London’s Ceremonies And Traditions
Trooping The Colour
What’s it about? Trooping the Colour (11 Jun) began in the 17th century under King Charles II. After George II became king in 1760, parades marked his birthday. Today, 1,000 officers, 200 horses and 200 musicians from the Household Division parade from Buckingham Palace to Horse Guards Parade on the Queen’s official birthday in June. The event concludes with a flypast by the Royal Air Force.
Want more? Learn more about the RAF (and the tradition) at the Royal Air Force Museum, which is just 30 minutes from central London. Royal Air Force Museum
Ceremony Of The Keys
What’s it about? This 35-minute ritual, where the gates of the Tower of London are locked, has taken place every night for 700 years at exactly 9.53pm. A yeoman warder, carrying a lantern and the Queen’s keys, locks the gate and the Middle and Byward towers. Guards salute the keys as they pass. The sentry challenges the warder by asking: ‘Halt, who comes there?’ When the warder says he has the keys, he is allowed to pass. The event is free, but often gets booked up months in advance.
Want more? Visit the Tower of London, home to the Crown Jewels, which dates back to 1066. Built by William the Conqueror, it has seen many figures pass through its gates (and often not back out again). Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s wife, was beheaded here; Elizabeth I was imprisoned in the tower; and Guy Fawkes was tortured after his failed Gunpowder Plot. hrp.org.uk
State Opening Of Parliament
What’s it about? This tradition began in the 1500s, although the current ceremony dates from 1852. The State Opening happens on the first day of a new parliamentary session or after a general election (the next one is on 18 May). The Queen leads a procession from Buckingham Palace to Westminster. Then Black Rod, an official, summons the Commons. The doors are shut in his face to symbolise the Commons’ independence from the monarchy, and Black Rod strikes the door three times before it is opened.
Want more? The Houses of Parliament stands proudly by the Thames. Many people – including Londoners – don’t realise that they can go inside the building into rooms that include the Commons Chamber, where MPs debate, and Westminster Hall, where Nelson Mandela addressed Parliament. You can also take a tour, which you can combine with afternoon tea, or watch a debate. parliament.uk
Changing The Guard
What’s it about? Troops from the Household Division have guarded the monarch since 1660. When one regiment replaces another, this daily ritual is known as Changing the Guard. When the guard at Buckingham Palace is changed, part of the Old Guard marches from St James’s Palace on The Mall to Buckingham Palace at 11.15am and returns at 12.05pm.
Want more? Visit The Guards Museum, which contains artefacts and information relating to the five regiments of Foot Guards: the Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Irish and Welsh Guards. Don’t miss the shop with its toy soldiers. The Guards Museum