Coachlines - May 2023

28.05.23 The Clerk

A permanent home for Brougham

The first Brougham Carriage built was made in 1838 and presented to the Coachmakers’ Company in 1894 by the Rt Hon Earl of Bathurst to retain as the first example of what had been a revolutionary design in carriage building. Having nowhere to keep it, the Coachmakers’ Court agreed that it should be lent to the South Kensington Museum for exhibition which is now the Science Museum.

On two previous occasions, the Science Museum asked the Court if it could be gifted to the Museum in perpetuity. However, the Coachmakers’ Court, ever mindful that it might be useful to retain ownership just in case, declined the requests.

In July 2022, the Science Museum once again asked if the Court might consider gifting the Brougham and after some deliberation, the Court agreed that the time was now right.

Arrangements were made, and on 11th May 2023 a number of Coachmakers and Science Museum staff attended an event jointly hosted by Sir Ian Blatchford, Director and CEO of the Science Museum, and the Master Coachmaker, at which the Brougham was formally handed over in perpetuity into the custodianship of the Science Museum.

This is what the Master had to say:

Sir Ian Blatchford, ladies and gentlemen

First of all, I would like to thank the management and staff of the Science Museum for organising this evening’s event. More than that, I must thank you, the Science Museum for caring for the Coachmakers’ Brougham for 127 years with such diligence.

This particular Brougham is a very early example; a sort of prototype, which led to developments in personal transport that had far reaching affects that very much parallel the evolution of The Worshipful Company of Coachmakers and Coach Harness Makers, so that they now have a portfolio of coach making and driving, car building and driving and aircraft building. I was going to neatly finish that list with “and flying” but there is an Honourable Company of Air Pilots that represent that activity.

The Brougham was a small relatively affordable carriage pulled by just one horse. Ultimately it influenced the design of early motor cars which went on to outpace it with more ‘horse power’. It gave people of more modest means, the chance to have their own personal transport, the sort of Model T Ford of its day. It is not surprising, then that the relevant curator considers this Brougham to be, and I quote, “….the most significant artefact in this part of the collection.”

As you know we are here today to formally handover ownership of this carriage to the Science Museum and it is with a great pride and privilege that the Coachmakers do so.

The conversation that started recently about this handover has made it clear to the Coachmakers that the relationship that we have always had with the Science Museum can and should now be reinvigorated, after all, we have so much in common.  Both organisations are rooted in history but very much connected with modern industries. The Coachmakers lives by the maxim of an Active Livery Investing in Young People. The Museum aims for young people to visit to “ignite your curiosity, encourage scientific endeavour and spark your imagination”.

Our charity has two main aims: to support young people into, and in automotive, aerospace and coachmaking design and engineering and to promote STEM subjects to school students.

It made perfect sense to us to cement this reinvigorated relationship with participation in the Science Museum Skills Fair last November and we hope to make it a regular appearance. Our own Assistant Eric Wallbank, Liverymen Nick Lyford and Ellie Bacon organised a competition that had children and young people wiring a plug. We hope this will become a wider engagement in the promotion of STEM as we expand our charitable endeavours in the run up to our 350th anniversary year in 2027, when Assistant Mark Broadbent, who is a coachmaker and restorer of world renown, will be our Master. He has an extensive collection of coaches of great historical significance and a visit to his ‘museum’ can easily be arranged.

 The plug wiring exercise reminds me of something similar and I would caution that such exercises can have unintentional consequences. As we were playing bridge downstairs during the lead up to Christmas, our hosts’ 10 year old son, Peter was upstairs in his bedroom discovering that the battery on his small string of Christmas lights had expired. He cut the battery pack off and installed a 13 amp plug.  I think the Science Museum’s aim to “ignite curiosity and spark imagination” may have acquired a different meaning when his little Christmas tree caught fire and all the house lights went out. No serious harm done and Peter is now a qualified electrician.

 To finish, then, I would like to formally commend the Coachmakers’ Brougham into the Science Museum’s permanent exhibition and ownership. It is in the right place and we are very proud to be able to do it and so pleased that it is valued so highly here. I hereby declare that the 127 year trial period is now ended.

The Master with Sir Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum, with the Brougham