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Don’t just look at the bride, look at the buildings!

The Victorian Society's guide to the Royal Wedding! Even the most patriotic will admit that every state occasion has its longeurs. So to get you through those dull moments we invite you to look over the crowds waving their flags to appreciate the great Victorian and Edwardian buildings which line the Royal Wedding route.

The Palace of Westminster, London

We start at Westminster Abbey and head through Parliament Square, up Whitehall, through the Horse Guards, and then down the Mall to Buckingham Palace.

Westminster Abbey has been a work in progress since at least the eleventh century, so it's not surprising that the Victorians and Edwardians made their own contributions. Inside of course there are many nineteenth-century memorials, but the exterior still bears the traces of nineteenth-century and later restorations by architects such as Edward Blore, Sir George Gilbert Scott and John Loughborough Pearson, particularly on the north side. It takes a lot of looking to disentangle the works of various periods.

Storey's Gate and Tothill Street, opposite Westminster Abbey
This is a spectacular monument to the power of Edwardian Nonconformity, though you would hardly guess it from the outside where the decorations are martial rather than religious. There was no deference to Westminster Abbey here. Designed by Lanchester and Rickards from 1905-11, there is no other Methodist Hall like it, and the interiors are virtually unaltered. A real treasure.

Parliament Square
This Edwardian gem of a building is designed in a Gothic style in deference to Westminster Abbey, but given a contemporary twist with Art Nouveau touches. Designed by Scottish architect James S. Gibson, with beautiful sculptures by Henry Fehr, it opened in 1913 as the Middlesex Guildhall. The conversion for Supreme Court use was not a happy one and was pushed through despite many objections.

Perhaps the most recognisable Victorian building in Britain, the Palace of Westminster shows how flexibly Gothic could be used to fulfil modern requirements. It combines a breathtakingly-picturesque skyline with thoroughly rational planning. Designed by Charles Barry with help from AWN Pugin, the foundation stone was laid in 1840 and the building completed in 1870. Amazingly, much of the original furnishings remain in use today.

corner of Parliament Street and Parliament Square
Also known as Government Offices Great George Street (GOGGS), this building is an early monument of the Edwardian Baroque Revival. It was designed by another Scot, John Brydon in 1898 (who died in 1901) and not completed until 1915 by Sir Henry Tanner of the Office of Works. Aerial photographs are bound to show its impressive great internal circular court, but you can also peek in through the gates. A scheme for the redevelopment of Whitehall in the 1960s would have seen this great building demolished - no longer ‘fit for purpose' as people might say now.

Whitehall, West side
There was much controversy surrounding this building during the late 1850s and early 1860s, leading to the leading Gothic architect of the day being required to build in an Italianate style. Designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott and built from 1862-75, one of the best views of this building is from St James's Park. And if you look up Downing Street from Whitehall and ignore No. 10, you'll see that Scott could teach many architects today how to design a long side elevation!
It's unbelievable today that this building was up for the chop under plans to redevelop Whitehall in the 1960s - an example of an early and successful Victorian Society campaign.

Whitehall, East side
You'll probably never have noticed this discreet addition to the Banqueting House by Aston Webb and Ingress Bell of 1893-5. It must have been a daunting prospect to add to Inigo Jones's iconic building, and they carried it off extremely well. At that time, the Banqueting House was used as a museum by the Royal United Services Institute, and this extension was to house their offices and meeting rooms, as it does today.

THE OLD WAR OFFICE BUILDING (now the Ministry of Defence)
Opposite the Horse Guards
This is another reminder of the great expansion of government during the nineteenth century, and a fine Baroque Revival building by another Scot, William Young, who is best known for his Glasgow City Chambers. Designed in 1898 and completed in 1906, its domes add much to the picturesque Whitehall skyline.

It's hard to believe that The Mall as we see it today is an early twentieth-century creation, laid out as part of the Queen Victoria Memorial. Until then there was no roadway centred on Buckingham Palace, nor was there an opening to Trafalgar Square at the east end. Traffic congestion on Piccadilly had made the route a practical necessity, but it became a great ceremonial thoroughfare, ornamented with delightful lamp standards and home to important monuments. Although the route does not pass under Admiralty Arch (designed by Sir Aston Webb, 1908-11), this building was also part of the national memorial to Queen Victoria, and brilliantly masks the change of axis in to The Strand.

This is the most elaborate monument in London, after the Albert Memorial at South Kensington, and was erected from 1906-24. Even so, it is much less elaborate than originally planned, partly because contributions from the colonies failed to roll in as expected. The statuary is by Sir Thomas Brock and the architectural elements by Sir Aston Webb. There is much more to it than the figure of the great Queen herself: the Canada gates, leading in to Green Park, are particularly impressive.

When, at 1.25pm on Friday, the Queen and the bride and bridegroom appear on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, few will realise that the palace front is less than 100 years old. When Victoria came to the throne in 1837, the Palace front was a U-shaped front courtyard, which was closed in by Edward Blore from 1846-50 with a wing to house the growing family. Thanks to a poor choice of stone, the new building soon looked rather shabby, but it was not until 1913 that the Palace was re-faced by Sir Aston Webb. By that stage it had become a national embarrassment as a backdrop to the Victoria Memorial. The balcony was specifically requested by King George V so that the royal family could ‘show themselves to the people'.

Thursday 28 April, 2011

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