Vetusta Monumenta: Ancient Monuments

Plates XVII-XIX: The north front gate at Whitehall, The north front of King’s Street Gate in Westminster, The plans of the two preceding Gates

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Plate xvii: The Gate at White Hall Said to be Design’d by Hans Holbein.

Plate xviii: King Street Gate Westminster demolish’d Anno 1723.

Plate xix: (top): a Plan of King Street Gate. (bottom): a Plan of White hall Gate. (Dimensions are also indicated.)


Plate xvii and xviii are engraved and signed by George Vertue in 1725. Plate xvii is based on an original signed drawing made by Vertue in 1724 for the purpose of the engraving, and now in the possession of the Society of Antiquaries. Plate xix is unsigned, but Cox and Forrest attribute it to Vertue as well (Cox and Forrest 1931: 11).


Two gatehouses built by Henry VIII along the road through Whitehall Palace: the so-called “Holbein Gate,” completed in 1532 and demolished in 1759; and King Street Gate, completed circa 1548 (Summerson 1958: 8) and demolished in 1723.

Provenance and Location:  

Both gatehouses were built for Henry VIII as part of the development of Whitehall connecting palace structures on either side of the street (present-day Whitehall Road). Together they marked off the royal section of the road that led from Charing Cross to Westminster, so that travelers between Charing Cross and Westminster now had to pass through the palace grounds (Cox and Norman 1930: 10-40). The gates were erected at either end of the thoroughfare adjoining the Privy Garden to the east (Summerson 1958: 8).

The Holbein Gate stood at the northern end of the street that ran through the palace complex, and occupied the site of the Bars of Westminster (Cox and Forrest 1931: 3-9).  Henry’s Tiltyard Gallery extended west from the Holbein Gate, connecting it with the park; this was one of the regular means of approach to and exit from the palace (Cox and Forrest 1931: 10-22). The Holbein gate stood slightly to the south of the only extant part of the palace, Inigo Jones’s Banqueting House (built 1619-22) on the east side of Whitehall Road, as can be seen in several 18th-century view paintings.

The King Street Gate stood at the southern end of the palace street and formed the northern terminus of King Street (now Parliament Street) which ran south to Westminster; it stood just north of the intersection of present-day Whitehall Road with Downing Street to the west. Both gatehouses, along with the western portion of the Palace of Whitehall and the Privy Garden to the east, can be seen in Vertue’s Version of the Plan of 1670, and the relationship to present-day Downing Street can be seen in the plan based on Vertue and supplemented with information from later deeds and property plans (Cox and Forrest 1931: Plates 1, 3a, and 3b).

The upper stories of the towers of both gatehouses can be seen in the view of Whitehall Palace from St. James’s Park, ca. 1677, engraved by S. Rawle in J.T. Smith’s Antiquities of Westminster (Cox and Forrest 1931: 101-04, Figure 104).

Commentary [EH]

Whitehall Palace:

In 1530 Henry acquired York Place (which had belonged to the archbishop of York since 1240) to replace Westminster as his main London residence, and built it into the massive residence known as “White Hall” for the white ashlar stone building material used throughout many of the structures.  The rambling group of buildings grew to be the largest palace in Europe with over 1500 rooms.  It remained the main residence of the English monarchs in London until 1698, when most of the palace was destroyed by fire.  Today the Banqueting House, built by Inigo Jones in 1619-22 for Charles I, is all that remains of Whitehall Palace.

Parts of Henry’s palace stood on either side of the road that connected the White Hall with the city of Westminster to the south and Charing Cross to the north. Henry erected numerous structures on the west side of the street, known as the Cockpit side, primarily devoted to recreation.  He built these two gates to unify the sprawling complex. Both gates, as well as the palace complex on either side of the street, can be seen together in the early modern map of London known as the Agas map.  This is an Elizabethan copy (1633) of a bird’s-eye view of London first printed from woodblocks around 1561 (Agas Map).

Both the Holbein Gate and the King Street Gate were demolished in the 18th century (1759 and 1723, respectively) because they obstructed traffic on a major artery in the increasingly congested city. 

Holbein Gate: 

The name of the Holbein Gate refers to the 18th-century belief that it was designed by German painter Hans Holbein (who entered the King’s service in 1536, four years after the gate was completed) but there is no evidence of any connection between the painter and this structure (Summerson 1958: 8).  Official records of the time refer to it simply as “the hither gatehouse” or “the first gatehouse.” It was subsequently referred to as the King’s Gate or the Cockpit Gate (Cox and Forrest 1931: 10-22 and n1-2).

The Holbein Gate exemplifies the Tudor Palace Style found in Tudor royal residences up to mid-Elizabethan times and stemming from the fortified residences of the 14th and 15th centuries.  This militaristic style was more decorative than functional, with battlements and towers providing a “chivalresque palace” suitable for jousts, banquets, masques, festivals, and other entertainments common in what Summerson calls the “last phase of the age of chivalry” (Summerson 1958: 2).

