London Drum

Banqueting House – Ceiling painting by Rubens

Where? Banqueting House, Whitehall, Westminster · Web: hrp.org Opening times? The building is currently closed and not open to visitors Visiting hours may change Time required? A typical visit is 1 hour Parking: Nearby car parks Buses: 3, 11, 12, 24, 53, 87, 88, 159 Bus fares Trains: The closest station is Westminster Circle District Jubilee Other nearby stations: Charing Cross and Embankment Train fares

Craig’s review… I have a theory that you can guess the age of a person solely by the kind of artwork they like – it’s a bit like counting the rings on a tree trunk. When you’re a kid you like cartoons and comics, and when you’re a teenager (a hoodlum) you enjoy ankle tattoos and spray painting your name on the side of a house. When you reach university it’s all about modern art and Jackson Pollock, and then ten years later it’s all oil paints and landscapes. That’s the stage of life I am at right now: the adult phase. The phase that happily pays ten quid just to see a Rubens on the roof.

Banqueting House contains one of the finest pieces of artwork in the whole of London but it’s biggest claim to fame is probably what happened outside in the street, because this is where Parliament chopped off the head of Charles I after the English Civil War.

Execution of King Charles I

I know we’re supposed to be too civilised for the death penalty these days, but if it was up to me I would bring it back in a flash otherwise history is going to suffer. If history was to repeat itself today then Charles would have been impeached and stripped of his titles and lived out the rest of his days in the Bahamas. Instead of chopping off the head of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII would have been granted a quickie divorce in Southwark Crown Court. Let’s be honest, let me be blunt: Royal history ended with the abdication. Elizabeth II is probably the first monarch we’ve ever had who hasn’t done a single thing worth writing about. Whereas all of our other monarchs had wars and laws and religious persecution to keep them busy, the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to the Queen was a curtain fire at Windsor Castle.

But let’s not get too depressed about it because we still have plenty of great history to visit in London, and Banqueting House is one of the best, because this is where Charles spent his final five minutes on planet Earth. Imagine him pacing up and down and praying, and gathering his thoughts whilst the crowd waited and baited and bayed him in the street below. What we now call Whitehall looked a lot different in those days because Whitehall Palace was still standing and most of its buildings were made of wood. Banqueting House rose above them all in shining stone – if you look at some old paintings of the palace and the park beyond then you can usually see its shoulders poking above the rooftops. It’s hard to get a sense of how grand it must have been in those days, because if you look at it now then it’s just one more facade in a street of government offices.

Inside it’s staffed by doddery old ladies who look like they might be friends with the Queen with their posh voices and flowery dresses and perm-white hairdos. For the first part of the tour they just point you down an impressive looking hallway towards twenty school chairs arranged around a TV. You then have to sit there for ten minutes whilst you watch a potted history of the building.

This is my number one hate when visiting an attraction – being plonked in front of a telly. Who wants to spend a pocketful of money just to sit in front of a television set? You may as well just stay at home and watch the Discovery Channel. If they want to explain the history of the building then they should do it through a collection of historical objects, pictures and paintings, but anyway… once you’ve dutifully watched the video you have to return to the till to pick up an audio guide, and then they send you up a flight of stairs to the second room. To be perfectly honest, at this stage of the tour I thought it was a load of rubbish. But then I stepped through the door and saw their famous painting on the ceiling and everything changed…

Ceiling by Peter Paul Rubens

I don’t normally get bowled over when I see a piece of art, but this Rubens on the roof is incredible. And I say that as a middle-aged bloke who has no particular interest in art. So if I find it impressive then you I’m pretty sure that you will too.

The room itself is just a double-height hall with a big red throne at the end. That’s all it is. There is nothing else to see inside it (apart from the chandeliers), so you are here to see the Rubens on the roof and that’s it.

Staring up at the painting for five minutes doesn’t half do your neck in, though. I felt like my bones had fused into position. Happily they’ve placed some mirrored tables on the floor so you can look up by looking down at the ground (if you see what I mean).

And they’ve scattered a few beanie bags around so you can lie down and listen to the audioguide – but I’m too old to sit on those things. If I sat on one of those cushions then I’d never be able to get back up again.

Worth a visit? Value for money? Good for kids? Easy to get to?

I also recommend… If you enjoy this then try Guildhall (travel from Westminster to Bank by tube) and Mansion House (travel from Westminster to Bank by tube). There are three more buildings a short walk away that are even older than Banqueting House: Westminster Abbey, Westminster Hall and the Jewel Tower

London Squire bookThe owns londondrum.com and has spent the last decade reviewing the capital’s landmarks, attractions and hotels. His guidebook is available from Amazon

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Your comments and questions

Carol A great vid, I love your posts forthright and honest, keep up the good work Regards, Carole Waterer

Craig Thanks Carol, I'm glad you liked it

JoannaP A hidden masterpiece which is every bit as breathtaking as I was led to believe. I came here specifically to see the painting but I found the audioguide every bit as good. I didn't realise that a king was put to death here, and it gave extra meaning to the painting to think that it was the last thing he saw as he stepped out onto the gallows. Truly wonderful

Glyn We are trying to pack as much as we can into one day in London and we will already be seeing Big Ben, Horse Guards Parade and Downing Street in the area, and I would like to know whether you would recommend squeezing in a visit to Banqueting House as well, seeing as we are already in the area?

Craig Hi Glyn. I do usually recommend a visit, but not if you've only got one day because there are better things to do in the area like Westminster Abbey, and the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, or maybe a walk up to Buckingham Palace. There's really only one thing to see inside - the painting. And seeing as you probably won't have enough time to listen to the audioguide for an hour there's not much point

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