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A Straight Line Walk Across London
by Paul K Lyons
43 - GOGGS, the Cat and Bagpipes, and a 'some kind of writer' terrorist alert
To the west stretches St James Park in a squashed-kite shape towards Buckingham Palace, and, on the east, there are open spaces at the back of a series of major buildings which mostly have their main entrances accessed via Parliament Street and Whitehall. The first three of these, the Treasury, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the Cabinet Office, are divided by King Charles St which can be accessed by steps from Horse Guards Road, and Downing Street which most definitely cannot.
The largest of the three, the Treasury (known as GOGGS - Government Offices Great George Street) was built during the late Victorian period in two phases. The Parliament Street (Whitehall) end was completed in 1908, and the St James' Park end by 1917. The principal architect was John Brydon, who designed the large circular court in the middle of the building. This was based on a plan Inigo Jones had drawn up centuries earlier for a new Whitehall Palace that was never built. Brydon died before completion of the project and Sir Henry Tanner took over. Recently, in 2002, part of the building was refurbished, and Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the US Federal Reserve Board, gave it a formal opening. The Treasury said, at the time, that the GOGGS refurbishment 'would enable all Treasury staff to work in the same place for the first time in over 50 years'. GOGGS was originally called the New Public Offices, as opposed to the Old Public Offices now the Foreign Office - next door, and, in the past, has been home to the Board of Education, the Local Government Board, the Northern Ireland Office, and the National Investment and Loans Office.
In the northwest corner of the building, and tucked into the steps leading to a 1912 statue of Clive and King Charles Street, is the glass entrance to the Cabinet War Rooms. A £7.50 ticket currently gives access to a special exhibition on 'Churchill, leadership and World War Two'. The GOGGS basement was chosen for government rooms during the war, not only because it was convenient for Downing Street but because of the protection that would be afforded by the concrete frame that had been employed in the second phase of the building. Initially, only a few rooms were commandeered but, when Horse Guards was bombed in October 1940, wrecking parts of 10 Downing Street, all Churchill's staff moved into GOGGS. Other departments soon followed. A large torpedo net slung across the western courtyard to catch falling bombs, and filtered vents and ducts (to guard against poison gases) were among the various precautionary measures taken.
Another large building, the Home Office and Foreign Office, this one dating from the mid-Victorian period and designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, stands between King Charles Street and Downing Street. In the early 19th century, this area was a somewhat boggy maze of old streets. Nearby were the foreign office buildings in Downing Street, various inns, one of which was called the Cat and Bagpipes, and cheap lodging houses for MPs. In the 1850s, it was decided to centralise the major departments of state in Whitehall and to replace the warren with purpose-built ministries. As is well documented, Scott had an architectural battle with Lord Palmerston, who was prime minister until 1865, over a design for the new building, the former drawing up Gothic plans, and the latter wanting something classical. Palmerston won. The building opened in 1868 and has graced Horse Guards Road ever since (despite a scheme hatched in the 1960s to pull it down - after a public debate, it survived and was given a Grade I listing).
St James Park, with lawns, trees, a twee cottage and garden, and crowded duck pond, are a welcome respite to architecture. Basically, the park was Henry VIII's doing, since it was he who had the area drained and enclosed for deer. But, it has been much changed over the years, with John Nash's work in the 1820s responsible for today's layout. Personally, I have some good memories of St James Park. In the late 1970s, I used to work for a market research firm nearby, but, because, even back then, I wasn't allowed to smoke in the office, I would drift round the park for the time it took to roll up some Old Holborn and smoke a cigarette. There were no yellow ash-cans in those days, although I remember in particular the plastic grass where the ducks stamped around too much, and the old lady who fed the sparrows with bread held in her lips.
Yellow crocuses are struggling up through the much-walked on grass verge along Horse Guards Road. A series of cream-painted concrete blocks fence off a small green area around a statue of Lord Mountbatten and the south end of a very large courtyard called Horse Guards Parade with a statue of Lord Kitchener. Behind this blocked off area are the walls and security fencing protecting the 10-11 Downing Street complex and the Old Treasury building, now the Cabinet Office. The relatively modest Georgian terrace house at No 10 Downing Street is one of the most famous addresses in the world, and the Old Treasury dates back to the 16th century when it seems to have been a popular venue for games such as tennis and bowls.
As I walk towards the centre of the parade ground, talking into my recorder,
a policeman, standing within the blocked off area, calls me back to the
fence between us. He tells me I have been captured on video surveillance
systems, and he needs to take my name and address. I protest. All I'm doing
is talking to a machine, as do many people these days in the street and
on trains. He insists and asks for identification and an explanation of
my actions. Reluctantly, but politely, I explain. I ask what he intends
to do with my name and address; but he doesn't answer because he's speaking
into a receiver somewhere on his body: 'It's OK he's some kind of writer.'
I try to question him further, but he starts to get shirty. 'I find you
plausible', he tells me, 'but we have to do this so you won't be troubled
again'. While we are talking two further policemen arrive rather sharply
on motorbikes. As I walk away I imagine terrorist units on both sides of
the Atlantic tapping my details into their many databases in search of some
link, however, tenuous to illegal activities. Fortunately, I've led a fairly
clean life, so I hope there'll be nothing there to spark any ambitious officer's
A Straight Line Walk Across London - along the 300 easting
by Paul K Lyons
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