The day that got away…
I knew when I was planning this trip that something was going on in London during the weekend we’d be there -but no matter how I googled it, I couldn’t find out what event(s) were happening. Laura had the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace on her “to see” list, but Sunday was really our only possible day for it. The website for the Guards said there would be no ceremony on Sunday. So, as an alternate, I suggested the changing of the Horse Guards, which was supposed to happen at 10:00 AM.
Twice a day, the Horse Guards have a changing of the guards with a small ceremony. There are two companies with different uniforms: The Life Guards and the Blues & Royals. There are two mounted sentries stationed at the Horse Guards from 10 -4 every day, but the building/entrance to Buckingham Castle is guarded 24/7.
We had split second timing this morning with getting up, gathering the group and hitting the tube station for Westminster (the closest Tube stop).
(I like how we’re all looking in different directions in this picture!)
From there, it was a short walk to the Horse Guards. I had planned to walk along Whitehall Street, which passes the front side of the Horse Guards building. Whitehall St. is now known for being a location for government offices as well as #10 Downing St. (where the Prime Minister lives), but this area was at one time the location for Whitehall Palace, which burned down in 1698.
Being a bit turned around because of where we exited the Tube station (there are several exits going to different corners), we ended up arriving at the Horse Guards behind the building at the parade grounds.
The entire Royal Family participate in the Trooping of the Colour. A description of the ceremony can be found here: http://www.householddivision.org.uk/trooping-the-colour
Visitors are allowed to pass from the parade ground side to the Whitehall side through the arches you can see in this building.
We arrived at 10:00 AM as planned – only to find that the ceremony had just finished. WHAT? I was absolutely sure it was supposed to be at 10:00 AM. Some tour guide! I felt vindicated when we saw this sign, which proves the ceremony was supposed to be at 10:00 AM.
Turns out that they’d changed the time due to the event -and we were soon going to learn exactly what the event was.
On the Whitehall side of the building we walked through the courtyard (shown above) to the sidewalk/road. There are two protected “doorways” on either side of the courtyard where the mounted Guards do their sentry duty.
In modern times, the Horse Guards technically guard what is considered the official entrance to St. James Park and Buckingham Palace. There was a time when passing through the arches was the only way into the park behind and beyond that to the palace.
History Time Out:
From around 1245 to 1529, the archbishops of London had lived along the Thames in a residence called York Palace near where the Horse Guards are located now.
In 1529, King Henry VIII took over the palace for his own use and renamed it Whitehall. Across from Whitehall was, at the time, undeveloped land that the King designated as his royal hunting ground. Not very far away in the woods, he built St. James Palace as his hunting lodge.
The area where the Horse Guards buildings and parade ground are was created in 1533 by King Henry as a jousting grounds. This tradition was continued by Queen Elizabeth because she, too, had a passion for horsemanship. It wasn’t until the 1600’s that the Horse Guards became more of a military unit because King Charles I wanted a “Court of Guards”.
In 1660, King Charles II created the Household Calvary and the Grenadier and Coldstream Guards. This is considered the first time a king had created what was essentially a standing army. This new “army” needed housing, so their headquarters was built. Up to 100 horses were housed there. Originally, the Horse Guards’ two sentry stations (with the pass-through to the parade grounds in the middle) faced Whitehall Palace. which was across the street. After the Palace burned in 1698, the king’s court moved to St. James Palace (the hunting lodge), although the king, William III was already living in Kensington Palace because it was deemed better for his health. St. James palace still stands today and is used for both official royal business and as a residence by some members of the Royal family. Kensington Palace is also still in use as a Royal residence, home to both Prince William (and his Duchess) and Prince Harry.
Once the court moved, the palace the Horse Guards was guarding (St. James) was now behind them. Because of that, the Horse Guards building became more of an official entrance to St. James Park and St. James Palace at the time.
We took these pictures and moved on. We agreed that if the timing was right for us later, we could return at 4:00 PM and try to catch the second changing ceremony.