The Holbein gate was a typical Tudor structure with four octagonal corner turrets.  In elevation (plate xvii) there were three stories, and the turrets continued an extra story.  The plan (plate xix, bottom) was divided into three sections running north to south, which include a wide archway in the center for equestrian and vehicular traffic, a narrower pedestrian passage on the east side, and a second narrow section on the west side, which may or may not have originally been a pedestrian passage. A plan of 1670 shows this section to be occupied by a room and a staircase.  A blocked up door on the west side, shown in Morden and Lea’s map of 1682 (Cox and Forrest 1931: 12, Figure 2), suggests that it had originally been a pedestrian passage.  Around 1723, the room and staircase were cleared away to create a western footway as shown in Vertue’s engraving, symmetrical with the eastern footway.

According to Cox and Forrest, the north and south faces were identical in design.  The gate was built of stone and flint arranged in a chequered pattern. On the first (main) floor was a large oriel window with six lights in two stages. A carved panel with the Tudor Royal coat of arms was inserted in the lower portion of the oriel window; the window and coat of arms are very similar to those found on the Great Gatehouse at Hampton Court Palace dating from 1515-38 (extant).  Above the oriel window, the top story had a window with fourcentered lights, also in two stages. Four roundels are placed on either side of the two windows on these two upper stories. These were Italianate glazed terracotta roundels containing busts, in imitation of the terracotta roundels containing busts of Roman emperors used by Cardinal Wolsey at Hampton Court, possibly in imitation of the Cardinal d’Amboise at Gaillon (Summerson 1958: 3, 8). Dramatizing the military character embodied in the Tudor Palace Style, there were battlemented parapets on top of the oriel window, the turrets, and the raked roof line between the turrets.  There was probably a raked lead roof behind these central parapets (Cox and Forrest 1931: 10-22).

The four octagonal turrets rose above square bases with splayed angles over each end of the side passages.  On each face of the turrets were two-light windows, below which were carved panels with traceried heads. The carved decorations were the portcullis, Tudor rose, and fleur-de-lis, each surmounted by a crown (Cox and Forrest 1931: 10-22). These turrets are similar to those at Henry’s gatehouse at St. James’s Palace (1532-40, extant).
The plan in plate xix indicates that the Holbein Gate was 37.5 feet long from north to south, with an overall width of approximately 35 feet.  It shows the central arch as twelve feet wide, allowing for carriages to pass, while pedestrian passages on each side were four feet wide.  However, an unsigned elevation drawing cited by Cox and Forrest (1931: 11, cf. Plate 6) gives the width as 12 feet 9 inches, resulting in a shallower arch than that drawn by Vertue for Vetusta Monumenta (the former drawing has also been conjecturally attributed to him).  A central arch with a squat shape can be seen in some surviving drawings of the gate, such as the one from Morden and Lee’s map of 1682, and in a drawing by Hollar (Cox and Norman 1930: Plate 4).

In 1756, just before the demolition of the Gate, the first floor above the ground level contained one large room and three closets. The number of rooms in the upper story is not known. In 1756 this story served as the Paper Office, and had certainly been used for that purpose as early as 1672.  Some additional interior space was also claimed at some point by filling in the arched portion of the central passageway.  The drawing of the Holbein Gate from Morden and Lee’s map (1682) shows a flat ceiling above the central passage with the vaulted area of the passage walled in and a three-light window inserted on each face. According to Cox and Forrest, this alteration was made within a few years of the gate’s creation, though “it can hardly be supposed that the Gate was built thus” (Cox and Forrest 1931: 10-22).

The Holbein Gate – with the western passage and the central arch fully restored – was frequently depicted in 18th-century “view paintings,” which also show the spatial relationship between the gate and the Banqueting House.  These include paintings by Antonio Joli (late 1740s), Caneletto (1754-5), and Thomas Sandby (ca. 1760).

Kings Street Gate:

The King Street Gate was “almost certainly” built by Henry VIII in the last years of his reign, although the date of construction is unknown (Summerson 1958: 8).  In contrast to the Tudor-style Holbein Gate, the King Street Gate was built in a French-inspired architectural style, and is “one of the pioneer works of Henry’s reign,” prophetic of much that would appear in Elizabethan architecture (Summerson 1958: 6-8). After Wolsey’s fall, his preference for Italian artists was replaced with Henry’s preference for French artists, whose skills quickly passed into English hands, and the King Street Gate is inspired by French classicizing architecture.

