4 January 1698: the Palace of Whitehall is destroyed by fire

On this day in 1698, a basket of linen caught fire burning to the ground one of Europe's most complex and beautiful royal residences – the Palace of Whitehall.

With all its modifications over the centuries, by the late 17th century the Palace of Whitehall was a mishmash of architectural styles. From Tudor towers to the Palladian Banqueting House designed by Inigo Jones in 1619, it was described as one of the largest, most complex and beautiful palaces in Europe – or most ugly if you agreed with the French Duc de Saint-Simon.

Disaster struck at four in the afternoon on 4 January 1698, when a basket of linen left out to dry besides a charcoal fire set alight. It wasn't the first accident to befall the palace: just seven years earlier, a similar mishap in the Duchess of Portsmouth's lodgings almost claimed the royal residence. But this time, the destruction was all but complete.

Efforts to save the palace were chaotic. Servants ran around frantically trying to save the furnishings, but were impeded in their efforts by the courtiers, who had bolted their doors against looters, thus getting in the way of workmen who were desperately trying to blow up the buildings in advance of the encroaching flames. It was all mostly in vain.A marble bust of Charles I by the great Italian sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini and a Michelangelo are among the treasures believed lost in the fire.

Banqueting House and the beautifully ornate Tudor Holbein Gate survived, although an unsentimental London demolished the gate in 1759 to make way for a road. But there were those who mourned the still smouldering ruins. The reigning William III declared valiantly that "if God would give him leave, he would rebuild them much finer than before". He even fetched Sir Christopher Wren to set to it.

But God wasn't the problem the Treasury was, in that it was empty. Queen Anne, who followed William in 1702, promised to put aside £100,000 for six years to fund the rebuilding of Whitehall Palace. Her endeavours, too, came to nothing. So the wreckage was swept away, and the politicians later moved in. Perhaps it's not for nothing that the Cabinet Office today sits on the site of the old cockfighting pit.

Recommended

Key dates for 2023: here are the dates you need to know when it comes to your money in 2023
Personal finance

Key dates for 2023: here are the dates you need to know when it comes to your money in 2023

There is no shortage of important dates to be aware of next year – which are likely to affect your financial health. We run through the key dates in 2…
6 Dec 2022
What is a recession and how will it affect you?
UK Economy

What is a recession and how will it affect you?

The UK economy is heading towards a recession, according to economists. But what is a recession, and what does it mean for your money?
6 Dec 2022
Investment scams are infiltrating Facebook and Instagram
Investment strategy

Investment scams are infiltrating Facebook and Instagram

Research from Which? found hundreds of investment ads on Facebook and Instagram that could be misleading investors into potential investment scams.
6 Dec 2022
Is it a good time to buy an annuity as rates hit a 14-year high?
Pensions

Is it a good time to buy an annuity as rates hit a 14-year high?

Average annual annuity income has risen by nearly £1,000 since the start of the year. We look at whether now is a good time to buy an annuity.
6 Dec 2022

Most Popular

Is it cheaper to leave the heating on low all day?
Personal finance

Is it cheaper to leave the heating on low all day?

The weather is getting colder and energy bills are rising, but is it really cheaper to leave the heating on low all day or should you only turn it on …
1 Dec 2022
Radiator vs electric heater – which is cheaper?
Personal finance

Radiator vs electric heater – which is cheaper?

We compare the costs, pros and cons of radiators and electric heaters and see which one will help keep your energy bill as low as possible.
28 Nov 2022
State pension errors – why tens of thousands of mothers could be missing out on millions in state pension payments
State pensions

State pension errors – why tens of thousands of mothers could be missing out on millions in state pension payments

LCP launches Mothers Missing Millions campaign amid DWP state pension errors.
3 Dec 2022