In light of our recent post on Sefton, we’re re-running this post on our visit to the Horseguards from a few years ago.
One of the places Victoria and I were most anxious to visit on Open Houses Day in London was Horseguards. As you all know, neither Victoria nor I are strangers to Horseguards, but Open Houses Day presented a unique opportunity for us to finally see the Duke of Wellington’s office and desk, both of which are pretty much untouched since the Duke’s departure, though still used by the commanders through the years.
As you can see by the photos below, it was glorious day, so Victoria and I decided to walk to Horseguards from Trafalgar Square.
Approaching Horse Guards: Big Ben in the Distance.
Upon arrival at Horse Guards, we found that there was a bit of line to get in. Normally, we would have grumbled at the wait, but heck, when one is treated to a review and change of guards during the wait one would be an idiot to complain.
The Life Guards above, and the Blues and Royals below.
As it turned out Horse Guards was overwhelmed by the number of people who had turned out for tours of the building, so a young soldier in fatigues was handed a few sheets of historical notes and told to have at it. Thus, our tour began.
One of our first stops was the Cock pit, located below the stables.
Once our group was assembled within the confined space, our guide read from his notes, telling us about the history of cock fighting at Horse Guards – and how Wellington had allowed it to continue while serving as Commander in Chief of the Army.
“Ridiculous. Wellington would never have countenanced such a thing!” Had I just said that aloud? Apparently I had.
Our guide looked down at the notes in his hand. “But it says so right here,” he protested valiantly.
“I don’t doubt it. However I’m telling you that it’s rubbish. The Duke served as Commander in Chief of the Army from 1842 to 1852. Cock fighting had been banned in England well before that time (Cruelty to Animals Act 1835) and Wellington would not have flaunted the law, nor allowed his men to do so.”
Victoria laid a calming hand upon my arm. Oh, Lud, I thought, I have become that old woman. You know, the one who goes about correcting strangers and sticking her nose in where it don’t belong.
Eventually, we made our way upstairs.
Stairs to the first floor
In the Floor, above: Seven Joined in One, referring to seven regiments of Household Division —
The Life Guards, Blues and Royals, Welsh Guards, Grenadier Guards, Scots Guards, Coldstream Guards, Irish Guards.
Each regiment has its own ceremonial drum.
And then, before our very eyes was the entrance to the
Duke of Wellington’s office, wherein lies his desk.
View from the Duke’s office of the forecourt and Whitehall
Once we were all in the room, our guide read from his notes and told us, “And above the door is a bust of Lord Palmerston.”
“Palmerston? That’s the Duke of Wellington,” Victoria said aloud.
“Look,” said our guide, turning his notes so that Victoria could see them, “it says Lord Palmerston.”
“I see that,” Victoria agreed, ” but I can assure you that it’s Wellington. She looked at me, “Isn’t it?”
I had decided not to say anything else on the subject after my outburst in the cock pit. After all, the majority of the people in the room with us wouldn’t know Wellington from Churchill if push came to shove. Nevermind Palmerston. Put on the spot now, I had to admit, in front of many pairs of staring eyes, that the bust was indeed that of Wellington. We moved on.
The dividing line between the parishes of St. Martin in the Fields and St. Margaret’s Westminster passes through the Horse Guards Building.
The Duke’s office fireplace, above.
In the Duke’s Office, above and below, our fellow attendees
The office window overlooking the parade grounds.
And last, but certainly not least, the Duke’s desk.
You can find a complete history of this desk and its origins in this article by retired Major Ian Mattison on the Waterloo 200 website.
The plaque reads, “This table was habitually used by Field Marshal The Duke of Wellington K.G. during his tenure as Commander in Chief 1842-52. It was restored to this room by Field Marshal The Duke of Connaught, Inspector General of the Forces 1904.”
In the background, a portrait of George III
At the end of the tour, we left by a set of backstairs –
which provided a unique perspective of one of the guards on duty.
If you’d like to see Horseguards for yourself, along with many other historic sites, do think about joining one of our upcoming, London based tours. Kristine always does a Regency London walk during these tours, chock full of visits to historic sites – tour details here.