06.05.23 Assistant Mark Broadbent

Coronation day: Behind the scenes at the Royal Mews

Six carriages from the Royal Mews will be used for the Coronation today, between them representing almost three centuries of coach making skills. Both the carriages concerned and the Royal Mews staff involved in both the preparations and the Coronation itself can claim close ties to the Worshipful Company of Coachmakers and Coach Harness Makers.

Assistant Mark Broadbent was shown the carriages that will be used for today’s Coronation, on a short visit to the Royal Mews, by Crown Equerry and Honorary Liveryman Colonel Toby Browne.

Gold State Coach

Clearly, the most important and well-known coach to be used today is the Gold State Coach, which has been used at every coronation since that of William IV in 1831. This was built and delivered to the Royal Mews on 24th November 1762, on the orders of King George III.

It was built in London by Samuel Butler, to a design by William Chambers. Butler became a Master of the Worshipful Company of Coachmakers in 1768.

The coach cost just under £8,000; A huge sum in those days! The largest individual sum of £2,500 was paid to the sculptor Joseph Wilton, whose assistant Cipriani painted the scenes portraying England’s greatness, on the side panels.

In 1902 the coach underwent some restoration work and alterations by the coach making firm Hoopers. (William Hooper had been Master of the Coachmakers’ Company in 1875). At this time the State Coach was altered to be permanently used as a postilion coach rather than driven from the box seat, which was removed. A postilion is the name given to the rider of the nearside horse, when carriages are controlled by this method, as opposed to a coachman on the carriage.

Today, the coach will be pulled by eight Windsor Grey horses, without outriders. The offside wheeler (wheelers are the horses nearest the wheels) will be ridden postilion by the King’s head coachman Matt Powers, who is also a young liveryman of the Coachmakers’ Company.

Because of its size (it is nearly seven metres long and 3.6 metres tall), lack of suspension, and weight of four tonnes; it will only travel at walking pace, approximately three miles per hour. Despite its size, it is not the most spacious inside, so will only be used for the Coronation Procession, the return journey from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace, following the Coronation Ceremony.

Diamond Jubilee State Coach

It has been decided that HM The King and Queen Camilla would be more comfortable using the Diamond Jubilee State Coach for the King’s Procession from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey. This Coach, built in Australia by Frecklington in 2012 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the late Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, benefits from a larger interior more suitable for the abundance of robes the King will be expected to wear.

Generally, this coach is reckoned to be more ‘user friendly’ with larger windows, so the monarch can be seen more easily by the public. It is also equipped with heating, air conditioning, and hydraulic suspension dampers, providing a more comfortable ride. The coach will be pulled by six Windsor Greys, with two outriders. The King’s head coachman Matt Powers will be riding the nearside wheel horse as postillion. The wheel horses (those nearest the wheels, which do the majority of the pulling) are brother and sister, named Meg and Tyrone.

Irish State Coach

One of my favourite coaches in the Royal Mews has to be the Irish State Coach, built for Queen Victoria in 1853 by Hutton and Sons of Dublin. This very handsome carriage began to be used more for the opening of Parliament and other state occasions by King George VI, at a time when the Gold State Coach was undergoing extensive repair. Queen Elizabeth II continued this custom. In 1960 the coach was slightly altered so that it could be used with postilion ridden horses, or driven by a coachman from the box. For this coronation, all the carriages will be postilion driven.

Three further carriages will be used to convey the Prince and Princess of Wales (formerly the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge); the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh, (formerly the Earl and Countess of Wessex), and the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, with Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, husband of Princess Anne and a Past Master of the Coachmakers’ Company.

The final decision about which carriages should be used will depend on the weather. Open carriages are preferred if the weather is suitable. These would include the 1902 State Landau, and two of the Semi State Landaus. In inclement weather, the Australian State Coach, the Scottish State Coach and the Irish State Coach will be used in place of the open carriages. These coaches will be pulled by teams of four bay horses.

State Landau

The 1902 State Landau is a superb vehicle, described by The Times in 1902 as “undoubtedly the handsomest equipage in the country“. In 1901 the new King, Edward VII wanted an impressive new open carriage, to drive through the streets of London celebrating his coronation on the second day.

The Landau was built by Hooper’s of London, in its Chelsea workshops, and is a superb example of pure British craftsmanship. Using the latest developments and features, the carriage was fitted with India-rubber tyres, a very recent innovation at the time.

Inevitably, there will be a huge amount of activity behind the scenes throughout the day. Col Toby Browne, the Crown Equerry, will be ensuring all goes smoothly.

In addition to so much preparation and organisation for months beforehand, today he will be ensuring that the Royal Family and dignitaries all alight into the correct coaches, on time, with their correct attire. He will also be doing the same for the rest in the procession, which includes outriders, military escorts and the motor transport.

Preparing the Gold State Coach

During the ceremony, Colonel Browne will oversee the change of horses for the Gold State Coach, in readiness for the Coronation Procession. He will take part in the procession, mounted on his ‘charger’, riding behind the Gold State Coach along with other dignitaries and the Household Cavalry troop escorting the procession.

Many former members of the Royal Mews staff have returned to be working grooms and assisting with all the horses, including those who worked with the late Duke of Edinburgh’s competition ponies. All these people have their special place in making the whole operation succeed. The lady riding postilion on the lead horse, pulling the carriage carrying The Prince and Princess of Wales and their children, recently took part in the London marathon.

“I can’t wait until the Gold Coach is back safely in its coach house,” the King’s head coachman Matt Powers told Mark Broadbent, “It will be the most important day of my career; and to prime all 29 horses and staff for this is some challenge.

“I decided to put all carriage horses in mane dressings, which takes over an hour to complete on each horse, meaning an extremely early start to the day. But this is an extremely important day, and we want to make the teams of horses look as good as they possibly can.

“God Save The King”.