The Changing the Guard ceremony, or Guard Mounting as it is formally known, signifies the official handover of responsibility for the military security of the Royal Palaces in London.
Here you can find out about the Guard Mount, the history of the guard change, where to take photographs of the changing the guard ceremony and getting to Buckingham Palace by public transport. Plus a video clip of the guard change ceremony.
A detachment of the ‘Old Guard’ forms up there in Friary Court, at St James Palace, at 11:00am for an inspection by the Captain of The Queen’s Guard.
Preceded by a Regimental Band or Corps of Drums, at approximately 11:15, this contingent of the old guard then makes its way down The Mall towards Buckingham Palace.
The other half of the Old Guard is already on duty at Buckingham Palace and is inspected whilst awaiting the arrival of the St. James’s Palace detachment. contd...
The St. James’s detachment enters the Palace Forecourt via the South Centre Gate (left of centre facing the Palace) and takes up position beside the Buckingham Palace detachment on the left hand side of the forecourt.
Now complete, the Old Guard awaits the arrival of the ‘New Guard’ from Wellington Barracks situated at the Buckingham Palace end of Birdcage Walk.
After undergoing its own inspection at approximately 11.10am the band accompanying the New Guard at Wellington Barracks forms a circle and plays music whilst awaiting the arrival of the New Guard’s Regimental Colour.
The Colour is a symbol of honour and has the various campaigns associated with the regiment’s history emblazoned upon it. Traditionally the Colour served as a rallying point in battle and Queen’s Guard Mount provides an opportunity for the soldiers to be familiarised with it as it is paraded or ‘trooped’ before them.
After saluting the Colour, the New Guard departs from Wellington Barracks preceded by the Regimental Band. The New Guard enters the Forecourt at approximately 11:30 via the North Centre Gate (right of centre facing the Palace), marches in-front of the band and halts to face the Old Guard.
The Regimental Band then performs the New Guard’s Regimental Slow March as it advances towards the Old Guard. The Old and New Guards ‘Present Arms’ before the Captains of the Guard ceremoniously hand over the Palace keys. This symbolic gesture represents the transfer of responsibility for the Palace’s security from the Old to the New Guard.
Her Majesty The Queen is deemed to be in residence when the Royal Standard is flying from the Palace. Upon such occasions, the Foot Guards on the forecourt of the Palace will await the Mounted Cavalry and will salute with their rifles at ‘Present Arms’ as the cavalry pass between the Queen Victoria Memorial, affectionately known as the ‘Birthday Cake’, and Buckingham Palace.
After the ‘Present Arms’, officers of both the Old and New Guard Buckingham Palace detachments salute the Senior Captain on parade with their swords.
Retiring to the guardroom, they will later report to the Senior Captain after completing handover procedures with their Senior Non-Commissioned Officers.
During this period the Ensigns carrying their respective Colours patrol the area before the Palace from left to right. Officers not directly involved in the ceremony march in step along the west side of the Guards.
As each new sentry is posted, a Corporal distributes any special orders previously collected personally from the Palace by the Captains of the Guard. During these procedures the Regimental Band, originally accompanying the New Guard, moves to the centre of the forecourt, forms a semi circle and performs a programme of music.
Pipers occasionally accompanying the Old Guard also provide music during this point in the ceremony.
The original sentries, having been replaced by the incoming New Guard, return to complete the Old Guard. The duty bugler informs the Director of Music that the handover is complete. The band then reforms in front of the centre gates.
At approximately 12:05 pm the Guards re-form and are called to ‘Attention’. The Old Guard advances to its Regimental Slow March towards the New Guard. Wheeling right, the Colours of the Old and New Guard exchange compliments as the Old Guard exits through the Centre Gate preceded by the band.
Having left the Palace, the Old Guard ‘breaks into quick time’ and continues its march back to Wellington Barracks.
The New Guard remaining in the Palace is given the order to ‘Slope Arms’ and is referred to from this point as ‘The Queen’s Guard.’
The detachment then divides into two. Those responsible for guarding St. James’s Palace, usually led by the remaining Regimental Band or Corps of Drums, march off down the Mall to place the Regimental Colour in the guardroom in Friary Court at St. James’s Palace.
The Buckingham Palace detachment of The Queen’s Guard then retires to the Palace guardroom to assume its duties.
You will get many opportunities to photograph the Guards, but the best time is not actually during the Guard change ceremony.
The best locations are all highlighted in the Guide book but as a hint try:
To the left as you face Buckingham Palace is best just after the ceremony.
St James' Palace
Before or after the guard change at Buckingham Palace.
Want a picture standing next to a guard?
Go to St James' Palace, walk past the courtyard of the Palace, then turn left around the corner (into Pall Mall) and there is a guard standing all on his own, you can go and stand right next to him!
During the ceremony (at about 10.45am and again at 11.40am), the mounted guards will ride past, firstly going up 'The Mall' and then returning back down.
Horse Guards Parade
In Horse Guards Parade, and in Whitehall, you can get a picture standing next to a guard mounted on their horse.
Household Troops have guarded the Sovereign and the Royal Palaces since 1660.
Until 1689, the Sovereign lived, mainly, at the Palace of Whitehall and was guarded there by Household Cavalry.
In 1689, the court moved to St James's Palace, which was guarded by the Foot Guards.
When Queen Victoria moved into Buckingham Palace in 1837, the Queen's Guard remained at St James's Palace, with a detachment guarding Buckingham Palace, as it still does today.
The Queen’s Guard is commanded by a Captain (who usually holds the rank of Major), and each Detachment is commanded by a Lieutenant.
The Colour of the Battalion providing the Guard is carried by a Second Lieutenant (who is known as the Ensign).
The handover is accompanied by a Guards band. The music played ranges from traditional military marches to songs from films and musicals and even familiar pop songs.
When The Queen is in residence, there are four sentries at the front of the building. When she is away there are two.
If you are interested in learning more we recommend a visit to The Guards Museum and the Cavalry Museum. See the Google Map, below, for directions.
The Guards museum is located in Wellington Barracks, Birdcage Walk, London SW1
The museum contains a wealth of information and artifacts relating to the five regiments of Foot Guards namely Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Irish and Welsh Guards and you can even try on the Bearskin Cap that the Guards wear!
The Household Cavalry Museum is a living museum located in the heart of Horse Guards, Whitehall, London.
Unlike any other military museum it offers a unique 'behind- the-scenes' look at the work that goes into the ceremonial and operational role of the Household Cavalry Regiment.
Nearest tube stations are:
Victoria - 15 minutes easy walk
District, Circle &Victoria line
Green Park - 10 minutes walk
Piccadilly, Victoria & Jubilee line
St James's Park - 10 minutes walk
District & Circle line