Thursday, 22 September 2016

I have been to ... Horse Guards, Whitehall

On Saturday 17th September, Sue and I visited Horse Guards in Whitehall, London. This building is usually inaccessible to members of the general public, but over the weekend of 17th - 18th September it was open as part of OPEN HOUSE LONDON.

Until 1904 the building was used as the offices of the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, when it was then occupied by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS). Two years later the CIGS moved to new offices in the Old War Office Building, and Horse Guards became the headquarters of London District and the Household Cavalry. It is currently used as the headquarters of London District and the Household Division.

We travelled up to Westminster by Jubilee Line from North Greenwich station, and emerged from the Parliament Street exit. We then walked up towards Whitehall, passing the Treasury, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Cabinet Office, and the end of Downing Street. The building was not going to be open to visitors until 10.00am, and we arrived at the Whitehall entrance of Horse Guards at 9.45am.

As we passed through the archway in the centre of the building we saw a dismounted sentry of the Life Guards on guard by the door into the left-hand building.

Once on Horse Guards Parade, we joined the queue to go in. The arrangement was for parties of twenty people at a time to be escorted around the building, and we had to wait until just before 11.00am before we reached the archway.

Whilst we were being given a short briefing about what we would see during our visit, the Changing of the Guard ceremony took place, and we had to stand to one side to allow the mounted troopers of the Life Guards to pass through the central archway.

Our escort was a recalled Reserve Major of the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment (who are known as 'The Tigers'). He gave us a brief history of the building before taking inside and down into the basement ...

... where the Cockpit was located! This was one of the rooms that dated back to the original Horse Guards building that was replaced by the existing building in the 1700s.

We were then taken up the main stairs in the central part of the building ...

... to the lobby that is located beneath the tower. The floor is decorated with a crest that bears the Latin inscription Septem Juncta In Uno (Seven joined in One). This is the motto of the Household Division, and makes reference to the fact that the division consists of seven units (the Household Cavalry, which is composed of the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals, and the Foot Guards, which is composed of the Grenadier Guards, the Coldstream Guards, the Scots Guards, the Irish Guards, and the Welsh Guards).

Above us was the inside of the central clock tower ...

... and above one of the doors leading off the lobby was the date when the present building was constructed.

The first of the rooms off the lobby that we entered is currently used as a conference room.

It is lined with paintings, the most prominent being that of Major General Arthur Wellesley (later Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington) which was painted not long after the Battle of Seringapatam on 5th April 1799 ...

... and that of the two members of the Grenadier Guards – Brevet Major Sir Charles Russell and Private Antony Palmer – who won the Victoria Cross at the Battle of Inkerman.

The next room we visited was formerly that used by the Duke of Wellington when he had been Commander-in-Chief.

Amongst the items on display are a painting of General George Monck (1st Duke of Albemarle), ...

... a bust of the Duke of Wellington, ...

... and the pennant carried by the vehicle used by last Commanding Officer of 4th Guards Brigade.

We then made our way back downstairs, took leave of our guide, and went back out into Whitehall. Two members of the Blues and Royals were on mounted guard duty outside ...

... and despite the unwanted attentions of the crowds of tourists, the horses and the troopers behaved impeccably.


  1. Bob - most interesting. As PWRR are called the Tigers - does that mean the remains of the Leicestershire Regt are in there some where ?? Paul

    1. Paul Leeson (Paul),

      The PWRR takes the name 'Tigers' from the badge of the Royal Hampshire Regiment, which was one of the forerunners of the PWRR.

      The Leicestershire Regiment - which also had a tiger on its badge - is now part of the Royal Anglian Regiment.

      Confusing, isn't it?

      All the best,


  2. Big men on big horses. I still remember being suddenly overtaken by a troop of Lifeguards on a London street and thinking "I wouldn't want to be standing in front of a charge of these".

    The building looks remarkably well maintained which is good to see.

    Odd that The Wellesley should be remembered with a painting of Seringapatam where he was a minor character rather than Assaye.

    1. Ross Mac,

      Horses and I do not have history of good relationships! Many years ago I worked with a blacksmith, and helped with the farrier work. I soon discovered that they bite, kick, stand on your feet ... and do other unmentionable things to you if they can!

      The Household Cavalry are mounted on big horses, and I agree that having them charge towards you must have been more than a little frightening!

      The building is very well-maintained and still functions as a barracks and military HQ.

      The painting of Wellington is one of a number painted by the same artist, and this is a copy that the family gave/loaned to Horse Guards.

      All the best,


  3. Bob'
    A most interesting tour- certainly Historical- with the main Building going back to 1759...this IS well before Captain James Cook made his epic Voyage of Discovery- as part of his journey he discovered that New Zealand was indeed two spate Islands - charting the entire coast-line ...then sailing Westwards from new Zealand he fell upon and discovered the East Coast of Australia. We weren't even here in 1759...makes you think Bob. Regards. KEV.

    1. Kev,

      In the UK we tend to forget that we are surrounded by history and historical buildings. The last time I was in Boston, Massachusetts, the guide taking us around on a tour kept pointing out 'old' buildings ... most of which were less than 200 years old.

      All the best,