This summer, a new visitor experience launched at the Banqueting House, part of Historic Royal Palaces, in London. The Lost Palace was described as “a unique combination of immersive audio theatre, interactive technology and architectural installations”, and was an innovative way to explore the history of Whitehall Palace, of which the Banqueting House is the only remaining part.
I signed up to go after work and arrived in Westminster on a warm day. I entered the basement of the House and settled down to wait until it started, trying to familiarise myself with my headphones as I did so. I didn’t have long to wait, as we were soon called to stand round a model of the old Whitehall Palace and hear a disembodied-sounding voice tell us about the fire that destroyed it. I had no idea just how big the Palace used to be – it encompassed a vast area from Northumberland Avenue to Downing Street, consisting of 1,500 rooms spread over 23 acres. The Palace was the largest royal residence for the Tudor and Stuart courts.
The audio tour-slash-digital guide took us round the neighbouring streets, pointing out places of significance and allowing us to hear stories of those who used to live here. At one gate we touched our audio guides on the archway and heard about the first performance of King Lear; at the other side of the palace, we heard stories about parties and carousing at the location of King Charles II’s sundial.
The Palace used to be closer to the Thames than it is now and Queen Mary’s Steps, designed in 1691 by Sir Christopher Wren, are still visible overlooking the river. They were designed to give access from the Royal Apartments to the State Barge.
The tour took us to Horse Guards Parade to witness jousts, and allowed us to overhear Guy Fawkes before he was sent to the Tower of London. One of my favourite parts required us to pretend our audio guide was a bird in order to partake of a spot of cock fighting. After listening in on the first encounter between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, the last part of the tour had us listening to Charles I’s hearbeat as he walked to the gallows, the location of which is now marked by a statue above the Banqueting House doorway.
Finally, we had a chance to sit inside the Banqueting House and take it all in. This was much needed after an intense and engrossing experience which is much recommended.