Whitehall is shorthand for the civil service and the administrative function of government. It is also, of course, a street, whose name migrated from a contiguous royal palace – for a while, the largest in Europe. With adjacent streets and precincts, this slice of London between Trafalgar Square and the Houses of Parliament can be claimed to be the most historically significant half mile in England.
Situated here is one of the finest concentrations of post-medieval architecture in the country. Inigo Jones's Banqueting House has been among the most influential and revered of British buildings for 400 years; Sir William Whitfield's Richmond House, one of the most admired of modern buildings, is not yet 40 years old but is under threat of demolition. There are great buildings here and some less distinguished, but for all of them the historical and political context provides much of the interest.
The area has been at the centre of English political life for a thousand years. The execution of Charles I, Churchill watching the Blitz from a rooftop, the poll tax riots… but a frisson is provoked as much by knowing that behind the walls we are looking at, discussions and decision-making which affect us all will be taking place.
Led by an art historian, the primary focus is the architectural significance of the buildings, their changes over time, their aesthetic qualities. Monuments, curiosities and odd survivals are part of the mix. But the history of a nation (and of an empire) is woven into the physical fabric: commentary will necessarily touch upon events past and recent, politics and people historical and contemporary.
Martin founded the company in 1988 to combine his background and continuing passion for art history and music with what he had learnt from ten years in the travel business. He has a BA (Hons) in the History of Art from the Courtauld Institute of Art, London University, and studied aesthetics in the Philosophy Department York University. After a number of temporary and part-time posts in the museum world, and spending a year in both Italy and Germany, he turned to specialist tour operating. He stepped down as Chief Executive in April to take on the new role of Creative Director.
9.45am, Westminster Underground Station.
5.00pm, Westminster Underground Station.
£190, including refreshments and lunch.
Maximum 12 participants.
Walking: about three miles.
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