If cars, carriages and horses went to heaven, The Royal Mews is where they would go. Tucked away behind Buckingham Palace, this is the ultimate stable for regal steeds and stately wheels. And I’m sure Cinderella wouldn’t say neigh to trotting off in a Royal Carriage for her amorous rendez-vous with Prince Charming.
The word “mews” originates from the French word “muer” or to moult. The royal hawks were originally held in the King’s Mews in Charing Cross (where the National Gallery stands today) whilst their feathers moulted. During Henry VIII’s reign, the original mews was destroyed by fire and rebuilt as royal stables, retaining its original name. The King’s Mews relocated to Buckingham Palace, morphing into the Royal Mews after a design by John Nash for George IV.
Today, the Royal Mews is home to the royal collection of coaches, carriages and cars, and it has one of the world’s finest working stables.
Fit for a Queen
Dating from 1760, the Gold State Coach is the oldest, and has been used for every coronation since George IV. Queen Victoria referred to its “distressing oscillation” whilst William IV said travelling in the State Coach was like “tossing in a rough sea.”
The Marriage Carriage
The Glass Coach was built in 1881 and was purchased for George V’s coronation in 1911. It has been used to carry the bride-to-be to church (as with Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1923, Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 and Miss Sarah Ferguson in 1986). It is also used to carry the newlyweds from church after the service (as with Princes Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1947).
A Moving Museum
The Diamond Jubilee Coach is the Royal Mews’s carriage with the mostest: heating, air-conditioning, hydraulic suspension and electric windows come as standard. It was designed by an Australian, Jim Frecklington, who worked in the Royal Mews as a young man. The coach weighs three tons and it requires three grooms and six horses to pull it.
The coach is also a moving museum of artefacts from 100 of Britain’s historical sites. There’s a lead musket ball from the Battle of Waterloo, fragments of a dress worn by Florence Nightingale, and the crown is made from parts of Nelson’s HMS Victory (with a concealed camera inside). Timber segments from the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral, Hampton Court Palace, to name a few, can be found in the interior lining, and the two door handles are decorated with 24 Kiwi diamonds and 130 sapphires.
The Royal Mews also houses a mix of State and Non-state Cars. The five State Cars do not have licence plates and include a selection of British-made Rolls Royces and Bentleys. There are eight chauffeurs, but only the Head Chauffeur and the two Deputy heads can drive the Queen. We’re told the Duke of Edinburgh likes to keep an A to Z street map in the car: I wonder if he is a back-street driver!
The carriage horses are either Windsor Greys or Cleveland Bays. The Windsor Greys pull the Queen’s carriage, although she does give permission for them to pull Santa’s sleigh at Christmas (see below).
The Queen personally names all her horses. They are bred in Hampton Court, broken-in at Windsor Castle and moved to the Royal Mews at the age of four. They are exercised in Hyde Park and St James’s Park.
About the Royal Mews
The Royal Mews is open to the 30 November 2017.
Tickets from £5.80 to £10, and all admission prices include a multimedia tour. Under 5s go free. You can book your tickets here.
Nearest tube: Victoria
The Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace, London, SW1W 1QH
Treats for a Princess
After our majestic tour of the Royal Mews, Anais and I headed into Covent Garden for a gelato-fix. Normally, when I peep into the Venchi chocogelateria, there’s a queue snaking its way down the piazza. But this time, we were in luck: no queue, or at least none until we had our gelato yumminess in hand.
Anais and I love Venchi. The chocolates are made using olive oil (none of that hydrogenated fats nonsense). Most exciting of all, the gelato is made fresh every day in the ice-cream laboratory downstairs.
I popped into Venchi’s Covent Garden branch, but they also have shops in Hampstead, Knightsbridge and Chelsea.