The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 3 St. James's and Green Parks

Military displays on Horse Guards Parade

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The Park had never been drained, and had always shown signs of its marshy origin, and "Duck Island" was really a natural swamp. An unusually high tide flooded the low-lying end where the Horse Guards' Parade and the houses of Downing Street with their little gardens now stand. What state secrets they could divulge had they the power of speech! The tilting-ground was often in a condition quite unfit for the exercise of troops, so with a view to preventing this, it was paved with stone early in the eighteenth century. It has always been used for military displays, and the trooping of the colours on the King's birthday takes place on the same ground which witnessed the brilliant scene when the colours, thirty-eight in number, captured at the battle of Blenheim were conveyed to Westminster Abbey. On the parade-ground now stands the gun cast at Seville, used by Soult at Cadiz, and taken after the battle of Salamanca. Here many an impressive ceremony of distributing medals, and countless parades, have taken place through many generations. Here, with the brutality of old days, corporal punishment was administered, and offending soldiers were flogged in full view of the merry-making crowds assembled in the Park. Round the Park lay other marshy lands, also frequently flooded by the Thames, and it was not surprising that on one occasion an otter found its way from the river and settled down on Duck Island and there grew fat on the King's carp. Sir Robert Walpole sent to Houghton for his otter-hounds, and an exciting hunt ensued, in which the Duke of Cumberland took part, and the offending otter was captured.