It’s summer, and that means bumping into tourists just about everywhere you go. One of the most popular London tourist attractions remains the changing of the guard at the Horse Guard Parade between Whitehall and St. James’s Park. What’s not to like about red coats and shiny boots? So, it’s no surprise that the daily event was just as popular in the nineteenth century.
The idea of a standing army to protect the monarch dates from the 1600s, when Charles the Second decided he needed a little more personal security. The unit stationed near St. James’s Palace came to be called the Horse Guards, even though not all of them are mounted. The current Horse Guards building and parade ground was designed and built in the mid-1700s on the site of the previous Horse Guards building. Writers at the time called it a “noble edifice” and “a neat and compact piece of architecture.” But truly it was the military muscle people came to see.
Every day, the three units stationed there, the Life Guards, the Blues, and the Royals, paraded for inspection. The military leaders often invited select civilians to join them. Lovely young ladies who could ooh and ah appreciatively were particularly popular. As you can see by the picture, from Ackerman’s Illustrated London, everyone from children to grandparents and the working folks to the aristocracy turned out to watch the parade. Can you imagine the thrill of watching the drilling, the precision, the nicely turned legs, on the horses? Small wonder many a young man volunteered to join the Army when the recruiters came around. Small wonder many a young lady’s heart thumped harder at the sight of shiny brass braid.
There’s just something about dozens of men in uniform, don’t you think?