Coachlines - July 2022

28.07.22 PM Martin Payne

A visit to the National Trust’s Arlington Court Carriage Museum

According to Warwick University it was on 26th August 55BC that Julius Caesar set off from Gaul with two legions (Legion VII and Legion X) and 500 cavalry. It is possible he meant this brief appearance as a warning or punishment for the Britons who had been aiding the Gauls in their fight against Roman rule. This was the first attempt!

With continual interactions between the Gauls and Britons, when Caesar sent out for information before his invasion it was inevitable that the Britons were forewarned. As a result some Britons sent ambassadors offering hostages and allegiance to Rome.
The second attempt took place in 54BC when a much larger force was employed but it wasn’t until AD 43 that the Romans eventually conquered Britain. The conquest of Britain refers to the conquest of the island of Britain by occupying Roman forces. It began in earnest in AD 43 under Emperor Claudius.

According to the National Trust at Arlington Court, following the departure of the Romans, no good roads were built in Britain for over 1500 years. Although carriages, as we understand them today, were introduced in Elizabethan times they were only really used by royalty and the wealthiest of the nobility until the 18th Century. Even then they were used only for state occasions and seldom for long distances owing to the state of the roads (even in those days!).

So what DID the Romans actually do for us – apart from……!

Towards the end of 18th Century, the road network began to improve. The creation and establishment of the Coachmaker Livery Company and the manufacture of personalised transport seemed to coincide with the Romans’ departure, the development of specialised skills and the improvement of the road network. In 1677, the Royal Charter was granted and the Coachmaker industry began to flourish.

The collection of coaches at Arlington Court tells its own story and the collection (in part), is illustrated below.

State Chariot

State chariot : Built in London between 1830 and 1846 by Adams and Hooper, this carriage, known as a chariot because of the shape of the body as it was designed to carry two passengers. Often lavishly decorated, not meant for speed but for ‘show’

Travelling chariot

Travelling chariot : Built in London between 1815 and 1820 by Howe and Shanks, this type of carriage was used for long journeys such as The Grand Tour of Europe, which every young wealthy gentleman would undertake in the 18th and 19th century. The carriage was equipped with a dormeuse boot, which would allow the passengers to stretch out en route in order to sleep whilst travelling.

Travelling chariot interior complete with bed

This unusual carriage is said to have been designed for a country doctor. Easy access was provided from wide opening doors, with room for the doctor to write up his notes while protected from the elements. It is evident that the design was not popular, because carriages of this type are not seen in old photographs, and this is believed to be the only example to have been made.

Speakers Coach

However, the pride and joy of the museum is the Speakers Coach. It is on loan from the Houses of Parliament and is carefully managed and maintained by Government restorers. From the National Trust’s notes, this State Coach is thought to have been made for King William III and Queen Mary II in the 1690s. It is the oldest of three great ceremonial coaches in Britain, the others being the Royal Gold Coach and the Lord Mayor’s Coach. It is thought that the coach was presented to the Speaker by Queen Anne in 1700. Today, the coach is rarely used except on very special occasions. It was used for the Coronation in 1953 and pulled by two shire horses named Royal and Sovereign.

In a dark corner of the Coach Museum, there is a horse drawn hearse in black with glass side windows. I am assured that while it is no longer in use, it was on display at the hearse of the year show many years earlier.

Note: On speaking to the curator at the National Trust Coach museum, it was quite evident that they knew of Fenix Carriages and the support, advice and help provided by Mark Broadbent.