If you fancy seeing royal carriages, fine horses and trying on some costumes, then the Royal Mews is well worth a visit. It’s just around the corner from Buckingham Palace but most people walk past it without realising the treasures inside. So, join me on a visit…
You can see the beautiful coaches stored in the Royal Mews on the free tour offered from April to October. The guides are full of great info and certainly add to your visit. As soon as you enter you see a new carriage displayed for you and each one has a detailed history which the guide will entertain you with and you will learn what purpose each carriage serves. One carries the Imperial State Crown to Westminster from the Tower of London for the State Opening of Parliament. One is popular as a ‘convertible’ so the Royals can be seen and the Glass Coach was bought from the Lord Mayor of London which surprised me as I thought they were all specifically made for the sovereign and this one is used to take royal brides to their wedding. In a less glamorous theme, the Royals have over 20 state limousines from Daimlers to a Renault Twizzy! Apparently, they do pay their congestion charge despite having no number plates. Enjoy the Glass Coach, Queen Alexandra’s State Coach, the semi-state Landau and the Scottish State Coach with a replica of the Scottish crown on the top:
So what is the Royal Mews? It’s a working stable where the royal carriages and the horses that pull them are kept along with all their equipment and uniforms. They date back to about 1377 when Richard ll set up a home for his falcons on the site of the National Gallery – falcons lose their feathers and this was called ‘mewing’, hence the place was called the mews. Henry Vlll moved his horses in there when his stables burnt down and moved the falcons out but the name remained. In 1825 the royal horses were moved to their present site, designed by John Nash, to join the riding school set up here in the late 1700s which remains today.
The Diamond Jubilee State Coach has a special room of its own and is a new addition, having its first outing in 2014 at the State Opening of Parliament. I saw it in action the following week in the courtyard of Buckingham Palace waiting for a state visit. This coach was made in Australia and there are lovely touches which reflect this. It is a much more comfortable ride for the royals and their guest as it has modern touches such as stabilisers, heating and air conditioning – and even a coach camera mounted on the front!
To add to the fun of your Royal Mews visit, you can sit in a carriage and try out your royal wave and slip on one of the colourful jackets which the footmen wear and make sure you get a photo to show your royal credentials!
After all the talk of how many horses each carriage needed to pull it around the streets of London, it was wonderful to meet Louis who was too busy with his late breakfast to bother with us! They have Windsor Greys and Cleveland Bays and they are at least 16 hands high and pretty strong given the weight of the carriages. We learned about their rigorous training to accustom them to the traffic in London and the ceremonial bands so that none of that worries them.
They save the best until last and the Gold State Coach is a dazzling display, an over the top gold fairy coach. It’s been used for coronations since 1821 for George lV and is used for major state occasions including the 2002 Golden Jubilee. The staff are keen to point out that the coach is far bigger than the doors and after some guessing from the group, we determined that there was a door hidden in the wall which serves as an exit. Despite its impressive appearance, Queen Victoria was appalled by the ride, complaining about the ‘distressing oscillations’ due to the poor suspension.
Don’t miss the shop on the way out as it’s full of great royal gifts for your friends and family or just for yourself!
For more information about the Royal Mews, opening hours and ticket prices check their website: www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/royalmews
Full disclosure: As is customary in this industry I was invited to visit the Royal Mews and therefore my entry was free. I have paid for myself to visit in the past and my views are not influenced by the invitation.