There’s a charming little museum right in the heart of London, a stone’s throw from Trafalgar Square, that I’m willing to bet you’ve never been to. Somehow it slips under the radar, perhaps because it’s such a specialist subject, or maybe because of its location, tucked away at the back of Horse Guards (you know, where they do the Trooping the Colour). But Yannick and I have ferreted it out – here’s what we found.
The Household Cavalry was set up by Charles II on his return to the throne in 1660. It was made up of five hundred private gentlemen who paid for the privilege of belonging to it, along with former soldiers from Cromwell’s army. It soon earned its keep; in 1667 the Household Cavalry quashed the civil unrest led by Titus Oates.
In 1664 Charles built stables for the cavalry in Whitehall, and the museum is now located in the stables, along with the original stalls with model horses and real kit:
And a view through a glass wall into the actual stables with real horses, waiting to go out on duty. (Sorry the picture isn‘t too clear – the glass was rather hazy).
What you can mainly see in the museum are some amazing historic uniforms. Like these cocked hats, originally worn by Captain John Trotter of the Life Guards and Captain Simon Hurst of the Blues in 1817-1830.
Or this presentation silver gilt sword and scabbard, given to Colonel John Yorke, who commanded the Royals in Crimea, in 1859, shown with a Royal Dragoons helmet from 1830.
At the Battle of Waterloo, the Royals captured the Napoleonic Eagle of the 105th Regiment of the Line, along with the French colours, a symbol of huge importance. This tableau represents Corporal Styles carrying the colours to safety.
It wasn’t just the uniforms that were glamorous and expensive; this massive piece of silver is the Zetland trophy, made in 1874. It represents the Blues at the Battle of Waterloo, topped by the figure of Mars, the god of war.
This is a musician’s state coat, worn on ceremonial occasions.
The silver kettledrums were presented by William IV to The Life Guards in 1831. The kettledrum banner was made for the Queen’s coronation in 1953. The uniforms are those of a captain of the Life Guards and a major of the Blues and Royals.
There are some more recent uniforms on display, but they’re nothing like as colourful and glamorous as the historic ones. A sad recent display recalls the IRA bomb in Hyde Park in 1984. It contains the helmet of Trooper Simon Tipper, who was killed and the bridle of Sefton, a horse that was badly injured but recovered.
The Household Cavalry museum is open daily, 10 am to 6 pm (10 am to 5 pm November to March). Entry is £7 for adults.