Tour 8 Horse Guards
Take an 11 or 24 bus from Victoria station to Trafalgar Square to start our eighth tour at the Canadian High Commission, the large building with distinctive red and white flags opposite the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery. There’s generally a free exhibition at the High Commission accessible after a body and luggage scan. This circular tour crosses from the Commission past the historic Admiralty Pub onto the Mall turning right to view the free Mall galleries and Queen Mother memorial further down. We turn back along the Mall to Horse Guards via the Police memorial then pass through to Whitehall and visit Downing Street, the Cenotaph and the Banqueting House heading back to Trafalgar Square for a bus to Victoria.
From the Canadian High Commission cross into Spring Gardens passing the HMS Victory-themed Admiralty pub into the Mall. Admiralty Arch on your left is King Edward VII’s memorial to his mother Queen Victoria and its central arch is reserved for Royal processions. A short distance along the pavement heading away from the Arch there is free access to the Mall Galleries which are open save between the exhibitions ‘celebrating contemporary visual arts through a lively and diverse programme of exhibitions and events’. The galleries serve the Federation of British Artists which are constituted from eight UK art societies specialising in oil, portrait, marine, wildlife, watercolour, pastel, printmaking and sculpture.
Turn right out of the Mall Galleries and walk a short distance to view monuments on the right. The Queen’s mother ‘Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’ who died in 2002 aged 101 is commemorated by a statue and friezes below the statue of her husband the reluctant King George VI. His reluctance shared by Elizabeth links to the way the monarchy suddenly descended upon him following his brother’s abdication in 1936. The two sets of friezes show Queen Elizabeth with the King visiting the East End during the Blitz in World War II and her later interests including horse racing. She was resident in her later years at Clarence House further along the Mall.
Turn back up the Mall and cross the road towards the ivy covered Admiralty Citadel built at the start of World War II as a bomb proof bunker with 6 metre thick roof. The small black rectangle in front of it is also covered with creepers on three sides with a Roll of Honour on the northern side commemorating some 4000 police officers killed in the course of their duties in the United Kingdom. The National Police Memorial has a second feature adjacent - a glass column in a reflecting pool internally illuminated by fibre optic cables with a faint blue light symbolic of the blue lamps that traditionally hung outside police stations in the United Kingdom.
From the Police memorial continue walking away from the Mall to enter Horse Guards which has two understandings, the parade ground and the ceremonial entrance through the arch on Whitehall. Enter the large parade ground and head half left towards the archway pertaining to the former Palace of Whitehall. On this site where King Henry VIII viewed jousting is held the more solemn annual ceremonies of Trooping the Colour, which commemorates the monarch's official birthday, and Beating Retreat. Pass through the archway to the ceremonial entrance with its two Horse Guards who stoically provide camera calls for London’s tourists.
Turn right out of Horse Guards and walk along Whitehall to the gated entrance to Downing Street residence of the Prime Minister and two words that speak for the Government. Former resident Winston Churchill, referring to Downing’s cul-de-sac built 1682-4, described the buildings as ‘shaky and lightly built by the profiteering contractor whose name they bear’. Since the Irish Republican Army effected a mortar bomb attack in 1991 security has been intense. The public gain access indirectly through television coverage of major prime ministerial statements. Outside the gates tourists form one crowd and demonstrators often form another one across Whitehall.
Continue down Whitehall from Downing Street to Lutyens’ Cenotaph replicated in several Commonwealth countries. It was unveiled by King George V on 11 November 1920 as part of a ceremony bringing the body of an Unknown Warrior who fell in World War I to burial in Westminster Abbey. On the second anniversary of the Armistice with Germany ‘ the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month’ the King laid a wreath on the Unknown Warrior’s gun-carriage before unveiling the Cenotaph or ‘empty tomb’ honouring ‘the glorious dead’ of war wherever they are buried. November ceremonies continue here on the 11th and the Sunday nearest.
Head back up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square on the pavement and just before Horse Guards view and then cross to the Banqueting House. Built by Inigo Jones 1619-1622 for King Charles I, controversially refaced in the 19th century, its interior has a ceiling by Rubens extolling the divine right of kings. Ironically By supreme it became the venue for the beheading of Charles whose bust is visible over the porch almost where he died 30 January 1649 on a scaffold outside a first floor window. According to observer Philip Henry, ‘a moan as I never heard before and desire I may never hear again’ rose from the crowd. Charles 1 statue is at the top of Whitehall.