Lost and hidden villas

Horse Guards

Horse Guards Parade, St James's Park, London

R. Ackermann. The Microcosm of London (London, 1835), vol. II, pl. 56
Copyright: RIBA Library Photographs Collection


Horse Guards is a large Palladian style building between Whitehall and Horse Guards Parade in London. It was commissioned by King George II to replace the old Whitehall Palace Guard House which had fallen into disrepair.

William Kent was charged with the task of designing the new building, however he died just a few years after the commission, and so it was executed by John Vardy between 1750 and 1759.

This watercolour shows the western front towards St. James' Park, and is the most Palladian aspect of the structure. Horse Guards was designed to provide accommodation and stabling for the Household Cavalry, including a tiltyard which became an exercise and parade ground, as shown here. 

Functionally Horse Guards is far removed from a villa, however there are Palladian villa features hidden in the building. The overall composition of the three main storeys, the central block with tower pavilions, and the attached outer flanking pavilions, recall many villa arrangements. If you can imagine the building without the clock tower, it also bears a close resemblance to Holkham Hall, another building by Kent.

Both Holkham Hall and Horse Guards include a key Palladian villa feature – the Venetian window, here set within arched recesses. The use of rustication continues to the upper storeys, giving it a sense of power and strength and so emphasising the military purpose of the building.

The ground floor is distinguished by the strong plain string courses between the ground and first storeys, and by its arcading and central openings leading to the vaulted road and footways connecting the Whitehall façade and courtyard with the Parade.