Vetusta Monumenta: Ancient Monuments, a Digital Edition

Plates 1.17-1.19: Whitehall and King Street Gates

Plates: Plates 1.17 and 1.18 were engraved and signed by George Vertue (1684-1756) in 1725. Plate 1.17 is based on an original signed drawing made by Vertue in 1724 for the purpose of the engraving, currently in the possession of the Society of Antiquaries of London. Plate 1.19 is unsigned, but also attributed to Vertue (Cox and Forrest 1931, 11).

Objects: Two gatehouses built for 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.

Both gatehouses were built as part of the development of Whitehall, connecting palace structures on either side of the street. 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 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).


Plate 1.17, Top: THE GATE AT WHITE HALL / Said to be Design’d by Hans Holbein.
Plate 1.17, Bottom: Sumptibus Societatis Antiquariӕ Lond: 1725.

Plate 1.18, Top: KING STREET GATE WESTMINSTER / demolish’d Anno 1723.
Plate 1.18, Bottom: Sumptibus Societatis Antiquariӕ Lond: 1725.

Plate 1.19, Top Label: a Plan / of King Street Gate.
Plate 1.19, Bottom Label: a Plan of White hall Gate.
Plate 1.19, Bottom: Sumptibus Societat: Antiqu: Lond: 1725.
Plate 1.19: Dimensions and a scale in feet are provided with both plans.

Preparatory Drawings: Click here to see the Preparatory Drawings for Plates 1.17-1.19.

Commentary by Elizabeth J. Hornbeck: In 1530, Henry VIII acquired York Place (which had belonged to the archbishop of York since 1240) to replace Westminster Palace as his main London residence, and built it into the massive palace complex 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 eastern range of Whitehall Palace (the river side) was destroyed by fire. According to Simon Thurley, after the fire “only three structures on the east side of the palace remained above ground, the banqueting house, the Holbein gate and the Phase IV undercroft of the guard chamber” (Thurley 1999, 144).  Today the Banqueting House, built by Inigo Jones from 1619-22 for Charles I, is the only complete structure that remains of that eastern range.

King Street connected Whitehall with Westminster to the south and Charing Cross to the north. The range of palace buildings on the west side of the street, known as the Cockpit side, were primarily devoted to recreation, and these largely survived the 1698 fire. (Many were still standing in 1939 when work began on building a new state office block.)  Henry VIII built the King Street and Holbein 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 a 1633 copy of a bird’s-eye view of London first printed from woodblocks around 1561.)

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 Holbein Gate stood at the northern end of King Street, which 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 (10-22). The Holbein gate stood slightly to the south of Inigo Jones’s Banqueting House (built 1619-22) on the east side of Whitehall, as can be seen in several 18th-century view paintings.

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 fourteenth and fifteenth 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 1.17) there were three stories, and the turrets rose one story higher. The plan (Plate 1.19, 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 George Vertue’s engraving, symmetrical with the eastern footway.

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 were 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 four centered lights, also in two stages. The print shows one roundel placed on each side of each window (four total). Summerson describes these as 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). Cox and Forrest believed that the north and south faces were identical in design (Cox and Forrest 1931, 10-22).

While any account of the roundels must remain conjectural, they are described in a range of sources dating back as far as 1790, and as many as three of the busts survive in the V & A and the Metropolitan Museum. In 1807 the antiquary J.T. Smith, author of The Antiquities of Westminster, located parts of three roundels built into various buildings in Windsor Great Park (Smith 1807, 22). Smith also noted, however, that Thomas Pennant’s Some Account of London (1790) described the busts quite differently, as having been executed “in baked clay, in proper colours, which resisted to the last every attack of the weather.” Smith concluded from Pennant’s description that there had been two sets of four busts, one on each side of the gate, and that at least one set was of “baked clay in proper colours and glazed in the manner of Delft ware, which had preserved them entire.” Smith traced three of this second set to the possession of one Mr. Wright at Hatfield Piory, Hatfield Peverell in Essex, where he visited in 1803 and drew them (reproduced in Smith 1807, 21 ff.). Wright identified them as representing Henry VII, Henry VIII at sixteen, and Bishop Fisher. Smith believed them to have been executed by Italian artist Pietro Torrigiano or Torregiano (1472-1528); the attribution, which it seems Smith was the first to make, still stands. There remains some doubt about where the busts were displayed originally, on either side of the gate or in the interior (ex.inf. Rosemary Hill; see also Hill 2016, 262).

