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A Short Guide to Horse Guards Parade

For many visitors to London, Horse Guards Parade is often seen as a short cut from Whitehall to Buckingham Palace. However, the large parade ground has a long and interesting history and is still used for large scale ceremonies like Trooping the Colour, Beating Retreat and the smaller scale but regular Changing The Queen’s Life Guard.

Horse Guards Parade was formerly the site of the Palace of Whitehall’s tiltyard, where tournaments that included jousting were held in the time of Henry VIII. It was also used in the annual celebrations of the birthday of Queen Elizabeth I. It has often been the main parade ground in London and has been used for a variety of reviews, parades and other ceremonies since the 17th century.

Sitting in the heart of the British Government it is surrounded by important buildings which have been used and are still used by the government and military purposes. Horse Guards Parade was once the Headquarters of the British Army, The Duke of Wellington was based here in the 19th century. The Parade ground is flanked by Admiralty House, the Treasury building (now used by the Cabinet Office) and the rear of 10 Downing Street. Despite its historical importance, in the late 20th century, the parade was used as a car park for senior civil servants.

Horse Guards Parade is the location of a number of military monuments and statues these include the Guards Memorial, the Royal Naval Division War Memorial, Equestrian statues of Field Marshals Roberts and Wolseley. To the south are the statues of Field Marshal Kitchener and of Admiral of the Fleet Mountbatten.

There is a Turkish cannon made in 1524 “by Murad son of Abdullah, chief gunner” which was captured in Egypt in 1801, The Cádiz Memorial, a French mortar mounted on a brass monster commemorates the lifting of the siege of Cádiz in Spain in 1812.

An oddity is the black background to the number 2 of the double sided clock which overlooks the Parade Ground and the front entrance, it is popularly thought to commemorate the time the last absolute monarch of England, Charles I, was beheaded at the Banqueting House opposite. One of the more bizarre uses of Horse Guards Parade was as the location of the beach volleyball at the 2012 London Summer Olympics.

Not as well known as Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace, Changing The Queen’s Life Guard has smaller crowds and no railings which allows spectators to get very close to the action.

‘The Queen’s Life Guard’, mounted on horses are a familiar sight as they ride to Change the Guard on Horse Guards Parade. The Queen’s Life Guard is normally provided by men of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment which consists of a Squadron of The Life Guards, who wear red tunics and white plumed helmets, and a Squadron of The Blues and Royals with blue tunics and red plumed helmets.

The Life Guards have stood guard at Horse Guards, since the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660. The New Guard leaves Hyde Park Barracks at 10:28 weekdays and 9:28 on Sundays to ride to Horse Guards Parade via Hyde Park Corner, Constitution Hill and The Mall on their way to the guard change ceremony. Changing the Life Guard takes place daily at 11:00 weekdays and 10:00 on Sundays. The ceremony lasts about half an hour and is full of pageantry and colour.

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