The plan was to walk to nearby Buckingham Palace through St. James Park. Only – we couldn’t exactly get there in a straight line. Turns out the event I’d been trying to find out about was some sort of 5K race event. The race route and/or the support areas completely circled St. James Park with the finish line directly in front of Buckingham Palace.
The last time I was here, it was a lovely walk through the peaceful park until arriving at Buckingham Palace. Very cool. We weren’t so lucky this time. There was a lot of “going around” to get past the race obstacles and having to walk really far just to find a spot that crossed the race route…after waiting for a break in the line of runners.
We ended up walking probably twice as far as we needed to. Since Laura only has so much walking “gas” in a day -this wasn’t helpful for our touring plans.
We did finally manage to get in front of the palace gates, but it was a crunch because the race barriers and finish line tents/etc, had pushed the tourists into a very narrow and confining space in front of the palace.
Buckingham Palace has been the official London residence for the Royalty since 1837, when Queen Victoria took up residence there. It was purchased in 1761 by George III for his Queen to be used as a comfortable family home away from nearby St. James Palace. While the royalty had been using Kensington Palace since the late 1600’s, it turns out that King George detested Kensington Palace -which is why he looked for a new residence.
Buckingham Palace is located somewhat between Kensington and St. James palaces (although much closer to St James). There is quite a history to the evolution of the building from “family home” to Palace. Between 1820 and 1837, there was an ongoing project that was overseen by more than one architect and more than one King. Even more renovations/additions were done after Queen Victoria moved in. The palace has 775 rooms!
Located in the forecourt of the palace is the Victoria Memorial. It was dedicated in 1911. Queen Victoria reigned for nearly 64 years – from 1837 to 1901. Only Queen Elizabeth II has surpassed that record -and is still going strong! The memorial is replete with symbolism -the gold statue at the top is “Winged Victory”. There are representations for ideals such as “constancy”, “courage”, “empire”, “justice” and “truth” (among others) in the statuary and other decorations.
Adjacent to the palace is the very elaborate Canada Gate, which was a gift from… you guessed it… Canada. It marks the entrance to Green Park, which is off to the side of the palace.
There is a memorial to Princess Diana in the pavement at the right corner fence along the front of the palace. If you didn’t know it was there you might miss it.
We’d hardly made it to the palace before Laura was needing a break. The closest (and that’s a relative term) restaurant that I knew of from past visits was the Hard Rock London across Green Park. (We never went on this trip expecting to see one Hard Rock -and now we’ve seen two!)
It took some more working our way around the race barriers before we broke out onto this road called Constitution Hill. It leads away from the Palace toward Wellington’s Arch. Green Park is on the right.
To the left of Constitution Hill is Queen Elizabeth’s walled off “back yard” – or technically- Buckingham Palace Gardens. They’re giving out a pretty serious “no trespassing” vibe!
At the end of Constitution Hill is Wellington Arch.
Wellington Arch was commissioned in the 1820’s to celebrate the Duke’s victory over Napoleon at Waterloo. It was meant to be a triumphal gateway to London and also to serve as a northern gate to Buckingham Palace. Since then it has been moved a couple of times. The sculpture on top is called: The Angel of Peace Descending on the Quadriga of Victory. WHEW!
Originally there was a large statue of the Duke on his horse at the top of the Arch. It was decided that the statue was too big to stay up there, but they left it there out of respect while the Duke was still alive.
Shortly after the Duke’s death in 1884, his statue was removed from the top of the arch and was sent to a town called Aldershot located SW of London. A new smaller statue was commissioned and placed nearby to the Arch in 1888. It is situated so that Wellington is facing his former home across the street -called Apsley House. His horse’s name was Copenhagen.
The arch is empty inside and up until 1992, it was actually the site of London’s smallest police station.
Also nearby there is a monument to the Royal Artillery.
