The Guards’ Museum is located inside the grounds of Wellington Barracks, and tells the history of the five regiments of the Foot Guards: the Coldstream, Grenadier, Scots, Irish and Welsh Guards.
This review originally appeared in his London blog
I like the Guards’ Museum, but you probably need a special interest in military history to appreciate it. It’s quite similar to the Household Cavalry Museum in Horse Guards, but it’s twice the size and a lot better done. If you’ve only got time for one or the other, then definitely choose this one.
It tells the story of the five regiments of the Foot Guards from the English Civil War right up to modern day Afghanistan, and covers everything from the Battle of Blenheim and Waterloo, to the Crimea and World War II. You’ve got some of the biggest names in English military history here, including the Duke of Marlborough, the Duke of Wellington and Monty from El Alamein.
A lot of the exhibits are highly personal, and include mementos of those who lost their lives (even from some who died as recently as Afghanistan). And there are plenty of medals, weapons and uniforms too. They’ve even got some of the enemy’s equipment that they captured in battle. (Some of them looked pretty rubbish, to be honest – rusty old wooden rifles and blowpipes firing darts – but then again, I’ve never been on the wrong end of one!)
They’ve also got a nice selection of paintings, battle maps and scale models of the fighting fronts. There are some especially good objects about the Battle of Waterloo, including some interesting little tidbits like the gate chain from the Hougoumont farmhouse. Other pieces really bring you close to the fighting, like the tattered Colours (regimental flags) and blood-stained uniforms.
Whether you like this museum or not is going to depend entirely on how much you’re into British military history. There’s nothing much for the kiddies.
After you’ve visited the museum it’s worth having a quick little stroll along Birdcage Walk, to the big white building behind the black railings. This is Wellington Barracks – home to the modern-day Foot Guards who do the ceremonies at Buckingham Palace, St James’s Palace and Windsor Castle.
If you’re lucky (or you’re prepared to wait around for a while) then you might see the military bands being put through their paces on the parade ground, marching up and down and practising their drills. It’s a bit like watching a mini-Changing the Guard ceremony, complete with music. If you’re ever walking through St. James’s Park and you can hear military music filtering through the trees, then this is probably where it’s coming from.
> Read Craig’s latest review of the Guards’ Museum “While I’m standing here waiting for the Guards’ Museum to open a little old lady has walked up with a load of tatty plastic bags and piled them on a bench, chatting quite happily to herself, with all the associated arm actions and animated facial expressions that go with being mad. I haven’t got the faintest idea what she’s talking about because it’s all in French, but she seems happy enough. She actually seems happier than me. I’m just going to do what British people do best and pretend that she doesn’t exist. I will stare at the buses. I will stare at the clouds. I will live in my imaginary world, and she can live in hers. The reason I arrived so early was because I wanted to see if there were any soldiers on the parade ground. The Guards’ Museum is inside the grounds of Wellington Barracks itself and… 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 stables 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. If you’re lucky enough to see them change over shifts then you can stand there and watch… continued.”
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The Household Cavalry Museum is also worth a visit, as is the National Army Museum. The Imperial War Museum and Churchill War Rooms are more about modern-day warfare. If you want to see the Foot Guards performing the Changing of the Guard ceremony then check out our guide to parades in London. You can see the Household Cavalry at the horse boxes in Whitehall.
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