Like the Holbein Gate, the King Street Gate was divided into three passages running north to south, a wider central one for coaches and riders on horseback, and two narrower side passages for pedestrians.  In contrast to the Holbein Gate, the central passage of the King Street Gate had a flat roof while the two side passages were arched. All three lower openings had Doric pilasters on either side supporting a continuous frieze, with pediments above the two side openings. The second story had two tall Ionic pilasters, and a secondary Ionic order as well, with a full entablature above them. The turrets of the King Street Gate had round towers with domical caps. Above the central section of the gate was a semicircular feature with the signs of the zodiac.  Summerson succinctly describes the gate as wholly English in its design, referring to the its plan with three openings and four corner turrets, but French classical in its details, except for the Tudor lights of the windows (Summerson 1958: 8).

The plan in plate xix indicates that the King Street Gate was 35.5 feet long from north to south, and its overall width was also slightly greater than 35 feet.  Thus it was square in plan. The central passage was twelve feet wide, allowing carriages to pass, while pedestrian passages on each side were 4.5 feet wide.  The plan also shows that the supporting walls separating the ground floor into three corridors were thinner than those used in the Holbein Gate, suggesting the use of a stronger building material (ashlar masonry) that could carry greater loads than the smaller stone and flint blocks used in the earlier structure.


Vertue’s engravings of the two gates demonstrate an interest in the preservation, or at least documentation, of England’s architectural legacy as more and more of it was being threatened with destruction.  His engraving of the King Street Gate was done two years after the gate’s demolition, presumably from drawings he had made earlier (not extant).  The Holbein Gate had also been threatened with demolition, so the Society of Antiquaries was presented with a potentially short-lived opportunity to record it. The gate’s destruction was first proposed in 1719, but was opposed by prominent men including the architect Sir John Vanbrugh (Cox and Forrest 1931: 18-19; Summerson 1958: 8). In 1723 the westernmost passage through the gate was ordered to be cleared of its obstructions, described above. In 1755 there was a proposal to move the gate to a different location in London, and erecting it “at the end of the New Street leading from the New Bridge [Westminster Bridge].” When the Holbein Gate was finally demolished in August 1759, the Duke of Cumberland asked for the materials so he could re-erect the gate at the end of the long walk in Windsor Great Park.  Thomas Sandby designed the restored gate, with the addition of side wings, as can be seen in John Smith’s Antiquities of Westminster (Smith 1807: opposite 21).  Sandby’s design was never executed, and the building materials were reportedly used in several buildings in Windsor Park (Cox and Forrest 1931: 20).

The burgeoning interest in architectural preservation demonstrated by Vertue’s engravings is also reflected in the explosion of interest in “view paintings” in the mid-18th century.  The efforts of Vertue and the Society of Antiquaries show their enthusiasm for elevating and popularizing English architecture. The inclusion of the Holbein Gate and the King Street Gate side-by-side in the Vetusta Monumenta suggests that the Society of Antiquaries intended to promote a comparison of two very different structures built for a single monarch, in a didactic gesture that revealed stylistic developments in public monuments.  These plates frame the Vetusta Monumenta project as a work of architectural history, among other things. Readers are able to compare the Tudor Palace Style of the Holbein Gate, with its decorative battlements reminiscent of medieval architecture, with the French-influenced classicism of the King Street Gate built less than two decades later.

If one goal of these plates is didactic, there is also an aesthetic goal to be found, and they share this goal with the mid-century view painters like Canaletto and Joli.  For the view painters, recording the built environment accurately was not the highest priority; in Canaletto’s painting of The Banqueting House and the Holbein Gate, Whitehall, with the Equestrian Statue of King Charles I (1754-5), the equestrian statue is depicted standing in front of the Banqueting House, while in reality it stood further north at Charing Cross.  Likewise, Vertue’s engraving of the Holbein Gate shows it free of architectural accretions on either side, when in fact it is known to have had the so-called House of Van Huls attached on its east side, and, according to Joli’s painting The Banqueting House and the Holbein Gate, Whitehall (late 1740s), a structure attached on its west side as well.  Vertue may have deliberately chosen to represent an idealized restoration of the gate – both gates, in fact – rather than their actual states.  His inclusion of a horse and rider underneath the central arch of the Holbein Gate, and of a horse-drawn carriage passing through the central passage of the King Street Gate, provide not only a sense of scale but also a picturesque point of visual interest quite apart from any scientific or academic drawings or engravings of historic architecture. 

Works Cited

Agas Map, Map of Early Modern London website.

Cox, Montague H.  and Philip Norman, eds.  1930.  Survey of London: Volume 13, St. Margaret, Westminster, Part II: Whitehall I. London: London City Council (British History Online).

Cox, Montague H. and G. Topham Forrest, eds. 1 931.  Survey of London: Volume 14, St. Margaret, Westminster, Part III: Whitehall II.  London: London City Council. (British History Online [especially pp. 10-22; many images only in print version]).

Smith, John Thomas.  1807.  Antiquities of Westminster; the Old Palace; St. Stephen’s Chapel (now the House of Commons). London.

Summerson, John.  1953.  Architecture in Britain 1530 to 1830. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

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