Commanding Officer of the Household Cavalry, Lieutenant Colonel Tom Armitage, gives an insight into life at the Knightsbridge barracks, and what makes the Household Cavalry such a special and iconic part of the areaInterview by Jemima Wilson
My Knightsbridge: Colonel Tom Armitage of the Household Cavalry
What are your earliest memories of Knightsbridge?
I didn’t grow up in London, and I hadn’t been to Knightsbridge until I did a potential officer’s visit to the Household Cavalry barracks. I remember thinking it was quite an austere setting, but I was struck by the juxtaposition of having the military horses in the middle of Knightsbridge, and the stark contrast of cavalry tradition and modern city life.
How long have you been in the Household Cavalry and what attracted you to joining?
I went to Sandhurst in 2000, and I joined the Household Cavalry because it’s a dual-role operational and ceremonial regiment – in the army we describe it as the best of both worlds. They are two fantastic roles in two fantastic locations representing senior regiments in the British Army.
Can you describe your role as Commanding Officer and what a typical day would be like for you?
Essentially, I have responsibility for all the things we’re asked to do here, and I oversee the barracks itself, which is a big task. I also lead the Household Cavalry organisation in a certain direction and provide guidance to set the tone and culture in everything we do. I also have disciplinary powers. My typical day would see me arrive at the yard at around 6.30am – the same time as most of the soldiers – then I normally ride from 7am-8am, either schooling my horse or going out on a Watering Order, hacking around the roads of London. After riding I have breakfast, then I see what the rest of the day brings! There’s no such thing as a typical day here, but I spend quite a lot of time talking to people and offering advice; there are welfare and disciplinary issues I deal with, and I also work on planning different activities such as events engaging with the local community, supporting defence engagement, or preparing for upcoming ceremonial parades.
What makes the Household Cavalry such a special and iconic part of Knightsbridge?
The Household Cavalry has been on this site for a very long time, and the rest of Knightsbridge has developed around it. The first Hyde Park Barracks was built in 1795, then rebuilt in 1868 and again in 1970. It’s very different from anything else in the area. In the middle of luxury shops, grand hotels and super-prime properties, it’s quite remarkable that we have an army unit made up of people from an array of different backgrounds, delivering an incredible service within the army and for the nation. What’s more, people love to see the Household Cavalry horses being ridden in Hyde Park and around Knightsbridge, as it’s a unique and special sight in the city.
What do you like most about the Knightsbridge area and what give it its charm?
Hyde Park is amazing to ride in – particularly first thing in the morning when the sun is rising. It really is the lungs of London, and many cities don’t have this vast area of green space. On the roads, it’s also interesting to ride out on the Watering Order and discover quaint mews and pretty garden squares, which are dotted around Knightsbridge. There are many hidden gems if you detour from the main roads and explore some of the smaller streets.
What is your favourite building in Knightsbridge and why?
While it’s not the most beautiful building, the barracks itself is architecturally iconic, and it can be seen for miles around. The ceremonial gates opening onto Hyde Park are from the old barracks, which shows a continuity linking past and present designs.
What ceremonial duties do you take part in throughout the year?
I tend not to ride in every parade, but I will be part of the King’s Birthday parade next summer, and this year I had the privilege to ride in The Queen’s Birthday parade, the Platinum Jubilee and for the funeral of Her Majesty as well. Next year there will be a Coronation for King Charles, which I will also be participating in. And I will be leading the annual Major General’s Inspection in March, which takes place in Hyde Park.
What would you recommend a tourist do in Knightsbridge for the day?
I would recommend walking in Hyde Park – if it’s early in the morning, you will see the Household Cavalry horses being exercised. Harrods is a wonderful shopping destination, but there’s also lots to see and do for free. Even just wandering around and finding houses with blue plaques on them – which commemorate historic political figures, royalty, famous artists or novelists who once lived there – gives a flavour of some of the illustrious personalities who have contributed to the neighbourhood’s rich history.