Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: The astonishing gilded wonder that is the Gold State Coach
The Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace is a working stable and also serves as a home for the royal collection of historic coaches, motor cars, and ornately decorated carriages such as the opulent Gold State Coach. The Royal Mews is also a bustling transportation centre, responsible for organising all road travel for the royal family.
The Royal Mews is home to state vehicles, both horse-drawn and motorised, including those used for state occasions such as the State Opening of Parliament, royal weddings, coronations, and state visits.
The history of the Royal Mews goes back to the 14th century when the King's Mews was established at Charing Cross. The Royal Mews were used to keep hunting hawks when their feathers moulted (the word 'mew' means moulting). The hawks could not be used for hunting when their feathers were moulting so they were kept in a 'mews' during this period.
The Royal Mews was destroyed by fire in 1534 and rebuilt as a stable. It kept the name 'mews' even though it now kept horses rather than hawks. When George II bought Buckingham House (now Buckingham Palace) in 1762 he created a riding school beside the house. Some horses and carriages were stot=red there, though most remained at Charing Cross.
When George IV took the throne he called on his favourite architect John Nash to rebuild Buckingham House as a royal palace. One of Nash's tasks was to build a Royal Mews, including stables, a riding school, coach houses, and harness rooms arranged around a quadrangle reached through a neoclassical arch supporting a clock tower.
Under Queen Victoria, the Royal Mews became, in her words, 'a small village which belongs to Buckingham Palace'. The queen founded a school to teach the children of families who worked in her 'small village'. Prince Albert added a forge and more outbuildings. All of the royal couple's children learned to ride in the riding school at the Royal Mews.
Today the Royal Mews still functions like a small village, with families occupying flats around John Nash's elegant courtyard. And rather than hawks, visitors can see the amazing collection of royal carriages and motor cars that ate regularly used to carry members of the royal family on ceremonial occasions, as well as watching the royal horses being trained.
Lest you get too envious of the royal family for getting to travel in such amazing fairytale carriages it is worth pointing out that many of the carriages look impressive but they sway and bounce so drastically that those riding in them can suffer from seasickness.
Did you know?
The reigning monarch names all the horses in the royal stables. At any given time there are around 30 horses in residence and each horse has a nameplate outside the stall with its name and year of birth.
Only two breeds are used to pull royal carriages; Cleveland Bays and Windsor Greys (which despite the name are white, not grey). Only Windsor Greys are used to pull the monarch's carriage.
One of the real treats when visiting the Royal Mews is that you get to watch the horses undergoing training. They need special training so they do not get skittish in front of large crowds and can deal with loud noises and people waving flags. The horses also have to learn to stand still for long periods of time.
Please be aware that the royal horses may not always be available to view since they may be on duty pulling a royal carriage, undergoing training, or simply out of London. Even if the horses are not available to view you can still see the historic stables and see the royal carriage collection.
The Gold State Coach
The highlight of a visit to the Royal Mews is the Gold State Coach, built in 1762 for King George III. It has been used for every royal coronation since then, beginning with George IV's coronation in 1820. The heavily gilded coach is decorated with tritons blowing conch shells in the front while cherubs festoon the carriage's roof.
The Gold State Coach is so heavy that it takes a team of eight horses to pull. It is also so large that to take it out of the Mews a wall has to be removed first. It takes a team of 30 people up to two days to turn the coach around.
Ornate is might be, but it is also extremely uncomfortable to ride in. King George VI called travelling in it to his coronation as 'one of the most uncomfortable rides I have ever had in my life', while Queen Victoria said it suffered from 'distressing oscillations'.
Queen Alexandra’s State Coach
This fairytale carriage was made in 1865 for Alexandra, the Princess of Wales (later Queen Alexandra), the wife of Edward VII. It was intended as a simple town coach but sometime in the 1890s it was converted into a state coach. Its main duty is to carry the Imperial State Crown (along with the Sword of State and the Cap of Maintenance) to the Palace of Westminster for the annual State Opening of Parliament.
Yes, that's right, the crown has its own carriage.
During the procession the royal paraphernalia are accompanied by the Queen's Bargemaster, with Watermen acting as footmen. This is a reminder of the days when the crown jewels were transported by river to the Tower of London for state ceremonies. The crown and regalia are accompanied by a detachment of the Household Cavalry and receive their own royal salute.
Diamond Jubilee State Coach
The Gold State Coach might cause a few queasy moments for its passengers with its pitching and rolling, but the same cannot be said for the Diamond Jubilee State Coach, made in 2014. Though the carriage is modern, it is infused with history; incorporated into its fabric is timber from the Tower of London and fragments from Henry VIII's favourite ship, the Mary Rose.
The wooden crown on top of the coach incorporates a fragment of wood from Admiral Nelson's flagship the HMS Victory. But that's not all; the carriage also includes pieces of wood from the Antarctic base camps used by Captain Robert Falcon Scott and by Sir Ernest Shackleton.
Other historical items built into the coach's fabric include a musket ball from the Battle of Waterloo and a piece of Florence Nightingale's dress. The Diamond Jubilee State Coach is a mobile piece of British history.
Scottish State Coach
This coach was built sometime around 1830 and was purchased by Queen Mary in 1930. It was converted into the Scottish State Coach in 1968. The Order of the Thistle insignia was painted on the coach panels along with the royal arms of Scotland. On the roof is a fibreglass replica of the Crown of Scotland. Elizabeth II used the coach while attending the General assembly of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh in both 1969 and 2002.
