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Changing the Guard at Horse Guards From Horse Guards Westminster
4 O'Clock Parade, or Dismounting Ceremony From Horse Guards Westminster
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Horse Guards Parade consists of two sections: a large parade ground that faces St. James’s Park, and a smaller courtyard on Whitehall. This second section is usually guarded by two cavalrymen from the Household Division – a throwback to the road’s distant days as a Palace, even though all that remains of Whitehall Palace today is Banqueting House across the street.
The parade ground is bordered by old military and government offices, and a brown brick wall along the side of Downing Street. It is also home to some cannons and statues of military generals, including Lord Kitchener (
Your Country Needs You!) and the Queen’s cousin Lord Mountbatten (killed by the IRA in 1979).
Horse Guards still has a barracks that houses around forty mounted sentries from the Household Cavalry, which can be used to defend the Queen at the other end of The Mall. You can see part of their stables inside the Household Cavalry Museum.
The Household Cavalry is made up of two different regiments: the Life Guards (with a red coat and white-plumed helmet), and the Blues & Royals (with a blue coat and a red-plumed helmet). You can see them on either side of the entrance gate, and watch them change around every hour during the Changing the Guard ceremony. You can also watch the horses retire for the night during the Dismounting Ceremony.
The most famous parade in London is Trooping the Colour in the summer, which marks the Queen’s official birthday (her real birthday is in April). It first took place in 1755 and has been a regular event since 1805.
Its origins lie in the parading of the troop’s colours (their flags) in front of the soldiers, so they would know what to look for on the battlefield.
This review originally appeared in his London blog
Horse Guards is in two bits. The parade ground is the main bit, but there’s also a smaller courtyard that faces out onto Whitehall. This is the bit where all the tourists gather to have their photo taken with the mounted sentries. Let me tell you about that bit first…
If you want to have your photo taken with the mounted sentries then you need to get there between 10 AM and 4 PM, because if you arrive outside of these times then all you’ll get is a couple of foot soldiers instead. That’s who I had this morning. The first Foot Guard can be found on the righthand side of the courtyard, and he just marches back and forth in his gold plate armour and clutching his two-foot sword. I got there nice and early today so it was literally just me and him.
He’s usually surrounded by about a million billion tourists, who take turns walking up and having their picture taken. This goes on all day, every day. Just a million tourists and him, snap snap snapping away on their cameras. But it was just lonely me and him today. I even asked him if it was alright to take a pic, because it felt rude to otherwise. He was just standing there minding his own business. The soldiers aren’t allowed to say anything or interact with anyone, so he just gave an almost imperceptible nod, I snapped, thanked him, and left him alone.
The second sentry can be found underneath the arches. He marches back and forth between each end of the tunnel, but spends most of his time hidden in the middle, in the dark. But why are they there, you might wonder? Are they just for the tourists? Well actually they are not. The Household Cavalry still has a barracks in the building which houses their horses, so they are proper soldiers, guarding their property.
If you get there after 10 AM then you will be able to see the mounted sentries instead. But if you leave it too late they’ll have swapped back to the Foot Guards. (That’s what the Dismounting Ceremony does, at 4 PM.)
Once you’ve had your photo taken with the guards head through the central arch into the parade ground. This is one of the best views in London, I reckon. It looks pretty fantastic if you walk into the parade ground and then turn around in the middle. Starting from the left, you will see the red-coloured Admiralty Building which used to house the Navy offices during the wars, but you can’t go in there, unfortunately.
Carrying on round to the right, before you get to the central building, is the brigade headquarters of the Life Guards and Blues & Royals (ie. the Household Cavalry). They’ve got a museum in there which you can visit if you like. You can even see them mucking out the horses in the stables.
Carrying on round to the right there’s a load more government offices, none of which are particularly interesting for a tourist. But on the far righthand side, before you hit the road, is probably the most interesting brick wall in Westminster. It’s that dark brown brick wall with a big black gate in it. You will probably also see a couple of big machine gun coppers standing nearby as well, because on the other side of that wall is the garden for No.10 Downing Street. You’ve probably seen them do a few interviews in the garden on the 10 o’clock news… well, that’s where it is. On the other side of that wall.
