Tomorrow sees something that has been happening in London for close to a thousand years, in an ever-evolving form. Even so, some things don’t seem to change – it has been held in Westminster Abbey since 1066 and State Gold Coach has been used since 1762. We do quite like a tradition on this side of the pond, and a good one is worth sharing. This then is your “cut out and keep guide” to the Gold State Coach (sometimes referred to as the Imperial Gold State Coach), used only at the grandest of Royal events and then only by the Monarch and Consort. Here are ten key facts to ensure you’re the Ace on the Base when the King leaves Westminster Abbey tomorrow afternoon.
Number 1 – it was built in 1762, after being commissioned in 1760, for King George III (the focus of The Madness of King George and a character in American history as well of course) but was not ready for his coronation. The cost of building of it was £7661, 18 shillings and 11 pence, the equivalent of around £1.5 million today.
Number 2 – it has been used for every coronation since 1831, when it was used for the coronation of King William IV. It was also used for the State Opening of Parliament until the late 1930s and was last used in the Platinum Jubilee Procession for Queen Elizabeth II last year. This was also the only time it has been used empty, with a hologram of Her Majesty from her Coronation in 1953 projected on to the windows.
Number 3 – It is hauled by eight Windsor Grey horses, stabled at the Royal Mews adjacent to Buckingham Palace. Eight horses not only look better than four or two, but are needed as the coach is twenty six feet long (plus the shafts) and weighs over four tons. Plus the Monarch’s crown
Number 4 – Managing the coach and eight horses requires a team of 23 – four postilions on the horses, nine walking grooms (one of whom walks behind the coach), six footmen, and four Yeoman of the Guard carrying their long partisans (also known as polearms or pikes). The grooms operate the brakes.
Number 5 – The coach is suspended on four straps, known as braces, made of Morocco leather. These were replaced for the first time about fifteen years ago, and found at the time to be all of different sizes and thickness. Even so, it is still reported to be a very uncomfortable, oscillating ride, and is only ever moved at a walking pace. King George VI said that the journey for his coronation was “one of the most uncomfortable rides I have ever had in my life”. To help this, King George had rubber tyres fitted in the late 1940s
Number 6 – The coach features gilded sculptures including three cherubs on the roof, which represent England, Scotland, and Ireland. And above each wheel there is a massive triton figure, honouring naval victories. The panels were painted by Giovanni Battista. Subtle it is not.
Number 7 – The interior is lined and upholstered with velvet and satin.
Number 8 – Queen Elizabeth II used to have a hot water bottle with her, strapped under the seat. Other, more modern coaches in the Royal fleet have electric windows and heating, and in cases even air conditioning, but not in the 1762.
Number 9 – Twenty strong chaps are needed to move it out of the Royal Mews, having removed a door and window first.
Number 10 – It is not made of actual gold, but gold leaf decorated giltwood. But it is still called the Gold State Coach.
I’m at a loss about what to say. A glib joke about class, roadworthiness, or whether it would fit in my garage? Or do I make a joke about the duties of that one groom who trails 8 horses? Brings to mind Rocky & Bullwinkle’s “Mr. Peabody” opening parade sequence, with the little, mustachioed man pushing a broom.
Although not as comfortable as a ROLLS-ROYCE, it is great to see the continuity of TRADITION. Elizabeth II was one of a kind with KEEP CALM and CARRY ON persona! Class to the end! 👑. Charles has a tough act to follow. At least he will begin by following royal protocol in this magnificent coach!
“Subtle it is not”. An understatement, that is not.
It makes Norah Docker’s gold-plated Daimlers seem like masterpieces of taste and restraint.
It makes me wonder if that’s where she got her inspiration.
Roger, this was a really fascinating bit of history, both on the vehicle and on the family that has used it. The thing about having been owned by a single family makes me want to riff on a potential classified ad or classic vehicle auction listing for it, but I will show some restraint out of respect for the occasion.
Over the years I have seen a few cars with a similar color combo – a very goldy gold with a very regal red interior. I have always struggled with that combo on the cars, but it works on this coach.
Great pictures and thanks for sharing. Love the old traditions! Wish we had more of them. The interior of the coach looks like a cheap bordello!
How is it they you are familiar with cheap bordellos?
Thank you for this history. I admit to being drawn to events such as this largely for the vehicles and arcane regalia, so this was a pleasure to read. The scale of this coach is hard to imagine, but is put into perspective by seeing it with the horses hitched to it, and seeing that the horses themselves are dwarfed by the coach’s size.
