Woolwich was packed again today as hundreds of people lined the streets to welcome the King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery to their new barracks at Napier Lines. Crocodiles of school-children in reflective jackets waving council-issue union jacks arrived early and had pride of place at the front. One clique of photographers, laden with long lenses, large tripods and a fluffy microphone were held in a well-positioned cage opposite the salute receivers, while another clique roamed restlessly seeking a good spot. Members of the Royal British Legion, medals proudly displayed, lined up to salute the newcomers with dipped banners.
The parade was very, very impressive. It seemed like all of the King’s troop’s 100 plus horses were there, some carrying officers, others in teams of six pulling the ceremonial 13 pounder cannons – perhaps the same ones that had fired the 41 gun salute yesterday in Hyde Park to mark the Queen’s diamond jubilee. The officers wore their hussar-style dress uniforms, black with 18 carat gold thread frogging and red piping. The jackets alone cost £4800. Their busbies have a white plume and a red flap that was designed to be filled with sand as protection against enemy sabres.
The Gunners guiding the gun trains had their hands full controlling the beautiful but sometimes skittish horses, which are capable of pulling a ton and a half of artillery piece at full gallop. They have moved from their home of 65 years at St Johns Wood where they had a close relationship with the local community, who will miss seeing and hearing them riding off to their ceremonial duties. While they won’t be able to ride from Woolwich to Central London now, it is likely that we will see them around – even if only training in their new facility alongside Repository Road.
The King’s Troop’s old barracks have been sold for £250 million for re-development. They move into a purpose built new barracks which will provide stabling and training facilities for 170 horses as well as space for the ceremonial gun carriages. The new building has been designed with sustainability in mind, and includes solar chimneys to ventilate the stables and a heating and hot-water system that will use horse manure as a fuel.
The first barracks for the Royal artillery were built in Woolwich in 1720, just four years after they were founded. It seems appropriate that an artillery regiment have returned.
I’ll put some more photographs on flickr.