed for access along their top to either side of the palace. Famously Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn above the Holbein Gate in 1533. He also married Jane Seymour in the palace in 1936.
The Palace of Whitehall was unusual in that King Street cut straight through it. The Holbein and King Street gates served to join the two sections together but the main route from Charing to Westminster still passed through. Now both long gone, the Holbein gate would have been in the vicinity of today’s Horse Guards whilst the King Street gate crossed near today’s Downing Street. Today’s Whitehall and Parliament Street follow the route of King Street from what is now Trafalgar Square to Parliament Square.
Fire at the Palace
Whitehall would remain a royal residence until 1689 when William III moved out to Kensington Palace. It had become increasingly difficult to maintain and eventually in 1698 it caught fire and most of it burnt to the ground. This followed another devastating fire that occurred in 1691. The only parts of the palace which survived were the Banqueting House and the Holbein and King Street gates. Henry VIII’s wine cellar also survived and is now located underneath the Ministry of Defence. The King Street gate was demolished in 1723, the Holbein Gate in 1759.
Now the only remaining part of the Palace of Whitehall is the Banqueting House. It’s current iteration dates from the reign of James I and was built by the famous architect Inigo Jones in 1622. This followed a fire in 1619 which destroyed a previous building from Robert Stickell which dated from 1608. That in turn had been the replacement for Elizabeth I’s banqueting house built in in 1584. It’s original purpose had been to entertain dignitaries in style. Something that was a must have in a the highly political mechanisms of Europe. Famously in 1649 it was here, outside the front of the Banqueting House, where Charles I was beheaded.
Despite initial plans after the fire, the Palace of Whitehall was never rebuilt. Instead parcels of land started to be developed and a more modern version took shape. Eventually the location of Whitehall became known as the seat of government and great ministries of state would be based here. Former parts of the old palace would also be developed into places that we know well today. Horse Guards parade for example is the location of the old Tilt Yard, a place Henry VIII created for jousting. St James Park too was once part of Whitehall, enclosed by Henry as a Royal Hunting ground.
Map of Whitehall and the Statues
Statues of Whitehall
The following list details all the statues and monuments along Whitehall. The list runs in geographical order from the equestrian statue of King Charles from Trafalgar Square at the top to the Cenotaph at the bottom.
King Charles I (1630)
Standing at the top of Whitehall is one of the oldest statues. Looking down towards Parliament and sitting on his horse is Charles I. The statue was first made in 1630 by Hubert Le Sueur as a commission for Sir Richard Weston to be place at his house in Roehampton. When the English Civil War broke out from 1642 to 1652, parliamentarians ordered that the statue be melted down. This order however was defied and it was hidden. Many statues and monuments which were deemed as potential symbols of royal power were destroyed in such a way. After the restoration to the monarchy of Charles II in 1660 the statue re-emerged and in 1675 it was placed in its current position.
The location is highly symbolic. Positioned at the top of Whitehall it is in the exact location of the former Eleanor Cross which was demolished by parliamentarians during the war. The statue itself shows Charles I sitting on a horse. He is looking down Whitehall towards the Houses of Parliament and the Banqueting House where he was executed in 1653. The English Civil War had been a battle between royal power and parliament. It saw in a period of Republicanism between 1653 and 1659 with Oliver Cromwell and then Richard Cromwell taking the title of Lord Protector.
Hubert Le Sueur
Charles I is shown wearing armour and around his neck is the Order of the Garter. The sculptor Hubert Le Sueur was both a favourite of the king and known for his ability to portray armour in his work. The pedestal on which it stands was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1675. It is ornamented with reliefs by Joshua Marshall. They show the Stuart coat of arms at one side and a Lion and Unicorn at the back. It is the oldest bronze statue in London.
George, Duke of Cambridge (1907)
George William Frederick Charles was the eldest Grandson of George III and the cousin of Queen Victoria. He became the Duke of Cambridge in 1850 and a Field Marshall in 1862. Eventually he became the Commander in Chief of the Forces and the military head of the British Army from 1856 to 1895.
Marriage and Mistresses
A colourful character, he was born at Cambridge House in Hanover, Germany. Against the wishes of his family he married an actress called Sarah Fairbrother (known as Louisa) who had five children, three of which were his. The marriage was never recognised however and so his wife received no official title and so called herself Mrs FitzGeorge. He would also have a number of mistresses. Most notably for the last 33 years of his life, Louisa Beauclerk. He died at Gloucester House, Piccadilly and is buried at Kensal Green cemetery next to his wife and near to Louisa.