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 roofline between the turrets. There was probably a raked lead roof behind these central parapets (Cox and Forrest 1931, 10-22). The bases of the four turrets over each end of the side passages have angle buttresses turning them from square to octagonal. 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). The portcullis was the emblem of Margaret of Beaufort, Henry’s grandmother and an important figure for the Tudor dynasty. These turrets (as seen in the engraving) are similar to those at Henry’s gatehouse at St. James’s Palace (1532-40, extant).

The plan in Plate 1.19 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 central 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 are not known. In 1756 this story served as the State Paper Office (precursor of the Public Record 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” (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), Giovanni Antonio Canal or Canaletto (1754-1755), and Thomas Sandby (ca. 1760).

King Street Gate

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 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 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 classicizing, French-inspired architectural style, and is “one of the pioneer works of Henry’s reign,” prophetic of much that would appear in Elizabethan architecture (6-8). After Cardinal Wolsey’s fall, his preference for Italian artists was replaced with Henry’s preference for French artists, whose skills quickly passed into English hands.

Like the Holbein Gate, the King Street Gate was divided into three passages running north to south, a wide center 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 its plan with three openings and four corner turrets, but French classical in its details, except for the Tudor lights of the windows (1958, 8).

The plan in Plate 1.19 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 of London (SAL) 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. It is possible that the central arch was also restored to its original form, as depicted in the engraving, at this time. In 1755 there was a proposal to move the gate to a different location in London, and to erect 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 (1723-1798) 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—an interest that is reflected in John Smith’s efforts to track down the later fate of the Holbein Gate—is also reflected in the explosion of interest in “view paintings” in the mid-18th century. The efforts of Vertue and the SAL show their enthusiasm for elevating and popularizing English architecture. The inclusion of the Holbein Gate and the King Street Gate side-by-side in Vetusta Monumenta suggests that the SAL 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. There is no documentary evidence of a didactic intention, but the inclusion of these gates among numerous other monuments in Vetusta Monumenta nonetheless produces a kind of architectural history, in effect if not by design. A comparison with explicitly didactic works on architecture from this period, such as Batty Langley’s Ancient Architecture (1742), underscores Vertue’s strong concern with historical accuracy in these prints. 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.

While these plates set out to document two important monuments on the verge of destruction (already demolished in one case), they also cultivate to some degree aesthetic values espoused by mid-century view painters like Giovanni Antonio Canal or Canaletto (1697-1768) and Antonio Joli (1700-77). For the view painters, recording the built environment accurately was not the highest priority; in Canaletto’s Whitehall and the Privy Garden from Richmond House (1754-55), which includes the Holbein Gate, the equestrian statue of King Charles I 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 more often absent from scientific or academic drawings or engravings of historic architecture.

Works Cited:

“Agas Map.” 1561. Map of Early Modern London.

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. 1931. Survey of London: Volume 14, St Margaret, Westminster, Part III: Whitehall II. London: London City Council. British History Online. Note: see especially pp. 10-22; many images are only available in the print version.

Hill, Rosemary. 2016. “‘Proceeding Like Guy Faux’: The Antiquarian Investigation of St. Stephen’s Chapel, Westminster, 1790-1837.” Architectural History 59: 253-80.

Smith, John Thomas. 1807. Antiquities of Westminster; the Old Palace; St. Stephen’s Chapel (now the House of Commons). London: Printed by T. Bensley.

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

Thurley, Simon. 1999. Whitehall Palace: An Architectural History of the Royal Apartments, 1240-1698. New Haven: Yale UP.