Getting from the area of the Arch to the Hard Rock, which we could see across the street a short distance down the road, proved to be a bit difficult because we had to walk quite a distance out of our way just to get to a safe crossing…then retrace those steps on the other side going back toward the Hard Rock. It was very discouraging to have to trudge the long way around for someone who is pretty much DONE walking already. Give Laura credit where credit is due – she toughed it out even though she was already pushed pretty far beyond her limit!
Once we got across, we walked by the entrance to Hyde Park –
And then Apsley House, which is right next door to Hyde Park.
By the time the weary travelers arrived at the Hard Rock, it was time for lunch!
After lunch, the plan was to get on the Hop On/Hop Off bus for the rest of the afternoon. By the time our lunch was finished, our only good day for touring London was more than half over already! In a ironic twist of fate, the HOHO bus stop was almost directly across the street from the Hard Rock, which meant we had to take the long trek back to cross the street again.
Finally, we were on the bus. It was very enjoyable because we had a live tour guide talking about the things we were seeing along the way. On the other hand, it was a bit disappointing because we didn’t really have time to hop off anywhere for a closer look.
In the case of St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey -it was Sunday and they are closed for touring on Sundays anyway.
We saw a lot of scenery and heard many stories as we went along.
This is called Marble Arch.
Marble Arch was designed in 1827 and completed in 1833. It was meant to be the state entrance to part of Buckingham Palace. At one time it stood near the part of the palace where the famous balcony is…(the one where the Royals stand and wave to the crowds on big occasions). In 1851 it was relocated due to renovations at the Palace. Now, due to modernization of the roads…etc.. it sits off beyond Marble Arch in the middle of a traffic circle.
Traditionally, only members of the Royal Family and the King’s Troop/Royal Horse Artillery are permitted to pass through the arch.
Very near to the Marble Arch is a marker in the sidewalk for the location of Tyburn. You have to look close at this picture (above) to even see it -but it is sort of in the triangle formed by the trees. Tyburn is famous as the place of public executions (by hanging) in London. The first recorded was in 1196. From then until around 1783 something like 50,000 people were executed here.
At first, it was an actual tree. Then it became a gallows (referred to as “tree”). The executions became spectacles over time and sometimes were treated as public holidays. The villagers of Tyburn even went so far as to erect bleachers for the gawkers. The condemned were taken to Tyburn from Newgate Prison in the back of an ox-cart and they were expected to put on a good show along the way. They wore their finest clothes and were supposed to act like it was a normal day. The distance was three miles and it could take up to 3 hours to complete the trip. The cart would often make stops along the way –one being at the Bowl Inn- where the condemned were given booze to help them face their impending doom. Any sign of fear or weakness turned the crowd against them.
After 1783 the hangings were moved to Newgate Prison. Due to public disorder during these executions, in 1868 the decision was made to move the executions inside the walls of Newgate.
It is fascinating to think about that many people being executed at a site that now seems completely normal and nondescript.
Grosvenor House is a fancy hotel built on the site of the original home of the Grosvenor family (aka the Dukes of Westminster). The family maintained their home for over 100 years before deciding it was too much to upkeep, so they sold it in the early 1900s. It was then demolished and replaced with this hotel.
Like anyplace else, Westminster Abbey has a very long history. The origins of the Abbey have been traced back to the 960’s or 970’s. The building was completed around 1060. William the Conqueror was coronated here in 1066 –and by tradition all coronations since have been held at the Abbey. There have also been approximately 16 royal weddings there since 1100, the most recent being Prince William and Catherine.
Construction on the present building was started in 1245, the work continuing until 1517. The two western towers were added in the early 1700’s. Many other renovations and changes have been made over the years.
It became a big honor to be buried or commemorated in Westminster Abbey. Princess Diana’s funeral was held there. Many monarchs who died before 1760 are buried there (after that tradition has them buried at Windsor Castle). Aristocrats were buried in the chapels while monks from the Abbey and other Abbey associates were buried in the cloisters or other areas. Many names known to history are buried here: Chaucer… Sir Issac Newton… Charles Darwin… to name a few.