2nd Duke of Cambridge
Entering the army in 1837, he served with regiments in Gibraltar and Ireland. Following the death of his father Prince Adolphus he succeeded him as the 2nd Duke of Cambridge in 1850. In 1854 he would go an active service for the first time in Crimea. Commanding the British 1st Division in the Battle of the Alma where it was said his leadership was questionable. He would also be present at the battles of Balaclava and Inkerman where he had a horse shot out from under him. Eventually at the end of 1854 he would be invalided back home.
Commander of the British Army
Despite his lack of real military prowess, the 2nd Duke of Cambridge was nonetheless made Commander in Chief of the British Army in 1856. Holding the position for 39 years he was eventually forced to retire. He was known for his resistance to change and was opposed to many attempts to introduce reforms to the army in the 1870’s and 1880’s.
The statue of the 2nd Duke of Cambridge was unveiled on 15 June 1907 by Edward VII. It had been sculpted by Adrian Jones at his studio on Church Street in Chelsea. He is shown on horseback wearing the uniform of a Field Marshall and bearing the stars of the four orders of knighthood. In one hand he holds a baton. This is modelled on one which was presented to his father by William IV. He holds the horses reigns in his other hand. Standing on a pedestal of Dartmoor Granite there are two bas-reliefs showing the Duke’s connections with the 17th Lancers and the Grenadier Guards.
Spenser Compton Cavendish, 8th Duke of Devonshire (1911)
Standing at the corner of Whitehall and Horseguards avenue stands a statue of Spenser Compton Cavendish (1833-1908). The 8th Duke of Devonshire he succeeded his father to the title in 1891. Prior to this he was known as the Marquess of Hartington. Best known as a politician he was the leader of both the Liberals between 1876 and 1880 and the breakaway Liberal Unionists between 1886 and 1891. He continued to lead the Liberal Unionists in the Lords until 1904 after inheriting his title as the Duke of Devonshire.
It was Cavendish’s opposition to Irish Home Rule had led him to separate from the Liberal Party in 1886. The resultant Liberal Unionists would go on to support the Conservatives in government on the proviso that they would prevent home rule. Cavendish himself had lost his brother in 1882 at the hand of Irish Republicans. Lord Frederick Cavendish, the newly appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland, had been stabbed as part of an event that became known as the Phoenix Park Murders.
Refusing to be Prime Minister
Cavendish is also known as a man who refused the role of Prime Minister three times. The first in 1880 when Queen Victoria asked him to form a government. He would decline, stepping aside for William Gladstone who would not serve under anyone else. The second in 1886 when the Liberal Unionists agreed a pact with the Conservatives. At this point he was still hoping for a re-uniting of the Liberal Party so declined but did choose to support Lord Salisbury in his government. Salisbury would ask him again in 1887 after the resignation of Lord Randolph Churchill but he again declined.
Statue on Whitehall
The statue itself is made of bronze and stands 4 metres high on top of a stone plinth of 5 metres. It shows the Duke facing west towards Whitehall. He is wearing a cape and the regalia of his office. The statue was organised by the Marquess of Landsdowne and sculpted by Herbert Hampton. Final approval was made by King Edward VII and unveiled by the Marquess of Landsdowne in 1911
The Gurkha Soldier (1997)
The Gurkha memorial was unveiled on 3 December 1997 by Queen Elizabeth II. It is positioned on Horse Guards Avenue opposite the Ministry of Defence. It was sculpted by Phillip Jackson. Standing at nine feet tall it was commissioned by the Gurkha Brigade Association Trust as a monument to Gurkha’s who had fought with the British Army. It was the first public memorial to be erected to the Gurkhas in the United Kingdom. Originally from Nepal, the Gurkhas have fought with the British Army for over 200 years.
The statue is cast in bronze and shows a full sized Gurkha soldier in First World War uniform and hat. He is holding a bayonet and standing at ease. The sculptor, Phillip Jackson, based the piece on a 1924 sculpture from Richard Reginald Goulden in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The plinth containing the inscriptions was designed by Cecil Denny Highton.
Bravest of the Brave
On the plinth are words from Sir Ralph Turner which say ‘Bravest of the brave. Most generous of the generous. Never had country more faithful friends than you’. On the sides the campaigns that the Gurkhas fought in are listed as well as the battalions in which they served.
Field Marshall Earl Douglas Haig (1937)
Field Marshall Earl Douglas Haig is best known for commanding the British Expeditionary Forces (BEF) on the Western Front during World War I. Initially in charge of the 1st Army Corps he took over command of the whole force in 1915 and lasted till the end of the war. Launching the Somme offensive on 1 July 1916 it would go down as one of the bloodiest battles in British history with 60000 casualties on the first day alone.
Haig’s time as the Commander in Chief of the British Armies in France was hugely controversial. In addition to the Somme, he launched the Battle of Passchendaele in July 1917. This was another battle which led to enormous casualties. His belief that the war could only be won on the Western Front led Haig to dig in for a number of years despite gaining minimal ground. It would lead him into conflict with Prime Minister David Lloyd George who disagreed with his approach.