> Read Craig’s latest review of Horse Guards “When people talk about Horse Guards they usually think of the gravel parade ground where the military bands do Beating Retreat, but the best part is actually the small courtyard that faces onto Whitehall. That’s where you’ll find all the horses and soldiers. Everyone loves a horse. Especially when it’s got a soldier on top. If you put a soldier with a shiny sword on top of a horse then you can keep the tourists happy all day. When the horses are out between 10 AM and 4 PM this place is packed full of happy, snapping, camera clicking visitors, all taking it in turns to tiptoe up to the horse and hoping it doesn’t kick them in the… continued.”
> Read Craig’s review of the Household Cavalry Museum “If I told you that there’s a museum 500-feet from Downing Street with some horses and a stable inside, then you’d probably think that I was mad. Well, I’m not mad. (Well actually, I am mad – but that’s beside the point.) Even most of the locals don’t realise that there’s an 18th-century stable down Whitehall. They all know where Horse Guards is, but they rarely stop to think who the actual ’horse guards’ are – they’re soldiers from the Household Cavalry, made up of two different regiments: the Life Guards and Blues & Royals. The mounted sentries that occupy the horse boxes are from the Household Cavalry… continued.”
> Read Craig’s review of Changing the Guard at Horse Guards “Not a lot of tourists know about Changing the Guard at Horse Guards which is a shame, because in some respects it’s better than the one at Buckingham Palace. But I don’t mean better as in better better – the one at Buckingham Palace is definitely better. The backdrop is better, the crowds are bigger, and you get some marching bands as well. But if you’ve got some little kids with you, or you’re trying to cram as many attractions as you can into a very short stay, then it’s worth thinking about Horse Guards because you don’t have to turn up two hours early. The only downside is that the action takes place in two different locations… continued.”
> Read Craig’s review of the Dismounting Ceremony “You’ve done Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace… posed for a photo outside Horse Guards… seen the Ceremony of the Keys and Remembrance Day Parade… tried Trooping the Colour and the State Opening of Parliament… so what have got left? Well, you’ve forgotten this one (everybody forgets this one). This is the Dismounting Ceremony, or 4 O’Clock Parade. Compared with the other daily ceremonies in London this one is just a sideshow. It’s extremely short and not a lot happens, but it’s quite handy if you’ve done all your sightseeing for the day and just need to fill up a quick thirty minutes before dinner… continued.”
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You might like to time your visit to Horse Guards so you can see these two daily parades. The first one is the Changing the Guard ceremony on the parade ground, and the second is the Dismounting Ceremony (or 4 O’Clock Parade) in the courtyard. The Churchill War Rooms is just down the road as well, and Admiralty Arch is just around the corner.
Changing the Guard at Horse Guards From Horse Guards WestminsterChanging the Guard at Horse Guards is similar to the ceremony at Buckingham Palace, but is usually a lot less crowded.
4 O'Clock Parade, or Dismounting Ceremony From Horse Guards WestminsterThe Dismounting Ceremony (or 4 O'Clock Parade) is a short ceremony that takes place every day at the Horse Guards.
The Major's Review, at Horse Guards Horse Guards WestminsterTwo weeks before 'Trooping the Colour', to celebrate the Queen's birthday, they hold a rehearsal called "The Major's Review".
The Colonel's Review, at Horse Guards Horse Guards WestminsterOne week before the actual 'Trooping the Colour' parade, they hold a second rehearsal called "The Colonel's Review".
Beating Retreat, on Horse Guards Parade to Horse Guards WestminsterBeating Retreat is a floodlit pageant of military music and drill on Horse Guards Parade, ending with a salute to the Queen.
Trooping the Colour, at Horse Guards Horse Guards WestminsterWatch a parade of soldiers and bands marching down The Mall in 'Trooping the Colour', to celebrate the Queen's birthday.
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