Standing inauspiciously on the side of a London street is a little sign with the words “Privy Garden” and the message “You have discovered a part of The Lost Palace.” Not far from that first sign stands another, with the same message and the words “Sundial.”

Underneath these words a paragraph takes you back in time. “Whitehall Palace once stood in this area. It was the largest palace in Europe — with over 1,500 rooms — until it was destroyed in 1698.”

Whitehall Palace, formerly known as York Palace, was built in 1245. King Charles I was beheaded in front of the Banqueting House at Whitehall on January 30, 1649. Then, on January 4, 1698, a Dutch maid started a fire when she was drying some clothes on a charcoal brazier, and the palace burned to the ground, leaving only the Banqueting House standing.

As the centuries passed, the city grew up where the sprawling palace had once stood, and Londoners and tourists walking down the sidewalk passed through what had been the palace grounds completely unaware. Until the signs were put up. Now, if you look up as you work your way down the street in front of the Banqueting House, you can see a little glimpse into the past.

Each sign contains a witty historical insight. The sign marked “Sundial” reads:

If you had stood here on night in 1675 you would have seen the King’s friend Lord Rochester smash the sundial with his sword, in a drunken revel. It lay in pieces on the ground.

The sign marked “Privy Garden” reads:

If you had stood in this garden on the 21 of May 1662 you would have glimpsed the underwear of Barbara Villiers, Charles II’s mistress. It was hugn up in protest at the arrival of arrival of [SIC] the King’s new Queen, the Portuguese Catherine of Braganza. Samuel Pepys also noticed it and described in his diary “the finest smocks and linen petticoats…laced with rich lace at the bottom, that I ever saw; and it did me good to look upon them.”

In addition to these two, you can also find signs for the the Great Hall, Wolsey’s Wine Cellar, and the Holbein Gate.

The signs are only part of the interactive tour at the Whitehall Banqueting House, but unfortunately I didn’t have time this trip to see the rest. The website listed on the sign appears to have been taken down.

London is a city steeped in two thousand years of history,  but it’s also a changing, living, modern city. The Lost Palace allows visitors to experience both aspects at the same time.

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