Dave the Taxi Driver's


Guide to London


State Visits

State Visits, London EnglandDuring a normal year the Queen receives two foreign Heads of State at the Court of St.James. The State Visit is a formal occasion made by a foreign Monarch, President or Prime Minister. In London these visits begin with an official reception at Horse Guards. Receptions also take place at Windsor Castle and Hollyrood House.

Once this is complete the Queen and her guest travel to one of the Royal Residences( Buckingham Palace in London) escorted by the Household Cavalry.

Throughout the State Visit, State Banquets, Official Receptions and other entertainment is organised. There are also visits arranged to other places that will be of interest to the visiting dignitary. The visiting dignitary will be met by the Queen and then will be invited to inspect a Guard of Honour. The Captain of the Guard always presents the Guard in the language of the visitor.

The State Opening of Parliament

State Opening of Parliament, London, EnglandThe State Opening of Parliament takes place once a year, usually in November, although it may take place at other times. If there is a general election and subsequently a change in government, then it will take place more than once a year.

The members of the House of Commons are summoned to hear the ‘Queen’s Speech from the Throne’. This is the formal opening of the next session of Parliament and sets out the intentions and policies of the government in office for the proceeding year or part-year as the case maybe.

There is only a limited viewing gallery in the Palace of Westminster and tickets for this occasion are difficult to acquire. However the proceedings are televised and therefore made available to worldwide viewers.

On 5th. November,1605,Guy Fawkes, a papist sympathiser, was caught in the cellars of The Palace of Westminster by the Yeomen of the Guard whilst he was attempting to blow up the King and House of Commons. Since then the cellars of the Palace have been searched by a detachment of ten Yeomen prior to the departure of the Royal Procession from Buckingham Palace. The lanterns of old have now been replaced by sniffer dogs. The Queen is conveyed in the ornate Irish State Coach, drawn by four horses, from Buckingham Palace to the House of Lords. She is escorted by the Household Cavalry and the route is lined by armed soldiers who present arms as she progresses to Westminster. Military Bands play as the procession moves along.

Beating Retreat

Beating Retreat, London EnglandOn two successive evenings in June, London’s Horse Guards Parade, which lies between Whitehall and St. James’ Park hosts the spectacular ceremony of military music and marching known as Beating Retreat . This dates back to the sixteenth century. It was originally a call for the patrols to return to barracks and heralded the closing of the camp gates and the lowering of the flag at the end of the day.

Being traditionally a twilight ceremony it starts at 19.00hrs each evening.

The participants of the Household Division Beating Retreat are drawn from the bands of the two Household Cavalry Regiments and the five Foot Guard Regiments which make up the Household Division. These bands are at the heart of State Ceremonials. They are an essential part of the daily Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, Trooping the Colour and the State Opening of Parliament. Each Foot Guard Battalion has its own Corps of Drums; the Scots and Irish Guards Pipes and Drums.

Trooping the Colour

Trooping the Colour, London EnglandThis colourful and historic military parade and march-past celebrates the official birthday of the Queen. It takes place on Horse Guards Parade every year in June and is televised worldwide. It dates from the eighteenth century and derives from two old military ceremonies-Trooping the Colour and Mounting the Queen’s Guard, when the guard at the Royal Palaces and other important buildings in London were mounted daily on the parade ground by the Horse Guards Building. Being a symbol of honour the colour is featured in the mounting of the guard.

The ‘Colour’, that is, the ‘Flag’ of the battalion was also carried (trooped) along the ranks of soldiers prior to battle so that it would be seen and recognised by the soldiers and also as a rallying point during battle.

In 1748, during the reign of George II it was decided that this parade would also mark the official birthday of the Sovereign. Since the reign of Edward VII the Salute has been taken by the reigning monarch in person.

It is the Queen’s Colour of a Foot Guard Battalion which is trooped each year before the Sovereign. Only one colour can be trooped at a time. Therefore the five Regiments-Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Irish and Welsh take their turn year by year.

Let it be emphasised that the guards in all the ceremonies mentioned here are fully trained operational troops. Although they take part in all the ceremonies, play music and perform to the highest degree of professionalism, they are regularly on active service in many parts of the world.

