Governmental buildings of the United Kingdom contain many kinds of buildings according to their functions, such as royal residences and various offices of government (the seat of parliament, law courts, assembly houses, city halls and so on). Governmental buildings serve as symbols of a state and they mirror a political regime of a state, which is discussed in detail in Architecture, Power, and National Identity by architectural historian Lawrence J. Vale.
In general, the most famous and the most acknowledged as symbols of the nation are royal palaces and castles. There are numbers of places which served or still serve as royal residences. There are official royal residences which are used as homes of the Royal Family, as working buildings for the offices of staff from the Royal Household, for entertaining official guests and hosting formal events and ceremonies. At the same time there are private estates used by members of the Royal Family and all other buildings in the United Kingdom which once housed members of the Royal Family are classified as unoccupied Royal residences and are therefore places of historical interest. The Royal Palaces are a specific set of former Royal residences which are owned by the Queen on behalf of the nation and run by an independent charity, for example the Tower of London.
These symbols are buildings which served or still serve as Royal residences or places build by Royal members. And these buildings remind the British, and also the other nations, of the history and relative uniqueness of their nation.
2.4.1 Windsor Castle, Berkshire, England
English castles are huge domestic buildings usually build with defensive components. Windsor Castle is considered to be one of the most famous castles in England. It is considered the largest and oldest occupied residential castle in the world. It covers an area of 26 acres and was built for William the Conqueror around the year 1088. Windsor Castle could be classified both as a domestic and governmental building. It has been inhabited since its building and used as a fortress and a Royal residence. Additionally, the Castle itself was few times mentioned by a number of famous writers in their writings. For example, an English historical novelist Ainsworth let himself inspired by the castle and wrote a novel Windsor Castle. Famous dramatist Shakespeare wrote a play Merry Wives of Windsor, whose plot takes place in the town of Windsor and the area of Windsor Castle. The play, written on the motion of Queen Elizabeth I, probably was first performed at Windsor Castle in 1597.
At its beginning, in the eleventh century, Windsor Castle was only a wooden structure and also an important fortress due to its strategic position. During the past the Castle was, on the one hand, used and accommodated as a comfortable place for living and, on the other hand, used as an impregnable fortress. The first stone building belonging to Windsor location was built by King Henry II in the twelfth century and most English kings and queens had a direct influence on the castle, its changes and development. King Edward III, the most closely connected to the development of the castle, was born at Windsor Castle in 1312. About forty years later Edward demolished most of Henry’s buildings and replaced them with a new castle structure with William of Wykeham, an overseer of building works (Richards 29). The place of worship at Windsor Castle is Saint George’s Chapel and its present form was founded by Edward IV. It was purposely designed, as one of the examples of Perpendicular style of Gothic architecture in England, for the Order of the Garter4 and was completed during the reign of Henry VIII in 1528. In the seventeenth century the Castle became the headquarters of Cromwell’s New Model Army and during Cromwell’s negotiations the Castle served as a prison for the deposed king, Charles I. After the restoration King Charles II did much to restore and refurnish the Castle from the damage suffered during the Civil War. During the reign of George IV, in the nineteenth century, the final rebuilding project in the history of Windsor Castle began (Richards 157) and the Castle was transformed into a palace of the present form. Windsor Castle today contains a wealth of painting, decorative ceiling designs, antique furniture and additionally other no less impressive buildings and pieces of land, such as the Quadrangle or the Great Park.
Besides the historical value, the Castle still has its usage nowadays. According to Percy’s collection ‘Windsor Castle has always been a favourite palace of the Sovereign and people of England’ (Percy 3) and Her Majesty, Queen Elisabeth II, is not an exception. Windsor Castle is her official residence and she uses it both as a private home, where she usually spends weekends, and as a Royal residence at which she undertakes certain formal duties, such as hosting State Visits from overseas monarchs and presidents. This is another important aspect of the symbolic meaning of the building. Windsor Castle symbolizes the Queen and the Royals, who further represent the English nation and have significant worth for the English. Windsor Castle therefore functions as a unique synthesis and a symbol of the importance of the English past, historical value and the Royal Family, which are among essential elements of the English national identity.