I love King George VI’s assessment of this being “one of the most uncomfortable rides I have ever had in my life.” (I’d love to know what the others were!) That’s probably the only forthright road test review from this vehicle’s 3+ centuries of service.
It’s amazing to me to ponder all of the details that must fall into place for planning something like this coronation — the details of which are rigid and seemingly infinite, and of course happen so infrequently as to be be little institutional memory of the last time it was pulled off.
In this and other similar processions, the most impressive participants to me are the horsemen – having ridden horses a few times, I’m amazed at the ability of both rider and horse to perform flawlessly in these long, tiring, and stressful processions (especially knowing that the actual riding on the route was preceded by hours of waiting).
Here in the US we don’t have many events like this, though back in 2004, I attended Ronald Reagan’s state funeral procession in Washington, DC. Very impressive, with military customs and splendor rarely seen on that scale, yet just a fraction of what it must be like to watch the coronation. Thanks again for this review.
the details of which are rigid and seemingly infinite
Historian David Starkey (IIRC) has a youtube about how 20th century mass media made the British seriously shape up their state events. At Victoria’s coronation, a elderly peer (Lord Rolle!) rolled backward down the steps in front of the throne. The lack of rehearsal was evident, yet they’d had 2 coronations in the previous 2 decades.
From George IV’s: The spectacle was somewhat marred by the Barons of the Cinque Ports, who exercised their traditional right to carry a canopy over the King, supported on four staves. The King, perhaps wanting to be seen by the crowds looking down from windows and roof tops, decided to walk in front of the canopy; however, this caused the elderly barons to try to walk faster, but the swaying of the canopy alarmed the King who quickened his pace in turn, eventually resulting in “a somewhat unseemly jog trot” according to a press report.
“Here in the US we don’t have many events like this”
Let alone the time scale involved. An event that has been happening since 1066? I love it. As an aside, I came across another factoid about the coronation: that there will be a Catholic bishop participating for the first time since the coronation of Henry VIII in 1509. I suspect he will not be asking for a return of the keys to Westminster Abbey, but we have to start somewhere. 🙂
I often laugh at the difference in what constitutes “old” in the middle parts of the U.S. – e.g., in the midwest things built in the 19th century are old, whereas one of the houses I owned here in MA was originally built in 1750 (and was by no means a tourist attraction).
And then I went to England where you’re practically falling over stuff built in the 15th century.
The service will be led by the Archbishop of Canterbury (Anglian/Episcopalian obviously) as it is at heart a religious service but many other faiths will be represented and participating, including the Catholicism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Sikhism. King Charles seems to recognise more than many that modern Britain is a country of people of many faiths (and none), and if he is to lead and represent us all……
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/c9wl4m5rqmlt is a good starter
Or as the saying goes, many Catholic funerals are more enjoyable than a Protestant wedding.
Now back to the Ol’ Coach.
The original rubber-band tyres. Wonder why George IV didn’t use it, as the gilding is up his alley–too fat to get through the door?
The tritons are carrying fasces, bundles of wooden rods displayed by officials of Republican Rome as symbols of their authority, though Wikipedia says they originated with the Etruscans. Many fasces contain a Cretan axe, but these have Neptunal tridents. There are two reliefs of fasces above the the rostrum of the US House chamber. Mussolini wasn’t quite nasty enough to make them problematic nowadays.
Yes, there are fasces all over the place in that kind of art and architecture, for example faces of the chair’s arms Lincoln has his hands resting on in the DC Lincoln Memorial.
Not much to add here other than to note that this is the coach that in toy version launched a gazillion Matchboxes. When Lesney released a model of this in 1953 to honor Chuck’s mum’s coronation, over a million were sold…thereby capitalizing the company for its subsequent success. So, if not for the Coronation Coach, countless children over the past 70 years would likely have had that much less joy in their lives without Matchbox toys.
As the 1966 catalog told the story…
Let’s try that image again…
Lesney originally intended for the coronation coach to feature George VI and the Queen mother inside, but on the unexpected death of the King and resulting Elizabeth’s Coronation plans, the upper parts of the 2 seated figures inside the coach were eliminated [they were separate pieces], but there wasn’t time to re-tool for either an empty seat cushion or have the new monarch & her husband inside.