The coach is occasionally used for state processions in London. It also featured in Elizabeth II's 90th birthday celebrations at Windsor Castle and at the Royal Edinburgh Tattoo in 2016.
This coach was purchased for the coronation of King George V in 1911. Its unusual name comes from the fact that glass is used in all the bodywork panels except for the rear. It has been used for several royal weddings, usually to carry the bride to the ceremony. The exterior panels depict the royal arms flanked by symbols of the Order of the Garter. The interior is lined with blue satin.
This ornately decorated coach transported Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon to Westminster Abbey for her marriage to the Duke of York in 1923. The couple, of course, later took the throne as King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. The same coach was used to carry their daughter Princess Elizabeth (later Elizabeth II) to her wedding in 1947.
The Glass Coach is usually the second in the procession to the State Opening of Parliament, behind the monarch's carriage. For events during Elizabeth II's reign it has carried her ladies in waiting and her Master of the Horse.
Irish State Coach
This elegant coach was exhibited by John Hutton & sons of Dublin in the Great Industrial Exhibition of 1853. Hutton hoped to catch the attention of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. He succeeded, for the royal couple bought the coach. After Prince Albert's death the Queen often used it in place of the Gold State Coach. When Victoria was named Empress of India in 1876 a frieze was added on top of the coach with the palm of India, the rose of England, the thistle of Scotland, and the shamrock of Ireland.
Sadly, the wooden body of the original carriage was destroyed by fire whilst being prepared for the coronation of George V in 1911. The body was rebuilt on its original chassis in just 16 weeks and was ready in time to take part in the coronation ceremony.
Think of the landau as the 19th-century equivalent of a convertible. The carriage could be used both in town and in the country, with the hoods up or down. Queen Victoria loved fresh air and often had the hoods down. There are several semi-state landaus, originally used by the royal family for informal occasions.
They were gilded and heavily decorated to take part in Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1887 and were used in the Diamond Jubilee procession a decade later. The landaus are now used for a mix of ceremonial and official occasions. For example, all newly-appointed High Commissioners travel in a semi-state landau to present their credentials to the monarch.
Royal Motor Cars
The Royal Mews is not just home to royal carriages but also to a fleet of royal automobiles. One of the royal motor cars is a Rolls Royce Phantom IV, the most expensive car ever made by Rolls Royce. That said, Queen Elizabeth II's favourite car is a Bentley. Our tour guide told us that the Queen always likes to have a car blanket along, while Prince Philip wants to have a road atlas so he can follow the route.
The royal collection of motor cars includes three Rolls Royces, three Daimlers, and two Bentleys. There are also a pair of green stretch limousines by Jaguar used on informal public occasions. The oldest vehicle is the 1950 Rolls Royce Phantom IV. The cars are specially made so they can easily run at three miles per hour for long periods - useful for public processions. They have special Perspex roofs so that the public can more easily see the royal passengers. The two Bentleys have been made to use bio-fuels.
When a monarch uses one of the cars a special ornament of St George killing a dragon is fixed to the bonnet and a Royal Standard is flown from the car roof.
Did You Know?
All royal motor cars are painted maroon and black.
Father Christmas' Sleigh
The reigning monarch is not the only person allowed to use Windsor Greys; so is Father Christmas! Part of the Royal Mews collection is a small horse-drawn sleigh used by the Jolly Old Elf himself to distribute Christmas gifts to the children who live in the Royal Mews. As you might expect, the sleigh is decorated with tinsel and holiday bells.
The Royal Mews is much more than a stable and storage area for state carriages; it is a small community based around an open courtyard. Families who work in the Mews live in flats on several sides of the courtyard while the other sides have the horse stables, exercise area, and storage garages for motor cars and carriages. There are tack rooms and repair shops built into the ranges that run around the courtyard.
You can explore the carriages and motor cars by yourself, but we highly recommend taking one of the guided tours. Our guide was very entertaining and told us not only about each of the carriages and cars but also about the history of the Royal Mews and what it was like for the people who lived and worked in this wonderful historical setting.
The Royal Mews is on Buckingham Palace Road, about 5 minutes walk from the front facade of Buckingham Palace. Facing the front of the Palace turn left and walk to the corner of Buckingham Gate. Turn right, and walk along the south face of the Palace, past the entrance to Queen's Gallery, and carry on down Buckingham Palace Road until you come to the Royal Mews entrance on your right. The closest underground station is Victoria, while St James is just a bit further away.
Note that you can get joint tickets for the Royal Mews and the Queen's Gallery and that tickets are good for one year. Please be aware that since the Royal Mews is part of a working royal palace, closures can sometimes happen at short notice.
About Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
Address: Buckingham Palace, Buckingham Palace Road, London, Greater London, England, SW1W 1QH
Attraction Type: Museum
Location: On Buckingham Palace Road, a short stroll from the front of Buckingham Palace. The nearest underground station to the Mews entrance is Victoria.
Website: Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
Nearest station: Victoria - 0.2 miles (straight line) - Zone: 1
NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest
Queen's Gallery - 0.1 miles (Museum)
Buckingham Palace - 0.2 miles (Historic House)
Guards Museum - 0.3 miles (Museum)
Westminster Cathedral - 0.3 miles (Cathedral)
Blewcoat School - 0.4 miles (Historic Building)
Green Park - 0.4 miles (Countryside)
Wellington Arch - 0.4 miles (Historic Building)
Clarence House - 0.4 miles (Historic Building)
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