2.4.2 Buckingham Palace, Westminster, London, England
Buckingham Palace is one of the few operating Royal palaces remaining in the world today and probably also one of the best-known buildings in the United Kingdom. Palaces are special types of domestic buildings built for the prominent members of society purposefully exposing the social status of their owner. Nowadays, Buckingham Palace serves as an official residence of Queen Elisabeth II, as the administrative headquarters of the British monarchy and as a collection of unique works of art. Additionally, Buckingham Palace has its own picture gallery which contains priceless works by world famous painters, such as Rembrandt, Rubens or Vermeer.
In 1703 the Duke of Buckingham and Normandy decided to build a house which was called Buckingham House and was used as an ordinary townhouse, however, this was not the first house on the site of Buckingham Palace. In 1761 Buckingham House, designed by an architect Winde was sold to George III who bought the house for his family and descendants. Since that time Buckingham House has been inherited from one Royal member to another. In 1820 King George IV continued remodelling of the building which had begun more than fifty years before. During the renovation of Buckingham House, George IV decided to convert the building into a palace and entrusted British architect Nash with the reconstruction (Watkin 148). But unfortunately, Nash’s conversion of the house into a palace was much criticized (Richards 166) and works were later finished by George’s brother William IV and his own architect, Blore. Finally, in 1837 it became an official Royal residence. The present principal facade of Buckingham Palace which was originally constructed by Blore in 1850 was redesigned by English architect Webb in 1912 (Richards 246) as a background for the Queen Victoria Memorial statue. In 1993 Buckingham Palace was opened to public and became one of the most visited tourist attractions. Nowadays Buckingham Palace contains 775 rooms (state rooms, guest rooms, offices, staff rooms, and bathrooms). The best known parts of Buckingham Palace are, for example Grand Entrance, Ballroom, Marble Hall and Music Room. There are also very formal rooms used only for ceremonials and official entertaining. Most rooms in Buckingham Palace are furnished by unique pieces of furniture and full of unique pictures and decorations. George V’s wife Queen Mary enjoyed collecting of masterpieces decorated many rooms and added many unique pieces of furniture and art in Buckingham Palace.
Buckingham Palace is, as mentioned before, probably one of the most famous buildings in the world, known as a place of living of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the administrative headquarters of the Monarchy. Moreover, Buckingham Palace is also the venue for great Royal ceremonies, State Visits and Investitures, all of which are organised by the Royal Household. In the Palace there are annually held memorial musical concerts and performances of the arts. As well as Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace’s connection to the Queen of the United Kingdom makes the Palace a symbol of the British nation and national identity. The fact that Buckingham Palace is today fully functional and offers its treasures and atmosphere to the public supports the idea of the Palace serving as a national symbol.
2.4.3 Houses of Parliament, London, England
(The Palace of Westminster)
During its past the Palace of Westminster served both as a Royal residence and as a seat of Parliament of the United Kingdom. The British Parliament is bicameral, which means that it contains two houses, situated in the Palace of Westminster. The building is not only a seat of Parliament with its long history, but also one of the best-known buildings in the United Kingdom nowadays.
The oldest part of the Westminster Palace which survived throughout centuries is a Westminster Hall dated from the reign of King William Rufus at end of the eleventh century (Black 78). During the Middle Ages it served as the Royal residence, for judicial purposes, various ceremonials, and Parliaments. In 1365 King Edward III built the second still existing building, the Jewel Tower, for his treasures. In 1605 a group of provincial English Catholics attempted to kill King James I and most of the Protestant aristocracy by blowing up the Houses of Parliament. The revolt, later called Gunpowder Plot, was not successful and the conspirators were arrested and executed. The Palace of Westminster was reconstructed at the beginning of the eighteenth century; a century later it suffered damages during the fire in 1834 (Black 73). The Royal Commission was appointed to study the rebuilding of the Palace and finally chose a plan by classical architect Barry (Black 74), who used the Perpendicular Gothic style and was helped by English designer Pugin (Watkin 160). The Houses of Parliament became the first major public building of modern times to be specifically commissioned in the Gothic style (Richards 190). Foundations of the building by Barry and Pugin were begun in 1837 (Watkin 160) and they, among others, included three principal towers - Victoria Tower, Central Tower and the most famous Clock Tower. The Clock Tower, situated on the north end of the Palace and also known as Big Ben, contains four-faced clock and five bells, especially one called Big Ben, ‘the largest bell ever cast in England (Wheeler 100). Although most of the work had been carried out by 1860, the construction was not finished until a decade afterwards. During the WWII the Common Chamber was destroyed and re-built by English architect Scott. The present day building includes four floors and over 1100 rooms (Black 74), such as the Royal Gallery, Robing Room, Lords Chamber (the site of important ceremonies, such as the annual State Opening of Parliament) and Commons Chamber.
