As part of the process of a Guild Apprentice becoming a Guildman, each is required to write an essay on an aspect of the City of London or of the Guild which may be of interest to members. Below is that from Apprentice Thomas Jackson.

The Honourable Artillery Company

Having lived in London my whole life, I like to think that I have a good knowledge of the city’s buildings, landmarks and streets. I grew up and attended school south of the river, studied at university in the centre of town, lived in the north and held multiple part time jobs around the city, including a stint as a bicycle courier. It was not until fairly recently, however, that I was introduced to one of London’s oldest treasures, just south of Old Street: the grounds of the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC). I was lucky enough to be invited by my youngest brother to a firework display in the Artillery Garden, which was a truly memorable event. Armoury House, the home of the HAC, is a stunning building on one side of the immense manicured lawn and provided an extraordinary backdrop to the display. The evening encouraged me to research its history.

The Armoury Building built in 1735

HAC

The HAC is the oldest regiment in the British Army and was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1537 by Henry VIII. Its very position means that it has had an important role to play in the City of London and it continues to do so. For example, it provided security to the City and helped restore order during the Gordon Riots in 1780 and has, for many years, provided guards of honour for visiting heads of state. It is not only territorial though and has provided soldiers for active duty abroad since 1900.

 

Before moving to its current location, the HAC was based at the Old Artillery Ground in Spitalfields and during this time members were trained in the art of using longbows, crossbows and handguns. The HAC played a large part in the English Civil war (1642 to 1649), surprisingly fighting for both Parliament and the Royalists following which the company was temporarily disbanded. It was soon reformed, however, and moved into its current home in 1658 and during this time the company played a large part in the formation of the Royal Marines and the Grenadier Guards.

 

Stone

The stone rover used by the HAC for archery.

The main building to the north of large central Artillery lawn is called Armoury House. It was built in 1735 at a cost of £1,690 (approximately £336,000 in today’s money.) Walking through the rooms of Armoury house feels like travelling back in time as one passes a suit of 16th century armour, the bell from the ship the SS Westmeath that sailed to France in 1914, a stone rover that dates back to 1537 and a wall covered in paintings of past Colonels of the company. In previous years the main entrance hall was used for drills (something I am all too familiar with at Sandhurst.) Nowadays the building is mainly used for hosting functions, balls, weddings and meetings. Over the years various wings have been added to the building but it still maintains its historic significance.

 

The front steps of Armoury House lead straight down into the Artillery Gardens. Although less obvious at first sight, these gardens are also steeped in history. Initially the grounds would have been used for archery practice before more contemporary weapon systems evolved. It was the site of the first balloon ascent in England in 1784. More poignantly, the grounds played a key role in the aftermath of the London bombings of 2005 by acting as a temporary mortuary.

grounds

Despite being part of the army reserves, the HAC has a great experience of operational deployment. Over 200 members fought in the Second South African War and around 13,000 men were deployed in WWI to fight in Flanders, France and Italy. Multiple batteries helped storm the beaches of Normandy on D-day in 1944 while back in London, the 86th (HAC) HAA regiment manned gun sites in Finsbury Park and Primrose Hill to protect London during The Blitz. Over 700 men from the HAC lost their lives in this war. In more contemporary operations the HAC have seen action in Iraq, on Op TELIC and in Afghanistan, on Op HERRICK.

 

The Honourable Artillery Company is just as important to the city of London now as it was when it was first formed back in 1537. Since 1919 it has had a detachment of Special Constabulary attached to the City of London Police which assists in maintaining law and order especially during events such as the London Marathon and the Lord Mayor’s Parade. In 2012, 45 officers and soldiers helped provide security during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

 

The busiest responsibility of the company is its ceremonial role that it performs in and around the City of London. On state visits and state occasions, the HAC will often provide a guard of honour. The most recent one that I was lucky enough to watch was the 62-gun salute from the Tower of London to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. I was interested to learn that the reason for the 62 shots in the salute was not because they miscounted the number of years that the Queen had been on the throne! It was made up of 21 shots because it is a royal event, 21 shots for the royal palaces and 20 from being a part of the City of London.

 

Other duties you will see being performed if you are in London at the right time are Pikemen and Musketeers acting as the personal guard to the Lord Mayor of London or the Light Cavalry performing at the Lord Mayor’s Show.

 

To the passer-by, the grounds of the Honourable Artillery Company are not as immediately recognisable as many of the other great landmarks or buildings around the centre of London, but there are very few other establishments that can match them in their historical and cultural significance. The members of the HAC have been providing a service to the City of London for over 450 years, and continue to do so, even something as simple as putting on a firework display for two brothers.

 

References

 

About the HAC: History (2013) Available at: https://www.hac.org.uk/home/about-the-hac/history/

 

Honourable Artillery Company (2017) Available at: http://www.army.mod.uk/artillery/regiments/24680.aspx

Raikes, G (1897) The History of the Honourable Artillery Company. R Bentley & Son.

 

Unit History: Honourable Artillery Company (2017) Available at: https://www.hac.org.uk/home/about-the-hac/history/

 

Walker, G (1926) The Honourable Artillery Company, 1537-1926. London: J. Lane.

 

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