Extracts from Daniel Defoe’s Account of London

Selected by Pat Rogers
Introduction and Contents

Whitehall and Charing Cross

From hence we come through two very handsome, tho’ ancient gates [Westminster Gate; Cockpit Gate], into the open Palace before White-Hall and the Banqueting-house.

Having mentioned White-Hall already, I have nothing more to say of it, but that it was, and is not, but may revive. There is, doubtless, a noble situation, fit to contain a royal palace, equal to Versailles; but I have given you my thoughts on that subject at large.

Nor can I dwell here upon a description of his majesty’s Court, or an account of the politicks managed there; it does not relate to this work; let it suffice to say, his majesty resides, especially all the winter, at St. James’s; but the business of the government, is chiefly carried on at the Cock-pit: This is a royal building, was once part of White-hall, first the Duke of Monmouth lived in it, then Prince George of Denmark and his princess, afterwards Queen Ann, and since the fire at White-Hall, the Treasury, the Secretary’s office, the Council Chamber, the Board of Trade, and the Lord Chamberlain, hold all their particular offices here; and here there is also, a by-way out of Duke-street into the park.

From thence we come to the Horse Guards, a building commodious enough, built on purpose, as a barrack for a large detachment of the Horse-Guards, who keep their post here, while attending on duty; over it are offices for payment of the troops, and a large court of judicature, for holding councils of war, for tryal of deserters and others, according to the articles of war.

In the same range of buildings, stood the Admiralty Office, built by the late King William; but tho’ in itself a spacious building, is found so much too narrow now the business is so much increased, and as there is a sufficient piece of spare ground behind it, to inlarge the building, we find a new and spacious office is now building in the same place, which shall be sufficient to all the uses required.

This office is, perhaps, of the most importance of any of the publick parts of the administration, the royal navy being the sinews of our strength, and the whole direction of it being in the hands of the commissioners for executing this office. The Navy and the Victualling Offices, are but branches of this administration, and receive their orders from hence, as likewise the docks and yards receive their orders from the navy: the whole being carried on with the most exquisite order and dispatch. The Admiralty has been in commission ever since the death of Prince George.

From this part of the town, we come into the publick streets, where nothing is more remarkable than the hurries of the people; Charing-Cross is a mixture of Court and city; Man’s Coffee-house is the Exchange Alley of this part of the town, and ’tis perpetually throng’d with men of business, as the others are with men of play and pleasure.

From hence advancing a little, we see the great equestrian statue of King Charles the First in brass, a costly, but a curious piece; however, it serves sufficiently, to let us know who it is, and why erected there. The circumstances are two, he faces the place where his enemies triumph’d over him, and triumphs, that is, tramples in the place where his murtherers were hang’d.

From this place due north, are the king’s stables, called the Meuse, where the king’s horses, especially his coach-horses, are kept, and the coaches of state are set up; it is a very large place, and takes up a great deal of ground, more than is made use of: It contains two large squares, besides an out-let east, where is the managerie for teaching young gentlemen to ride the great saddle; in the middle of the first court is a smith or farryer’s house and shop, a pump and horse-pond, and I see little else remarkable, but old scatter’d buildings; and, indeed, this place standing where a noble square of good buildings might be erected, I do not wonder that they talk of pulling it down, contracting the stables into less room, and building a square of good houses there, which would, indeed, be a very great improvement, and I doubt not will be done.