Why do we call the British Government ‘Whitehall’?

The White Hall was traditionally a grand building designed for festivities, but why the continued relevance?

Why do we call the British Government ‘Whitehall’? © Getty Images

In London, the ‘White Hall’ of Henry VIII was associated with rather more serious aspects of government and was the building before which Charles I was later executed on 30 January 1649. A scaffold was constructed in front of the building and the execution party stepped out on to it from a first floor window.

Advertisement

A massive palace, it had over 1,500 rooms and featured an indoor tennis court, a bowling green and a cock-fighting pit, all put in by Henry VIII. In 1698, the palace of Whitehall was gutted by fire and never rebuilt. Diarist John Evelyn wrote after the blaze, “Whitehall burnt: nothing but walls and ruins left.”

Advertisement

By then, real power in the land was held by Parliament, Whitehall becoming the site for key administrative offices such as the Treasury and 10 Downing Street. Military buildings also surround the site, including Horse Guards. The term ‘Whitehall’ refers not just to the site of the former Palace of Whitehall, but to the bureaucratic institutions of the government in general.

This article was first published by History Revealed magazine in April 2014.