The Horse Guards At White­hall

Brian Har­wood leads us through the his­tory of one of the cap­i­tal’s most iconic fig­ures.

This England - - The Horse Guards At Whitehall -

E na­tional tra­di­tion doesn’t come much more evocative than the House­hold Cav­alry sen­tries guard­ing Lon­don’s Horse Guards build­ing. They seem al­ways to have been there in fact, the Guard in its present form on that site dates from 1663.

Every­one who passes by takes a re­as­sur­ing look, pass­ing or longer, and then leaves know­ing that, me­taphor­i­cally, all is still well in White­hall.

But when I was priv­i­leged to un­der­take my tours of duty in the front court­yard there in past times, I re­call one ues­tion be­ing pre­dom­i­nantly au­di­ble in the milling tourist throng.

“What are they guard­ing what is this build­ing ”

In me­di­ae­val times the road we know as White­hall was called ing Street it led to the ing’s palace at West­min­ster.

Be­tween ing Street and the Thames, op­po­site the Horse Guards’ site, spread the lux­u­ri­ous Lon­don man­sion of the arch­bish­ops of ork ork Place. It had been there since 1243 and by Tu­dor times was far more op­u­lent than the flood- and fire-rav­aged West­min­ster.

ing Street also had do ens of inns and hos­tels, and the south­ern half of Horse Guards’ site was oc­cu­pied by the an­cient Bell Inn.

In 1529 Thomas Wolsey, Car­di­nal Arch­bishop of ork, was evicted from ork Place by Henry VIII who then gave the man­sion to Anne Bo­leyn as a present. She de­tested Wolsey.

Henry later mar­ried Anne in ork Place chapel in 1533.

The ing and Anne spent some five years ex­pand­ing their new Lon­don palace, which he re­named White­hall, as Shake­speare re­minded later au­di­ences.

Sir, you must no more call it ork Place that s ast or since the Car­di­nal ell, that ti­tle s lost is now the ing s and called White­hall. (Henry VIII, IV, i) By 1535 White­hall had grown to en­com­pass all of St ames’s, too this be­came a hunt­ing park and present-day St ames’s Palace was once Henry’s hunt­ing lodge.

At its great­est ex­tent White­hall Palace would cover 23 acres, then the largest royal res­i­dence in Europe. By now, too, the Bell Inn had long gone, re­placed by Henry’s Tilt­yard for tour­na­ments and

other Court fes­tiv­i­ties.

The Tilt­yard, en­closed be­tween ing Street and the park wall, cov­ered all Horse Guards’ site as far north as the Ad­mi­ralty to­day. Here were per­formed the great tour­na­ments of El­iz­a­beth I with her mag­nif­i­cent courtier knights com­pet­ing to be cham­pion at tilt, all or­gan­ised by her Mas­ter of the Ar­moury, Sir Henry Lee, un­til his re­tire­ment in 1590, aged sixty.

El­iz­a­beth watched these events from the or­nate Tilt­yard Gallery across the south end, where the Bell had been.

Her prin­ci­pal tour­na­ment an­nu­ally com­mem­o­rated her birth­day, Septem­ber 7, a di­rect pre­de­ces­sor of to­day’s Queen’s Birth­day Pa­rade Troop­ing the Colour, on vir­tu­ally the same site.

The reign of Glo­ri­ana faded into the more pro­saic world of the Ja­cobean masques and an­i­mal fights, both of­ten in the Tilt­yard.

It all changed in 1641 with the first Civil War in­sur­gen­cies. To main­tain or­der at White­hall the Lord Cham­ber­lain is­sued a war­rant on 30 De­cem­ber “To Mr Sur­veyor for ye build­ing a Court of Guard be­fore White­hall”.

This wooden guard­room oc­cu­pied the south end of the Tilt­yard, di­rectly op­po­site the main Court Gate of the palace. From here the as­sem­bled Trained Bands is­sued forth and “cut and hacked the ap­pren­tices that were pass­ing to West­min­ster” It was the first mil­i­tary guard sta­tioned on Horse Guards’ site.

It was in­suf­fi­cient for the more se­ri­ous later up­ris­ings, so on Oc­to­ber 20, 1649, Sur­veyor of Works Ed­ward Carter re­ceived or­ders “To build a Guard House in the Tilt­yard near the wall of St ames’s Park for bet­ter ac­com­mo­da­tion of the sol­diers”.

The lat­ter were the foot reg­i­ments of Cromwell’s Army his cav­al­ry­men were where Scot­land ard now is.

Ed­ward Carter’s Guard House was the first per­ma­nent, ma­sonry-built Guard build­ing on Horse Guards’ site. Cromwell’s troops were still there when Charles II re­turned from ex­ile in 1660.

But Par­lia­ment wouldn’t al­low Charles to have an Army, only Guards and Gar­risons’ units to pro­vide se­cu­rity for the royal fam­ily. These fore­run­ner reg­i­ments of the House­hold Cav­alry and Foot Guards were of­fi­cially raised on an­uary 26, 1661, the birth­date of the Bri­tish Army.

A cou­ple of years later it was clear that this force could not be ef­fec­tively com­manded from the in­her­ited and now run-down Tilt­yard bar­racks. Charles, there­fore, per­suaded a still-re­luc­tant Par­lia­ment to re­place the bar­racks with Old Horse Guards.

Started in 1663, it took less than 1 months to com­plete, at a cost of about 4,066. The architect is not recorded, but Sur­veyor Gen­eral Hugh May would have been the guid­ing force.

As to­day, the House­hold Cav­al­ry­men guarded the cen­tral arch­way into the pri­vate Royal Park, as well as still pro­vid­ing se­cu­rity to the palace Court Gate op­po­site. They and their H oc­cu­pied the cen­tral and north build­ings of Old Horse Guards, while the Foot Guards oc­cu­pied the south­ern end.