Butcher of the Somme
After the war, Haig’s reputation initially was high and he was received as a hero. He was made an Earl in 1919 and retired from service in 1922. Passing away in 1928 he was given a state funeral and the American general John Pershing called him “the man who won the war”. Following his death however his legacy would be reassessed. His tactics had led to the horrific figure on 1 million Allied troops dying on the Western Front and he became known as ‘The Butcher of the Somme‘.
The statue of Earl Haig on Whitehall was sculpted by Alfred Frank Hardiman and unveiled by Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester in November 1937. Since it’s proposal however in 1928 it was dogged with controversy. Initially this was mainly due to the stylised depiction of the horse itself. Hardiman had created a kind of hybrid that was more classical in appearance but which Haig would never have rode. For Hardiman however the idea was more to generate an image which represented the man he saw as a hero and the ideas he represented. It was not to create a totally accurate representation of Haig nor the horse he was riding. In later years when Haig’s legacy had been re-assessed in light of his catastrophic war leadership. The issue has been whether a statue should be there to commemorate such failure at all.
Field Marshall the Viscount Slim (1990)
On Raleigh Green just outside the Ministry of Defence building stands the enigmatic statue of William Slim (1891-1970). He is perhaps best known for his successful Burma campaign during the second world war. In 1943 he took control of the fourteenth army and carried out a number of successful advances against the Japanese. The situation prior to his leadership had been dire following a series of retreats and a disastrous campaign in Arakan.
First and Second World War
A veteran of both world wars, He had previously served at Gallipoli where he was wounded and in Mesopotamia where he won a military cross. In 1918 he obtained a permanent commission to the Indian Army. Promoted to lieutenant-colonel in 1938 he would command the 2nd battalion of the 7th Gurkha Rifles before returning to Europe to head the senior officers school in Belgium. In the second world war Slim fought campaigns in Abyssinia, Iraq and Iran prior to heading to Burma.
In later life Slim would become commandant of the Imperial Defence College (1946-48) and then chief of the Imperial staff from 1948-1952. Significantly between 1953 and 1960 he served as the governor general of Australia. In 1960 he was given a peerage and became Viscount Slim of Yarralumla and Bishopston.
Slim was known as the soldiers soldier and this is in part why his statue shows him wearing a bush hat and jungle dress. According to his son, John Slim, this is how his men would have recognised him rather than in ornamental military regalia. The statue on Raleigh Green was created by Ivor Robert-Jones and unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II on 28 April 1990.
The Women of World War II (2005)
Sitting in the middle of Whitehall between the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Defence is the ‘Women of World War II’ monument. It is a tribute to the role women played during the war. It shows 17 different sculpted uniforms hanging around the monument. They represent the hundreds of jobs women occupied during the war whilst many of the men would go to fight. After the war, the women were expected to hang up those uniforms when the men returned from the front lines. The gold lettering across the front was inspired by the lettering used on ration books during the war.
Women during the War
The monument is an attempt to remember the sacrifices that women made during the war. Historically their role had been overlooked, yet women played major roles in agriculture, engineering and across general society to keep the country going. There were also 640,000 women who served in the armed forces during World War II.
Hanging up the Uniforms
Sculpted by John Mills he said that he had been inspired after seeing a 1940’s photograph of a cloakroom at a dance hall. “The picture just sparked an idea in my mind which I couldn’t get away from” he said. “I was interested in the concept of these women hanging up their uniforms and going back to their normal lives after the end of the war.
What sort of Women?
It was unveiled on 9 July 2005 by Queen Elizabeth II. Baroness Thatcher, Dame Betty Boothroyd and Dame Vera Lynn also attended. Boothroyd said at the unveiling “I hope that future generations who pass this way will ask themselves: ‘what sort of women were they?’ and look at our history for the answer”.
Field Marshall the Viscount Alanbrooke (1993)
Alan Francis Brooke (1883-1963) was the chief of the Imperial Staff during the Second World War. He was also the chairman of the chiefs of staff committee and principal military advisor to Winston Churchill from 1941. His statue stands on Raleigh Green just outside the Ministry of Defence alongside those of Field Marshalls Slim and Montgomery. Whilst chief of the Imperial Staff he was known informally as Old Shrapnel.
World War I
Like many commanders of his generation, Alanbrooke also fought in the first world war. First assigned to the Royal Horse Artillery, he fought on the Western Front. At the Battle of the Somme in 1916 he fought with the 18th Division before moving to the Canadian Corps in 1917. He would receive two distinguished service orders and a French Croix De Guerre.