Very close to the Abbey is Parliament Square. The square is home to eleven statues of statesmen -mostly British. However, Abraham Lincoln has been honored with a place on the square and is in very good company with the likes of Winston Churchill, Gandhi, Benjamin Disraeli, and many other past Prime Ministers for England.
More or less across the street is the Palace of Westminster, which is the seat of government for Great Britain. Within its walls are the House of Lords and the House of Commons. It started out as a Palace in the 10th century, but after a fire in the 1500’s, it was turned over for use by England’s Parliament which had already been meeting there for a couple of hundred years anyway. Over the ensuing years it has been ravaged by fire again and rebuilt and/or remodeled many times.
Westminster is probably most known for Big Ben. The real name of the tower is Elizabeth Tower (as of 2012). Big Ben is actually the bell in the tower (officially called Great Bell). No one knows exactly how the bell -and then the clock and tower- got the nickname of Big Ben.
As we crossed the Westminster Bridge (on the Big Ben end), I was able to quickly snap a photo of the statue of Boadicea. She led an uprising against the Romans in A.D. 60 or 61. London was one of the places attacked and burned down during the uprising. She was ultimately defeated by the Romans -but the details and location of that final battle are lost to time.
St. Paul’s Cathedral is built on Ludgate Hill, the highest point in London. The dedication to St. Paul the Apostle dates back to the original church located here which was founded in AD 604. The present building dates from the late 1600’s. It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, a famous architect of the times. It was part of a huge rebuilding plan after the Great Fire of London in 1666. The dome is 365 feet tall and until 1967 it was the tallest building in London. This is where Charles and Diana were married.
It was looking like we’d be able to finish the circle on the bus tour in time to return to the Horse Guards for the ceremony, but Elton had had enough for the day and “hopped off” the bus when it stopped almost in front of our hotel.
The rest of us gamely stuck with the tour, arriving just a few minutes before the ceremony was to begin. This ceremony is called the Dismounting Ceremony. Turns out that this second ceremony of the day was instituted as punishment by Queen Victoria. She happened to pass through unannounced one afternoon in 1894 and no guards turned out as her carriage passed. She found out that they were drinking and gambling instead of guarding. She gave the order that there would be an afternoon inspection for the next 100 years. The 100 years expired in 1994, but Queen Elizabeth has kept the tradition going.
We staked out our places on the parade ground. There was a guard standing at the entrance to the middle arch. People were taking turns posing with him. He barely blinked an eye.
First a group of guards emerged from the building and took their position.
Soon the relief troops arrived from down the street and took their position on the parade ground across from the first group.
Their leader called out four riders, who backed their horses out of the line and then they disappeared into the building.
The best way to describe what happened after that is… watching paint dry. There were things taking place in front of the building -out of our line of sight. But out on the parade grounds the two lines of guards basically sat facing each other, not moving, for about 1/2 hour.
Finally, the last of the guards who were being relieved came out to the parade grounds to join the rest of their troop.
After a bit, the relieved troop left for the stables -heading off down the road- and the new troops entered the Horse Guards building and the ceremony was over.
So, yeah, we were all sort of thinking… Really?? That’s it??? It was OK, but I wouldn’t recommend going too far out of your way for it.
Next on the list was Churchill’s War Room museum, which was just a block or so away. Just as we were leaving the Horse Guards, it started to rain. Laura and Gail wanted to see the museum and Yvonne and I didn’t. We dropped them off and arranged a meeting time for later. Our goal was to find a dry place with refreshments while we were waiting.
We seemed to be in an area where there wasn’t much in the way of pubs or little restaurants and the first few we found were either packed or closed. Just when I thought we’d never find anywhere to go, we found a cute place and settled down to wait for our appointed meeting time.
We went back to pick up Laura and Gail at the appointed time and discussed two options for heading back to the hotel. One would be a short walk first to see Trafalgar Square and the other would be to go to the nearest Tube station (Westminster) and go straight back to our hotel. Laura was D.O.N.E. so we called it a day and went back to find Elton and dinner -in that order.
Dinner was in a nearby restaurant. Laura finally got her fish & chips!