Remembrance Day

Rememberance Sunday, London EnglandOn the anniversary of the Armistice, on the 11th hour of the11th day of the 11th month the nation remembers those who lost their lives during World War 1, World War 2 and other campaigns since then.

It is very moving to see all the old soldiers marching along Whitehall and laying wreaths at The Cenotaph in memory of their friends and comrades who never made it back to these shores all those years ago; fewer and fewer each year of course of the old boys from World War 1 and now in the 2000s those from World War 2 growing visibly old as the years pass. Unfortunately more recent campaigns have swelled the ranks of attendees and involve much younger bereaved families who remember those they have lost.

The ceremony is attended by The Queen and other members of the Royal Family as well as principal representatives of Parliament, Governments of the Commonwealth, the Armed Forces and the Churches.

There is a short Service of Dedication which is preceded by the Two Minutes Silence as Big Ben strikes at 11.00 am.

The Cenotaph, which stands close to Downing Street was originally a hurriedly built affair made of wood and plaster and was used as a saluting platform for the First World War Victory Parade on the 19th July 1919. It was designed by Edwin Lutyens. The popularity of this temporary structure supplied an easy solution to the need for a suitable national memorial to the war dead. The design was converted into the stone structure you see today. The unveiling of the new Cenotaph took place on 11th. November 1920 and was combined with a ceremony to mark the passing of the body of the Unknown Warrior for re-burial in Westminster Abbey. The first annual remembrance services began on November 11th 1921.

Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace

On a lighter note, what must be the most visited of the Royal Ceremonies which takes place daily( every other day in winter) is The Changing of the Guard which takes place at 11.30am precisely. The ceremony takes 45 minutes.

Officers and men from one of the five Guards Regiments which are stationed in Wellington Barracks march to Buckingham Palace with colours flying and band playing. Having left a detachment at Buckingham Palace they then march onto St. James’ Palace. The Guards wear full dress uniform. If it is raining Greatcoats are worn and there is no band. At night they wear full combats.

Since the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 the Sovereign and Royal Palaces have been guarded by the Household Troops. The Queen’s Guard is based in St. James’ Palace which has been the official residence of the Sovereign since 1698, when Whitehall Palace burnt down.

When the Queen is in residence there are four sentries who are fully armed on the forecourt of the Palace. There are also twenty more in the guardroom to the side of the forecourt. If they have operational duties then guest regiments such as The Brigade of Gurkhas or The Royal Air Force take over.

The five Foot Guards are Grenadiers, Coldstream, Scots, Irish and Welsh.

How do tell them apart when they are all wearing their bright red tunics? Remember the mnemonic Guards Change Step In Winter.

This refers to the button grouping on their tunics.

1 Grenadiers 2 Coldstream 3 Scots 4 Irish 5 Welsh.

Royal Garden Parties (see The Royal Garden Party)

Originally started by Queen Victoria in the 1860s, Royal Garden Parties are hosted by the Queen during the summer, Usually at least three are held at Buckingham Palace and one at Hollyrood House near Edinburgh, Scotland. In addition an extra party is usually organised for certain institutions, such as The Red Cross and RNLI who maybe celebrating a significant anniversary.

Over thirty thousand attend these events by special invitation.


Members of the armed forces and civilians who have been honoured for services to their country, revered institutions or professional expertise in such fields as music and charity, are received at Buckingham Palace by the Queen to receive their awards. The Prince of Wales or another member of the Royal Family may stand in on the Queen’s behalf if necessary. Throughout the year twenty-two Investitures are held with around 3000 Orders, Decorations and Medals being presented .

Gun Salutes

On certain Royal Anniversaries such as the Queen’s Birthday, the State Opening of Parliament, Trooping of the Colour and State Visits, Gun Salutes are fired.

These take place at noon in Hyde Park or Green Park and are fired by The King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery. Gun Salutes also take place at the Tower of London at 1.00pm. where the guns are fired by the Honourable Artillery Company.

The basic salute is 21 rounds. In Hyde Park an extra 20 rounds are added because it is a Royal Park.

On Royal Anniversaries 62 rounds are fired at the Tower of London. This includes the basic 21 rounds, plus 20 more because the Tower is a Royal Palace and a further 21 for the City of London.

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