The official web page of the Westminster Palace presents the complex of buildings as ‘a fascinating mixture of both ancient and modern buildings, and houses an iconic collection of furnishings, archives and works of art’ (UK Parliament). Moreover, in the text edited by Wheeler the building of the Palace of Westminster is described as “probably the largest and certainly one of the most beautiful Gothic structures in the world” (94). Because of history, monumentality and reputation of the Palace of Westminster, as a seat of British Parliament, could be classified as a symbol of the British nation and its identity. Additionally, today’s building could be considered as a symbol of previous buildings on the site which were entirely English and represented the English nation only. Today’s Westminster Palace could therefore be also identified as a symbol of national identity of both the English and the British.
2.4.4 Tower of London, London, England.
(Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress; the Tower)
The Tower of London is one of the most famous landmarks of London and is very popular among tourists. The Tower as a whole is a complex of several buildings within two concentric rings of defensive walls and a moat and its functions during the past ranged from a Royal palace, a fortress and place of execution, torture and imprisonment. Less known are its functions as a place of storage, an observatory or a Royal menagerie, but today it serves as a home of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom since 1303 and it contains a Royal Armor collection.
The original stark square fortress was built by William the Conqueror between 1077 and 1097 (Watkin 24). The Tower consists of several towers, three wards and the moat. The most famous and the oldest part of the Tower of London is, 27 meters high, White Tower completed in 1100 by the Normans. Although the Tower served as a Royal residence, its primary function was as a fortress-stronghold, a role that remained unchanged right up until the late nineteenth century. Almost all kings and queens took part in expanding of the Tower but the greatest re-construction started during the reign of King Richard the Lionheart around the end of the 12th century (Richards 27). Richard’s successor John was probably the first king to keep exotic animals there. In the early thirteenth century King Henry III remodelled the Tower of London into a major Royal residence and added new parts, such as Wakefield Tower. Some of these building were later demolished by Cromwell. Between 1275 and 1285 King Edward I transformed the Tower into England’s largest and strongest castle by creating its double defence; however, he used it for storing official papers. During the Wars of Roses the Tower was of key importance and became a place of a victory and a defeat at the same time. Henry VIII continued the work begun on the royal residential buildings but he intensified the Tower’s population as a prison for political and religious prisoners. Among imprisoned and/or executed famous historical people were also Sir Thomas More, Anne Boleyn, Queen Elizabeth I and Guy Fawkes (took part in the Gunpowder Plot). During the eighteenth century the Tower of London was intermittently repaired. Although it is no longer a Royal residence, the Tower today officially remains a Royal palace and maintains a permanent guard.
As well as Windsor Castle, the Tower of London inspired Ainsworth to set his text there, although his descriptions of the Tower are largely fictitious. The same setting was also used by Shakespeare in his play Richard III.
A symbolic meaning of the Tower of London is proved by the legend of ravens in the Tower, whose symbolic meaning is so crucial that ten ravens are actually employed by the Tower of London at the expense of the British government and even one of the 35 Yeoman Warders (also known as Beefeaters, i.e. tour guides, security guards and a tourist attraction) has the specific role of Ravenmaster at the Tower and takes care of them. Black ravens symbolize the Tower of London, the White Tower, the monarchy, and the entire kingdom and in case they leave all elements mentioned would fall. Except of its historical value, the Tower of London and its ravens have a symbolic meaning for the British and English people.