When researching A Minor Inconvenience, I found some fun little snippets of information about the Horse Guards building where Hugh spends his days working and being flirted with by Rifles colonels. Well, just the one Rifles colonel, really.
A coffeehouse in the building was closed in 1850, due to being “to all intents and purposes a common public house, occupied by people of the worst character and low women”. I was so sad to discover it was opened after 1813, when my book is set, because it sounds like fun. Theo would have loved it.
Until the advent of Big Ben in 1858, the Horse Guards clock was reputedly the most accurate clock in London and functioned as the capital’s timepiece.
The dark mark on the faces of the clock by the numeral 2 commemorates the time of King Charles’s execution. He was taken from St James’s Palace through the Horse Guards area to his execution.
The Duke of Cambridge was the last Commander in Chief at Horse Guards. He loved the building so much that he had to be ordered directly by Queen Victoria to move out to new offices, and even then he headed his notepaper Horse Guards.
Wellington’s desk is still in use by the current incumbent:
I also stumbled upon this 1955 exchange in the House of Commons, recorded in Hansard, the official report of debates in Parliament. I admire the blatant opportunism (not to mention sense of humour) of the Royal Air Force:
Mr. Short asked the Secretary of State for War if he will discontinue the mounted horseguards in Whitehall during the winter months.
Mr. Head No, Sir.
Mr. Short Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it is rather silly to keep two men there sitting on their horses throughout the winter months, especially as they often sit back in the alcoves and can neither see nor be seen? As anyone wanting to enter the building, where there is not very much to guard now, can go in by the back way and not be seen by the sentries, is this not another example of the waste of manpower in the Guards?
Mr. Head If the hon. Gentleman wishes to economise in manpower, it is perfectly logical to say that this guard should be abolished. It is retained there not for purely military purposes but for traditional reasons. As to the point about their being cold, the horse has a sheepskin coat on it and the man wears a cloak. One can put on a great deal of clothing under a cloak. In very cold weather the sentries are relieved every 20 minutes. I think that to abolish this traditional and very decorative ceremony would be most unwise.
Air Commodore Harvey Would it not be more helpful if the hon. Gentleman, in view of his supplementary question, asked the Secretary of State for Air if he would substitute for these sentries helicopters and airmen?
No response was recorded, though I wonder what response was actually made…