So early examples of the Lesney Coronation coach have the bottom half of the 2 figures seated inside, cut off at the waist! Plus, in the position of where the monarch would be seated, it’s a King’s lower torso, not the Queen’s!
As I collect all types of toys, with a focus on vehicles, I had an early Lesney Coronation Coach set in the original box, so when I read about this situation I had to look for myself. While it’s hard to see inside, when I shined a flashlight inside the coach, sure enough there were the 2 lower torsos!
Indeed a splendid creation, I would have structural concerns with a vehicle made out of 350 year old wood, but it’s got low miles and I suspect the inspection and maintenance is quite rigorous.
Best wishes from the colonies for tomorrow, coverage starts at 4am local time in Canada, I think my sister will get up for it but I will avail myself at a later time and catch the recap.
If the coach wipes out, it will be at a slow enough speed to likely protect the occupants.
This is a COAM…coach of a monarchy.
Before it became Matchbox, the Lesney company made a model of this coach, it wasn’t made of gold either, diecast zinc, and gold colored paint.
Only slightly less extravagant than a mid 70’s Imperial.
There are many here on CC that are true Brougham fans, myself included. Thanks for the information on this coach, Roger.
While a Presidential Inauguration is no where near as impressive as this Coronation is likely to be, we have our own Brougham Coach on this side of the pond.
It’s affectionately called “The Beast”. It may be a tad more secure than the 1762 Gold State Coach, only requiring 6 walking guards as opposed to more than a dozen, but it DOES move under its own power, so there’s that. 😉
Here’s the Yank equivalent of your 5th picture down, from which the above shot was clipped…
The Beast is obviously far more modern and while Presidential limos were based on a standard Cadillac or Lincoln sedan up through the 1990s, since the mid-2000s have been built on Class 5/6 truck chassis and basically armored personnel carriers dressed as limos.
The rarest, and oldest, CC of all?
This was fascinating; thanks for the research and write up. For some reason the fact that it wasn’t actually ready for its first coronation puts me in mind of “Return of the Jedi” where Darth Vader comes calling to get the Death Star 2 back on schedule. “For your sake I hope the coach is completed on time; the King is not as forgiving as I am….”
Roger, I loved this. Thank you for putting this together.
This is Catherine the Great’s travel carriage – I was able to see it in Memphis thirty years ago when it was restored. It is considered a “berline” carriage (a four-seat convertible carriage) was built for her by court craftsman Johann Conrad Bukendal in 1769. Velvet, silk and leather were used in the upholstery; of course, the main feature of the carriage – its gilded wood carving. She perferred comfort and loved to travel. This wasn’t her favorite, but it is the one she used in St. Petersburg.
I like her taste, but then, both she and I are Pomeranian and both of us lived in Oest Friesland, she grew up in Jever. For those who love German beer, yes – it is that Jever, the city which was once directly connected to the Jadebusen to the North Sea.
I may be wrong about this, but, having watched the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation a couple of times, once when I was a child, and since, on Youtube, what I recall is that there were exactly NO motor vehicles in the parade. Only horsepower.
Once you’ve seen this, no English person can ever afford to be snobbish about gaudy and bad taste design. As has been shown all over the world, money can’t buy good taste.
I know it’s meant as a show of wealth and ostentation, but what a hideous way to do it.
Ye gods 4 tons its a tank alright but in remarkable condition for its age it makes a brougham seem stripped out, nice coach, I suspect we will have TV coverage of Charlie’s big day hes now king of this place.
Wrong coach: Photo Number 7 shows the Lord Mayor of London’s State Coach.
Since he dreams of reuniting great russia , I wish mr Putin no better than this.
…a Trabant Limo
Nawww. Lada or Sapporosh V4 Limo, pimped to same size and weight
“Here in the US we don’t have many events like this”
Closest I can think of is here in RI, where every three years Newport is host to the Weekend of Coaching, an exhibition of late-19thC coaches pulled by teams of four horses.
It is a fascinating event. Also closest because the OG thought themselves America’s royalty, or certainly the closest we would get to it. And some married into royalty, so by extension, they WERE royalty.
“Number 4 – Managing the coach and eight horses requires a team of 23 – four postilions on the horses, nine walking grooms (one of whom walks behind the coach),”.
Um, what did the groom do that walked behind the coach?
This note makes my collection of British Dinky toys more appreciated, began at G Fox in the 1950’s. Rare now!