Not an anti-government protest slogan, but plans from 1854 to demolish most of the western side of Whitehall and replace it with a grand monolithic building. While lots of grand buildings have been built on Whitehall over the years, Downing Street was always seen as a sacred space not to be touched – but these plans, by John Tarring, were different.

Downing Street would be utterly wiped out by this huge gothic office block, although its memory would be retained in a concealed courtyard within to be called Downing Square that would replace where Downing Street would have been.

The whole building would have been around 700 feet long and 400 feet wide, running from Parliament Square up to Horse Guards. The demolition would have gone a bit further north, demolishing also Dover House, to replace it with a new public entrance to St James Park, as a replacement for the current narrow passage through Horse Guards, and was seen as a way of making Banqueting House more visible from the park.

The layout would have seen several courtyards within, to allow light into the offices in pre-electricity days, and for access, which would have probably been turned into civil servant car parks in the 1960s.

The impetus for the rebuilding was money — in that the government rented the offices it occupied in the area, and according to The Builder magazine, was paying £25,000 a year in rent. The replacement building apart from offering vastly more space would cost around £700,000 to build, so was seen as an economic investment.

That it turned a cluster of old buildings into a grand Imperial government office of the sort that was very popular at the time was obviously a convenient side effect.

The effect on government would have been dramatic. There is said to be a lot of merit in how the Prime Minister is seen to work in a modest building on Downing Street, with its famous door, and the intimacy of the space is reputed to help government function.

A grand building with the Prime Minister likely occupying a whole wing would have changed the British government into one closer to the way European governments were run at the time, grander, remote, imperial.

The plans were submitted to the Radical politician, Sir William Molesworth, who was the First Commissioner of Works and in charge of government buildings. He is noted for commissioning the rebuilding of Westminster Bridge and pushing for Kew Gardens to be opened to the public.

The layout of the building overlaid on Google Maps

He was said to be much impressed by the design but doubted that the land could be bought at the costs being suggested, and the government’s own architects were working on a plan anyway. Basically, go away.

Sources:

The Sun, 27th November 1954

The Atlas, 2nd December 1854

The Builder, 16th December 1854

Design Government Offices Park Front John Tarring Architect 1854

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4 comments
  1. Richard King says:

    Does the government still rent the buildings?

    Amazing to think that as a teenager in 1966 I wandered down Downing Street unimpeeded, didnt even see a cop.

  2. Ike Ijeh says:

    Just wanted to say thank you so much for this. I thought I knew London and certainly knew of Inigo Jones and Charles I’s similar plan to pretty much flatten Whitehall to dramatically expand Whitehall Palace/Banqueting House in the 1630s. But I’d NEVER come across this. Fascinating!

  3. John Ward says:

    Great article, I had never heard of this proposal, reminds one of the megastructure proposed for Whitehall in the 1960s. I’m glad it did not happen though, it would have had a devastating impact on the Horse Guards building and Parade – a little too monolithic for my taste.

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