Coachlines - June 2024

28.06.24 Renter Warden David Barrett

Coachspotting: A surviving Berlin coach built in the first half of the 18th century

Your Renter Warden’s travel recently took him to the Château d’Eu, Le Treport, in France, a former royal residence in the Seine-Maritime department, in Normandy.

The Château stands in the centre of the town and was built in the 16th century as a royal residence of Louis-Philippe, and is famed for first Entente Cordiale, which was signed here in April 1904. The agreement between Queen Victoria and Napolean III led to a significant improvement in Anglo-French relations.

The Chateau d’Eu at Le Treport

The splendour of its coaches and Berlin carriages made Paris the centre of European excellence from the end of the reign of Louis XIV until the 1760s. Only one coach in France survives from this period, which is housed in the Louis-Philippe Museum in the Château d’Eu. This example (pictured above) is one of only 24 Berlin carriages built, and was commissioned for the richest sovereign of the time, King John V of Portugal.

A brilliant example of a royal ceremonial vehicle, the coach was built in Portugal during the first half of the 18th century, and was commissioned by the king for his personal use.

The coach was shipped to Brazil in 1807, when the Regent of Portugal was fleeing from Napoleon’s armies. It travelled back across the Atlantic to its country of origin in 1889, when Pedro Il, the last emperor of the House of Braganza, sought refuge with his son-in-law, the Count of Eu, grandson to King Louis-Philippe, after Brazil was proclaimed a republic.

The Berlin was then forgotten for nigh on a century, Its national importance only came to light after being catalogued by the museum and classified as a historic monument in 1974.

In the spring of 1982 the eight pommels of the upper deck, a number of cushions and various items of upholstery were purchased from an antique shop. A gilded bronze floral decoration belonging to the rear of the carriage was also located. These crucial acquisitions marked the beginning of its revival. The term ‘Berline’ survived as a description of the formal or ceremonial body style with two bench seats facing each other in a closed carriage.

The carriage type was first designed between 1660 and 1670 by a Piedmontese architect commissioned by the General quartermaster to Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg. The Elector used the carriage to travel from Berlin, Brandenburg’s capital, to Paris, a distance of 1,054km (654.9 miles) where his carriage created a sensation.

Similar to heavy-duty vehicles, the Berlin was also perched on a double-railed front to back frame. Passenger vehicles had normally used a single rail, but the Berlin increased comfort and stability. The elegant but durable style was widely copied and named Berline after the city from which the carriage had come. It was more convenient than other carriages of the time, being lighter and less likely to overturn. The ‘Berline’ began to supplant the less practical and less comfortable state coaches and gala coaches in the 17th century.

Members will instantly recognise the Lord Mayor’s carriage as this style of carriage with the ‘Berlin’ heritage. Clearly the Lord Mayor’s carriage has not achieved the travel distance of this fine example. It’s not solid gold, but made from carved hardwood and gilded in gold leaf.

The painted door decoration