Here a sec­tion of the old Tilt­yard was left un­de­vel­oped and used as a Foot Guard assem­bly point, lead­ing to the Guard be­ing for­mally named the Tilt­yard Guard. It mounted as such con­tin­u­ously from 1663 to Novem­ber 1 9 when its duty role was ter­mi­nated.

A fur­ther fea­ture was the fa­mous Tilt­yard Cof­fee House on the first floor of the south wing of Old Horse Guards, open to both mil­i­tary and civil­ian pa­trons.

The cof­fee house was re­built into the present build­ing and sur­vived (as a can­teen) well into Queen Vic­to­ria’s time, be­ing closed in 1 50 af­ter be­com­ing “oc­cu­pied by peo­ple of the worst char­ac­ter and low women”.

In ear­lier times it had been much pa­tro­n­ised by Boswell.

“No tur­bot but at the Tilt­yard ” he hap­pily en­thused.

Af­ter the Ja­co­bite 16 in­sur­rec­tion, the Horse Guards’ guard was aug­mented with the Dutch Blue Guards of Wil­liam III, the mounted sen­tries tak­ing guard on their greys. They would be there for a decade.

It was dur­ing this pe­riod that an ac­ci­den­tal fire (by a Dutch maid) burned down most of White­hall Palace. Old Horse Guards es­caped, ing Street be­ing a fire­break. How­ever, Wil­liam de­creed that the Court would, hence­forth, re­side at St ames’s Palace.

St ames’s Park was still en­closed by its Tu­dor brick wall, with Horse Guards Arch form­ing the only of­fi­cial en­trance to both court and park. It re­tains that dis­tinc­tion to­day, the Court com­plex com­pris­ing St ames’s Palace, Buck­ing­ham Palace, and Clarence House.

Re­plac­ing Old Horse Guards with a War Once able to con­trol a now

world­wide Army, to­day’s Horse Guards was built be­tween 1750 and 1760 to Wil­liam ent’s de­signs. It cost over 64,000, the orig­i­nal es­ti­mate be­ing 33,000.

The clock from Old Horse Guards by royal clock­maker Thomas Her­bert was moved to the new cupola, but its aged mech­a­nism failed by 176 , when the present move­ment was in­stalled by Messrs. Th­waites Reed. The chime of bells came from the Whitechapel Bell Foundry.

Be­fore Big Ben, Horse Guards was Lon­don’s premier time­piece. A closer look at it re­veals a black mark painted un­der the Ro­man nu­meral II. It com­mem­o­rates the time 2 p.m. of Charles I’s ex­e­cu­tion op­po­site out­side the Ban uet­ing House on Tuesday, an­uary 30, 1649.

A teenage Sa­muel Pepys bunked off school for the day to s uee e be­tween Cromwell’s sol­diers out­side the Tilt­yard and scrib­ble notes of the scene he would re­call many years later in his fa­mous di­ary.

nder the clock tower used to be the Army Com­man­der-in-chief’s o ce the Duke of Welling­ton’s desk still re­mains in the room with its Vene­tian win­dow over­look­ing the Pa­rade. When the post-crimean War rad­i­cal Army re­vi­sions took place in the 1 70s, the then Com­man­der-in-chief, the Duke of Cam­bridge, had his o ces moved to the new War O ce in Pall Mall by the Sec­re­tary of State for War Lord Card­well. The in­censed and iras­ci­ble Duke re­tal­i­ated by head­ing his cor­re­spon­dence Horse Guards, Pall Mall.

One tra­di­tion sur­viv­ing from Ge­or­gian times is still en­acted by the Horse Guards’ sen­tries. As a mea­sure to dis­ci­pline be­hav­iour in the royal park it was de­cided by a Court mem­o­ran­dum of March 14, 1775, to for­bid any wheeled ve­hi­cle to pass through Horse Guards Arch ex­cept those with spe­cific per­mis­sion of the Lord Cham­ber­lain.

This was achieved with the is­sue to those so autho­rised of an Ivory Pass (to­day ivorine) to dis­play to the sen­tries on ex­er­cise of the priv­i­lege. The Horse Guards sen­tries re­main em­pow­ered to­day to refuse pas­sage to any wheeled ve­hi­cle through the Arch which fails to dis­play the ap­proved pass.

Both the mounted and dis­mounted sen­tries at Horse Guards are nei­ther im­mo­bile nor or­na­men­tal they are a proac­tive Guard re­spon­si­ble for the main­te­nance of pub­lic or­der within Horse Guards’ precincts. And the lat­ter still tech­ni­cally in­cludes all of Horse Guards Pa­rade.

This re­spon­si­bil­ity has held since the 1663 in­cep­tion of the Guard. nruly be­hav­iour by any­one will be curbed by ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion taken by the sen­tries the his­tory of Horse Guards records many in­stances of the ex­er­cise of it.

Some un­in­vited visi­tors made their pres­ence felt in 1944 when hit-and-run “Lit­tle Blit ” Ger­man bombers rained high ex­plo­sives across Horse Guards Pa­rade two of these bombs gave the Park fa ade of Horse Guards its “bat­tle hon­our” splin­ter marks still there now,

To­day the vis­i­tor can browse through this most fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory of Horse Guards, and its guardian reg­i­ments, at the new House­hold Cav­alry Mu­seum housed within its walls.

Horse Guards Pa­rade was one of the most iconic venues of the Lon­don 2012 Sum­mer Olympics, host­ing the beach vol­ley­ball com­pe­ti­tion, and in 2014 Olympic riders com­peted at Horse Guards Pa­rade Ground.

The Royal Horse Guards Cav­alry.

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