31.03.2015
11:27

Guards Museum

Address:

Wellington Barracks, Birdcage Walk, London SW1E 6HQ

Phone:

020-7414 3428

Website:

www.theguardsmuseum.com

Opening times:

Daily 10:00–16:00 (sometimes closed January)

How to get there:

Tube: St James’s Park

Entry fee:

Admission charge

Additional information:

Shop

The museum of the five regiments of Foot, Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Irish, and Welsh Guards occupies a series of purpose-built subterranean rooms in the Chapel Square complex of Wellington Barracks. The five regiments named above furnish the troops that can usually be seen on parade, here and in front of Buckingham Palace, at the Changing of the Guard. Along with the cavalry regiments, the Blues and Royals and Queen’s Life Guards, they form the Household Division. This very well-kept museum opened in 1988 and displays a thoroughly annotated collection of uniforms, medals, silverware, weapons, colours, trophies and memorabilia.

At the entrance, a small mannequin wears the tailored uniform of HRH Prince Arthur of Connaught, aged five in 1838, followed by a useful lesson in regimental identification by button spacing, forage cap bands, bearskin plumes and collar tabs. A formidable array of Victoria Cross medals is also presented. Some were among the first ever to be awarded, for the saving of the colours at the Battle of Alma at the start of the Crimean War.

The exhibition then tells the glorious—and occasionally unfortunate—history of the regiments from their establishment in the 17th century up to the present day. An impressive portrait by Sir Peter Lely depicts General George Monck (1608–70), 1st Duke of Albermarle and the first Colonel-in-Chief of the Coldstream Guards, formed under him in 1650 from part of Lord Fairfax’s New Model Army fighting the Commonwealth cause in Scotland. A Dunbar medal from that year, with the head of Oliver Cromwell on one side and Parliament in session on the reverse, was the first medal to be awarded selectively to the army, for their victory against the Scots. Also exhibited here is General Monck’s gold enamelled snuffbox containing a piece of an elm tree planted by Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth I) while a prisoner of her half-sister Mary Tudor. Next to General Monck, who later marched rapidly south with his regiment to help restore Charles II to the throne, is a display on Thomas, Lord Wentworth, who had exiled himself to Bruges with 400 men loyal to the future King Charles II. In 1656, he became the first Colonel of the Royal Regiment of Guards, later called the Grenadier Guards, the most senior of the five foot regiments. The Coldstreams’ reaction can be gauged from their motto: ‘Second to no one’. The oldest of the regiments is in fact the Scots Guards, formed in 1642. Another portrait, attributed to the circle of Marcellus Laroon, shows the three Keppel family children acting in a private theatrical performance, possibly of Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer, wearing early uniforms of the Coldstream guards.

Displays then relate the role played by the regiments at the Battle of Blenheim, in the War of American Independence, at Waterloo (featuring the major’s colour carried by the 2nd battalion of the First Foot Guards) and in the Crimean War, among other conflicts, and tell of the formation of the Irish and Welsh Guards in 1900 and 1915. Highlights include the bearskin cap worn by the ‘grand old Duke of York’ (George III’s second son Frederick), and the head of Jacob the Goose, who attached himself to a battalion of Coldstream Guards sent to defend a sentry post in Canada, and gave the alarm when the rebels attacked. An honoured regimental mascot, he was eventually run over by a van at the Portman Barracks in 1846.

Particularly fine are the full-dress 19th-century uniforms of the Dukes of Cambridge, presenting an extraordinary array of sash badges, breast stars, garters and medals from different nations around the world. Among these the collar, badge and breast star of the Order of the Annunziata, the Italian equivalent of the Order of the Garter, remain a mystery, there being no mention in the Order’s meticulous records of any Duke of Cambridge. The Order of Shafakat was a women’s Order: the sash badge displayed here was possibly awarded mischievously by the Turkish Sultan to the 2nd Duke’s beautiful wife, the actress Louise Fairbrother, who because of her lowly origins was never created Duchess of Cambridge, but was known instead as ‘Mrs FitzGeorge’. More recent memorabilia include a pair of chaplis, sandals hand-made in Egypt for the late Michael Crichton Stuart, serving in the Long Range Desert Patrol Group that undertook hazardous reconnaissance behind enemy lines in North Africa. On a similar theme are ‘the boots that walked a thousand kilometres’ on the feet of a captain of the Guards making his escape from a POW camp in northern Italy.

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MUSEUMS & GALLERIES OF LONDON

Details below are taken from our Blue Guide Museums and Galleries of London.  This is a 2005 title, here generally updated for website address and opening times, with useful comments from some of the museums themselves.  More recent information is given in Emily Barber's magisterial new Blue Guide London, "Exceptional update to a classic and useful guide to this amazing city" (Amazon reader review).

FULL LISTING of CURRENT EXHIBITIONS in London from Apollo Magazine »

Emily Barber recommends five major London museums »

Please do share your comments and updates with us via the form below the entry for each museum.

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South London Art Gallery
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