Search this blog

Thursday, 17 May 2018

The Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace

Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
The Gold State Coach is, without doubt, the most magnificent coach I have ever seen. What is more, it is Georgian. For me, this huge golden carriage is the highlight of any visit to the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace, London.

‘A beautiful object’

The Gold State Coach is on display in the former State Carriage House at the Royal Mews. It measures 7.3 metres long, 2.5 metres high and 3.9 metres wide, and is gilded all over.

Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
The coach is adorned with palm trees and lions’ heads, and devices representing the British victory in the Seven Years’ War against France.

Lion detail on Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
Lion detail on Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
The exterior boasts exquisitely painted panels by the Florentine artist, Giovanni Battista Cipriani.

Panel detail on Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
Panel detail on Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
On its roof, there are three cherubs representing the guardian spirits of England, Scotland and Ireland, supporting the Royal Crown, and holding the Sceptre, the Sword of State and the Ensign of the Knighthood in their hands.

herubs on the roof of the Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
Cherubs on the roof of the Gold State Coach
at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
The body of the coach is supported by braces covered in Morocco leather decorated with gilded buckles held by Tritons.

Triton detail on Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
Triton detail on Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
Horace Walpole wrote to his friend Horace Mann:
There is come forth a new state coach, which has cost 8,000l. It is a beautiful object, though crowded with improprieties. Its support are Tritons, not very well adapted to land-carriage; and formed of palm-trees, which are as little aquatic as Tritons are terrestrial. The crowd to see it on the opening of the Parliament was greater than at the coronation, and much more mischief done.1
Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
An unusual piece of extravagance

George III commissioned the Gold State Coach in 1760 and it was designed by the architect Sir William Chambers. As Walpole wrote in his letter, the coach cost nearly £8,000 to build. Based on the Retail Price Index, £8,000 would equate to well over £1,000,000 in today’s money. If we consider relative incomes, the equivalent cost would be as much as £14,000,000 or more.2 This seems uncharacteristically extravagant of George III.

Given the cost of building the Gold State Coach, it is perhaps surprising to discover that it was made not for George IV – renowned for his profligacy and love of pomp and ceremony – but for his much more frugal father.

The Gold State Coach’s first outing

The coach was completed in time for the State Opening of Parliament on 25 November 1762. Its first journey was deemed a success, despite the fact that one of the door handles broke and a pane of glass cracked.

Driving the coach

Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
The Gold State Coach is usually displayed with four replica horses, with a postilion riding one horse in each pair. However, the coach actually requires eight horses to pull it as it weighs around four tonnes. The horses wear a special harness made of red Morocco leather, known as No. 1 State Harness which is reserved especially for this coach.

Originally, the coach was pulled by eight Cream Hanoverian stallions, with six of the horses being driven by a coachman from the box and the leading pair being driven by a postilion riding one of them. From 1918 to 1925, black horses were used, but since George VI’s coronation in 1937, the coach has been drawn by Windsor Greys.

The hammer cloth and box were removed by Edward VII to promote greater visibility and the coach is now pulled by eight postilion-driven horses.

Because of its weight, the coach can only travel at a walking pace and is no good at all on hills. It also takes a very long time to stop. A brakeman walks immediately behind the coach, ready to operate the brake handle when required. The brake needs to be applied approximately 27 metres before the desired stopping point.

Unfortunately, the magnificence of its exterior is not matched with the comfort of the ride. The body of the coach is supported by leather braces and not only rocks backwards and forwards, but sways from side to side as well.

Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
Gold State Coach
at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
Coronations and jubilees

The Gold State Coach has been used at every coronation since that of George IV in 1821. The frieze around the walls of the former State Carriage Room where the coach is on display was painted by Richard Barrett Davis (1782-1854) and depicts the coronation procession of William IV in 1831.

The coach is still used today, but only for special occasions. This is just as well as a large section of the wall on one side of the carriage room has to be removed in order to get the enormous coach out.

The Queen used the Gold State Coach for her coronation on 2 June 1953. It was last used on 4 June 2002 as part of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations.

Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
Last visited 1 August 2017 for Bloggers' breakfast event.

Notes
(1) In a letter dated 30 November 1762, from Walpole, Horace, Letters of Horace Walpole to Sir Horace Mann volume 1 p126 (1833).
(2) Relative values calculated using the Measuring Worth website (see link below).

Sources used include:
Vickers, Hugo, The Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace (Royal Collection Enterprises Ltd, 2011)
Walpole, Horace, Letters of Horace Walpole to Sir Horace Mann volume 1 (1833).
Measuring worth website

All photographs © Regencyhistory.net

No comments:

Post a Comment