Londonderry Coach

16.10.19 John Kendall

The Londonderry Chariot

Google The Londonderry Coach and you will likely find a list of bus timetable information for Northern Ireland. You are less likely to find the details of the Londonderry Coach, or more properly, the Londonderry Chariot, built by Hooper and Co for the sixth Marquess of Londonderry and now on display at Mount Stewart, the former family seat of the Londonderry family, near Newtownards on the shore of Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland (pictured above).

The sixth Marquess of Londonderry, the Hon. Charles Vane-Tempest Stewart (1852-1915) was a Conservative politician and an MP for Down in Northern Ireland between 1878 and 1884. He succeeded to the marquessate of Londonderry in that year and was made a Knight of the Garter in 1888. It is almost certain that the chariot was commissioned to celebrate that occasion, because the heraldry on the carriage depicts the Order of the Garter as well as the Londonderry coat of arms.

The chariot would have originally been used at the family’s London residence, Londonderry House at 91 Park Lane, Mayfair. The house was demolished in 1965 and is currently the site of the Grosvenor House hotel.

The chariot was used by the Londonderry family to attend important state occasions and royal weddings in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including the coronations of Edward VII and George V. The chariot was last used at the coronation of George VI in 1937. It is currently on loan to the National Trust from the trustees of the Londonderry estate and is housed in a purpose built coach-house.

The Londonderry Chariot is reckoned to be one of the finest examples of a state carriage built by Hoopers. For a number of years the Londonderry family allowed it to be displayed in the upper windows of Hoopers’ St James Street showroom as an example of its best work.

As a chariot, the carriage includes seating for two in a standard shaped enclosed body and features a hammer cloth seat on a Salisbury boot, sprung on C and under springs. It also features a footmen’s cushion – a padded platform at the rear of the body and hind standards. A coachman’s communication cord is fitted in the pillar between the front windows. Double folding steps are fitted to the base of the door frames, with leather covered treads on the outer roller bolts with similar steps on the sides of the Salisbury boot. Leather covered upper and lower steps provide access to the footmen’s platform at the rear. Lowering windows are fitted to the sides and front of the carriage.

External features include silver plated external furniture, signifying its high status. Elaborate cylindrical lamps are fitted with heavily decorated covers and feature three-tiered chimneys and cut glass bowls.

The servants’ liveries are still in existence, while the harness was recently discovered in store at the Maidstone Museum. The original hammer cloth is missing, with a modern wool cloth cover taking its place. The coachman’s cushion is leather covered and the coachman’s seat covered with hessian. Inside the coach is trimmed in dark blue, with internal furniture made from bone.

According to the Carriage Foundation, “This Chariot would have been used on state occasions and was driven by a coachman in full livery with powdered wig, tricorn hat, braided livery coat, white plush breeches, white silk stockings and silver-buckled shoes. Two footmen, similarly dressed, except that they wore bicorn or cocked hats, stood on the footmen’s cushion, the padded platform behind the body, steadying themselves with the footmen’s holders. They carried silver-topped staves, known as wands, which were earlier used to keep the crowds away from the carriage. They were expected to stand motionless and bolt upright.”

Hoopers supplied William IV, Queen Victoria and Edward VII with horse drawn carriages and made the transition from horse-drawn carriage builder to motor car body builder in the early 20th century. The company could list the Kings of Spain, Norway, Portugal and Siam among its customers. Its first car body for the British royal family was fitted to a Daimler chassis in 1900. Daimler eventually acquired the company in 1940, two years after Hooper had acquired its rival Barker. Hooper attracted attention for building ostentatious Daimler limousines for Lady Docker, the wife of BSA Chairman Sir Bernard Docker in the 1950s. Daimler was part of the BSA group. Production of Hooper coach-built bodies ended in 1958, with the company later becoming a Rolls-Royce distributor.

With thanks to the National Trust and the Carriage Foundation for information on the Londonderry Carriage.