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Duke of Cambridge Puts on the Feed Bag in Whitehall

29-December-2011
29-December-2011 0:00
in Curiosities
by Peter Berthoud

In Whitehall stands an equestrian statue of Prince George, Duke of Cambridge.

At Christmas-time, the horse is given a bale of hay and a pile of sawdust.

I took these pictures yesterday and decided to find out why the sawdust and hay are there today. I thought this would be a 5 minute Google job. Three hours later I am still trying to find out. I can find no reference on the internet and I've used every search term I can think of.

Equestrian statue of Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, WhitehallEquestrian statue of Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, Whitehall, with nosebag. 

The bale of hay is attached to the reins of the horse and a pile of sawdust is placed beneath.

Equestrian statue of Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, Whitehall with sawdustEquestrian statue of Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, Whitehall with sawdust underneath

I also went through every book I have on London statuary, folklore and ceremonials. I then put a request for information out on Twitter and Face Book and had a couple of useful ideas but no firm information.

It seems the hay and sawdust are a mystery to even the most knowledgeable London enthusiasts.

The Georgian Group suggested that it might be the Household Cavalry looking after their old boss. So I phoned the Horseguards  museum which is nearby and they didn't know, although to be fair their archivist was on Christmas leave.

Someone else suggested that the MoD press office might be able to help but they didn't know either, though they agreed that the archivist at the Household Cavalry Museum would probably be the best person to speak to.

The timing of the placing of hay and sawdust don't correspond to Prince George's dates. The plinth is quite high, so ladders or a small cherry picker would be needed to place items on and beneath the statue and in a high security area like Whitehall this must have been officially sanctioned.

So whilst I wait for a definitive answer in the New Year, I thought I would throw it out for discussion now. Does anyone know why this horse alone gets hay and sawdust each Christmas in London?

An obscure London Christmas tradition revealed! Update 31st December 2011

It seems that the Household Cavalry are responsible for this virtually unknown London tradition, as first suggested by those good people at The Georgian Group.

In an answer posted on their Facebook page they say

"Peter, this has been a tradition in the Household cavalry for years. Just like most British regiments the soldiers have their own little traditions that bond them as a team. It happens either on Xmas day or New years day. It's felt that that horse stands there for 365 days of the year and deserves a little comfort especially at Xmas."

A comment posted on this blog last night adds a few more details.

"Every year either the Blues and Royals or the Life Guards (whichever is on guard on Christmas Eve ) put a hay net on the horse and bed it down and on New Year's Eve it gets taken down by the opposite guard."

I'd still like to find out some more details; when did this tradition begin, what time of day do the two ceremonies happen and how have they managed to keep them a secret when they take place in such a prominent location?

If you are out and about in the area this New Year's Eve and you see the hay being taken down I'd really appreciate any of your pictures or observations.

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