Restoring Banqueting House’s history

Banqueting House Whitehall is getting a facelift.

The central London venue – just a few steps from Downing Street and around the corner from Parliament – is currently hidden from street view by scaffolding and screens. But behind that mask is a flurry of activity, as owners Historic Royal Palaces work to bring new life to this ancient building.

The 17th century Banqueting House is the last surviving tie to the lost Palace of Whitehall, and essential refurbishments and renovations are taking place until 2019. Historic Royal Palaces is staring down a long and expensive list of work that includes repairing and conserving the exterior, cleaning and repairing an original Rubens painting installed inside in 1636, adding a lift to improve accessibility and repairing an 18th century weather vane – and that’s just really the tip of the iceberg.

Banqueting House's Rubens ceiling

Banqueting House’s Rubens ceiling

Surprisingly, though, this major and historic project receives no Government or Crown funding.

“We raise all our own income from a range of activities, including ticket sales, retail and catering, membership, sponsorship and donations in order to care for all of our palaces,” Liz Young, head of events and commercial services at Historic Royal Palaces, tells Access.

“As a charity, we seek to give the palaces a future as valuable as their past. We are responsible not only for caring for the buildings themselves, but also for sharing the fascinating stories that live within them.”

Banqueting House is one of six palaces under the Historic Royal Palaces umbrella; Young says that because the group reinvests its entire revenue back into the venues, private events are key to keeping them from crumbling to the ground.

“Events generated around £6m for the charity in 2014 to 2015 – a sum we are looking to increase in the coming years,” she says. “By choosing one of our palaces for their event, our clients are supporting our charitable cause and contributing to the preservation of these buildings for future generations.”

All of Historic Royal Palaces’ venues undergo constant refurbishments, ranging from minor to essential. The work is exhaustive and never-ending, but Access witnessed a passion to restore in everyone working on site to restore Banqueting House to its original glory.

“Banqueting House represents a significant part of our history, hence the importance of making sure the building is cared for and preserved so it can be continue to be enjoyed,” says Jennifer Walker, head of the venue for Historic Royal Palaces. “There is no better way to show people how money generated from commercial activities such as private and corporate events is being used than in the painstaking work that goes into restoring the historic building.”

The view from the scaffolding

The view from the scaffolding

Standing on the terrifyingly high rooftop-level scaffolding, looking out over Whitehall and Westminster as lead workers and stonecutters labour away, it’s easy to see where everyone’s passion comes from. Though they may host some thoroughly modern events, the palaces of Historic Royal Palaces are really in the business of preserving the past.