Relationship with Churchill
Alanbrooke’s relationship with Churchill was a crucial one during the Second World War. Initially in 1939 he commanded II Corps in the British Expeditionary Force to fight in Flanders and France. That was prior to being ordered back to England in July 1940 to take charge of the Home Forces. Eventually succeeding Sir John Dill in December 1941 as Chief of the Imperial Staff. His later diaries tell much about the behind the scenes dynamics in Whitehall at that time. In particular they reveal what was often a tempestuous yet balancing relationship Alanbrooke and Churchill. According to author Thomas Ricks “he understood that he needed someone like General Brooke to argue with him. It was, after all, Churchill who first noticed Brooke, promoted him to lead the British military, and kept him there for years”.
Inspired by Slim
The statue of Alanbrooke was sculpted by Ivor Roberts-Jones and unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II on 25 May 1993. It followed the unveiling of another of Roberts-Jones sculptures, that of Viscount Slim nearby in 1990. In the audience for the unveiling was the former chief of the Defence staff, Field Marshall Lord Carver. He thought that Jones had done such an excellent job and suggested that the Royal Regiment Artillery should commission a statue of Alanbrooke. This is exactly what happened and Roberts-Jones was commissioned in 1991 The stance of the Alanbrooke was inspired by a sculpture of the poet Henrik Vergeland by Gustav Vigeland in Oslo.
Defiance of Haig
Upon the unveiling of the statue, Field Marshall Lord Carver said of it’s positioning. “It was wonderful to see your splendid statue. There where everyone can see it so well. With Alanbrooke defiantly looking towards Haig. As if saying ‘I showed you how to conduct war in a better way’.
Field Marshall Viscount Montgomery (1980)
Another statue located on Raleigh Green outside the Ministry of Defence is that of Bernard Law Montgomery. Known as ‘Monty‘ he was a notable commander in World War II. In particular he led the Allies against Rommel in North Africa and in the invasions of Italy and Normandy. He was a man known for having a difficult personality. By many of his peers he was seen as lacking tact and diplomacy when dealing with others. A trait that probably made him a success on the battlefield. Churchill in 1945 said of Montgomery “In defeat, unbeatable; in victory, unbearable”.
First World War
During the first World War he fought at the Battle of Ypres in 1914 and was shot by a sniper. Eventually recovering he saw out the rest of the conflict as a staff officer. Observing at close hand the infamous battles of the Somme in 1916 and Passchendale in 1917. He became critical of the tactics used by generals such as Douglas Haig during those campaigns which saw huge casualties. He felt that they has a “huge disregard for human life“.
During the Second World War he first commanded the 3rd Division of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France. Expecting difficulties he prepared the ground for the retreat which was invaluable during the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940. Churchill then appointed Montgomery as the commander of the eighth army in the Western Desert. Here he was instrumental in the battles of El Alamein which would prove to be pivotal to the whole war effort. After this he took part in Allied invasions of Italy and Sicily before commanding forces in the 1944 invasion of Normandy.
After the war, Montgomery held a number of positions. First becoming commander in chief of the British Army on the Rhine after VE day in 1945. Eventually he would become the Deputy Supreme Commander of NATO between 1951 and 1958 serving under General Eisenhower. On 31 January 1946 he was given a peerage and created the first Viscount of Alamein. The statue on Whitehall was sculpted by Oscar Nemon, a favourite of both the Queen and Churchill. It was unveiled on 6 June 1980 by the Queen Mother.
The Cenotaph is the UK’s most prominent war memorial. It plays a key role each year as part of the service of remembrance. Originally designed as a temporary monument, it proved popular and was replaced soon afterwards with a permanent memorial. The designer was British architect Edwin Landseer Lutyens who was approached by David Lloyd George. The plan was for the memorial to be built in time for the Peace Day celebrations of 1919.
Originally built from wood and plaster, that original Cenotaph was only designed to stand for one week. Its popularity resulted in a permanent one being commissioned the year after. Built of Portland Stone, the new memorial was completed and unveiled by King George V on 11 November 1920.
The name Cenotaph means ’empty tomb’ and it’s original intention was to remember those who died during World War I. It is dedicated to the ‘Glorious Dead’. There are no other names written on the memorial as it allows people to assign their own meaning to it. The symbolism is similar to that of the unknown warrior who is buried in Westminster Abbey. At the unveiling of the Cenotaph in 1920, the warrior was also there. Only afterwards then heading to the abbey for interment.
The statues of Whitehall have been visited at various points during 2022. This article is a companion piece to our article on the Statues of Parliament Square
The last word about the Empty Tomb should be interment NOT internment. Otherwise excellent. Would like to know why Women memorial is currently covered in black netting.
Thanks very much Susan I’ve updated the piece with the correct spelling 🙂 I’m not sure why’s the women’s memorial is covered at the moment. Perhaps maintenance? I haven’t been there for a few weeks