London Lantern

Putting the Spotlight on London

Royal London 2003 - Part Two

24/01/2004, By Candice Caster

Reader Rating: 2.9 from 16406 votes


We left the Gallery and spent some time studying the front of the Palace and watching the Guards on duty, attired in the dark gray coats signifying their winter gear. The Changing of the Guard at the Palace only occurs on alternate days in winter, and as luck would have it, was scheduled the following day, so we were, sadly, unable to catch the popular ceremonial event.

It was one of those unfortunate inevitabilities of a holiday or vacation that is cause for dismay and disappointment: the “closed” sign slapped on the door of a shop or much-coveted tourist attraction; or the fantastic musical that ends its run - the day before you try purchasing tickets for it.

After a quick trip to better see the Queen Victoria monument on an island in front of the Palace’s gates, we nearly killed ourselves once more attempting to cross the street, dodging traffic moving at break-neck speed.

We were just setting out on our walk down the Mall when we noticed a colorful sight: the Queen’s Life Guards, all red and gold and brass and leather, approaching on horseback. Coming from Horse Guards Parade after the 11:00 ceremonial Changing of the Guard, they were on their way to the barracks at Hyde Park. So the morning was not without a touch of ceremony!

The Mall seemed majestic as we walked along it, Green Park on one side and St. James’s Park on the other. Through the bare trees, we caught a glimpse of St. James’s Palace, where Charles I slept the night before his beheading, and next door, Clarence House, that elegant John Nash-designed building that formerly served as the residence of the Queen Mother and is now the home of Prince Charles. We continued on, enjoying the atmosphere, watching the bobbing of colorful umbrellas of other tourists along the way.

St James's Park

We veered off to the right, however, away from Admiralty Arch, one of my favorite London landmarks, its stately, elegant sweep recognizable against the steel sky, and headed towards Horse Guards Parade. London’s largest single open space, Horse Guards is named after the troops who have mounted the Queen’s Life Guard on this spot since the Restoration of Charles II in 1660.

Today Horse Guards remains the official entrance to St. James’s Palace and Buckingham Palace, and before 1841, the only access to those royal residences was through Horse Guards. The Mall was closed at both ends until the opening of Trafalgar Square that year.

Horse Guards Parade

The Queen’s official birthday is celebrated each year on the Saturday closest to June 6th in the area known as Horse Guards Parade at the ceremony called Trooping the Colour. We walked through the enormous grounds around to the front to take a picture of a trooper on horseback. The mounted sentries change every hour from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. with the striking of the clock at the top of the hour.

When the Queen is not in London, as was the case on this day since she was still on her Christmas/winter holiday, the Guard is reduced to two non-commissioned officers and ten troopers. In early days, the Guard often numbered as many as one hundred and served as escorts to the Sovereign if he or she were travelling by road.

Banqueting House

We crossed the street to reach our next destination: the Banqueting House, all that remains today of Whitehall Palace, the principal residence of the monarchy from 1529 to 1698. Commissioned by James I, the prolific designer and architect Inigo Jones remodeled the Banqueting House, working his magic to transform it into a Palladian masterpiece of elegance and style.

Charles I, son of James I, employed the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens to glorify his father through a series of paintings on the ceiling, depicting the ill-fated Charles I being received into heaven, emphasizing his long-held and fought-for belief in the divine right of kings.

Banqueting House Celing

And ironic it was that this splendid ceiling was what Charles I saw during his last moments on earth as he was led to the scaffold awaiting him outside a window on a similarly cold January day in 1649. Steeped in historical significance as it is, I would additionally recommend a visit here to strengthen that invisible bond - the magnetic pull of attraction - which joins us to the royals and which puts us in their thrall.

We hurried off to Stanleys, a London restaurant specializing in bangers and mash, with sausages of all kinds, to have lunch with Jenny the actress - whose articles I must say have been sorely missed in these pages recently! - and her husband Carl. Amongst bright and cheerful chatter, our steaming plates were soon delivered and set in front of us with a flourish.

Not quite a banquet laid out for a king and queen, we American commoners, with vociferous appetites, nevertheless thrust our poised and ready forks into them with a vengeance! It was a grand way to end a magnificent morning spent in Royal London.

Candice Caster

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