Steve F-E-Cameron, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

The Gold State Coach – An Uncomfortable but Critical Feature of the Coronation

You may have seen a recent article on the BBC News website highlighting details of the coach journey the King and Queen Consort will take for the coronation. Their journey ‘there’ is going to be very luxurious, in the Diamond Jubilee State Coach. This coach has mod cons as extravagant as air conditioning and electric windows! However, their return journey will have a far more historical flavour in the Gold State Coach, whose history is deeply interwoven into the fabric of English coronations. So, we thought we’d dive into its background and share what we found!

A little background

The Gold State Coach was a grand undertaking commissioned by King George III, who was determined to have a coach that would reflect the power and glory of the British monarchy. William Chambers, the royal architect, was chosen to design the coach, and Joseph Berry, a well-known coachbuilder, was picked to build it.

The actual construction of the coach was a monumental task that took over five years to complete. It was made from carved gilded wood, which was a very expensive material at the time, and adorned with intricate details and paintings that symbolized the power and might of the British empire. You won’t be surprised to learn, therefore, that the cost of the coach was enormous, and is now estimated to have cost over £1 million in today’s money.

Why was the Gold State Coach commissioned?

The Gold State Coach was commissioned to be made for two main reasons: to provide a grand and impressive coach for state occasions and to symbolize the power and majesty of the British monarchy.

In the 18th century, coaches were a common mode of transportation for the wealthy and powerful, and they were often used for public events and ceremonies. The King wanted a coach that would surpass any other coach in grandeur and magnificence, and would provide a fitting mode of transportation for important state occasions, such as coronations, state openings of Parliament, and other public ceremonies.

He also saw the coach as a symbol of the power and prestige of the British monarchy. He planned for the coach to be decorated with intricate carvings and painted with scenes that would represent the history and traditions of the British monarchy. Thus, showing that he clearly wanted it to be an awe-inspiring sight that would impress and intimidate his subjects and visitors from other countries.

It’s worth noting that in commissioning the Gold State Coach, King George III was following in the footsteps of other monarchs who had commissioned grand coaches for state occasions. However, this coach was unique in its grandeur and magnificence, and it has become one of the most iconic coaches in the world.

Some interesting facts

As with all iconic historical paraphernalia, the Gold State Coach has some fascinating features.

  • Gilded wood carvings: It’s made of carved gilded wood, which is a very expensive material. The wood was carved into intricate designs, including leaves, flowers, and other decorative elements, and the gilding gives the coach a shimmering appearance that is both elegant and impressive.
  • Painted panels: The coach is decorated with painted panels that depict scenes from British history and mythology. The panels were painted by famous artists of the time, including Giovanni Battista Cipriani and Richard Cosway. The panels include scenes of Britannia, St. George and the Dragon, and the Four Seasons, among others.
  • Royal insignia: It is adorned with the royal insignia, including the Royal Arms of the United Kingdom and the Order of the Garter.
  • Glass windows: This is a significate feature of the coach. It has large glass windows that allow the occupants to see out and for the public to see in. The windows are made of thick, hand-blown glass, which was a technological achievement at the time it was built.
  • Comfortable interior: Despite being famed for offering an uncomfortable ride, the interior of the coach is upholstered in blue velvet as an attempt to make it comfortable for the occupants. The seats are padded, and there are curtains that can be drawn for privacy. And it’s even equipped with a footwarmer, which would have been a welcome feature on cold days.
  • Ornate wheels: The Gold State Coach has eight wheels that are adorned with intricate designs and are made of solid brass. The wheels are one of the most recognizable features of the coach and add to its grandeur and magnificence.
  • Size and weight: It’s actually one of the largest coaches ever built, measuring over 24 feet long and weighing over four tons.

The odd nip and tuck over the centuries

It’s been used for every coronation since that of George IV in 1821 and is seen as an essential part of the coronation ceremony. The coach is drawn by eight horses, which are chosen for their size, strength, and temperament. The horses are specially trained for the occasion and are taught to work together as a team. It’s is driven by two coachmen, and two footmen walk alongside the coach to help guide it along the route.

However, as with any piece of royal history, the Gold State Coach has undergone several renovations and refurbishments to ensure its continued use. In 1911, it was fitted with rubber tires, which made it more comfortable for the occupants. In 1952, it was then again refurbished, and the interior was reupholstered in blue velvet.

But despite its years, it has to be said that the Gold State Coach is still as a magnificent vehicle as it ever was, with a rich and fascinating history too. It has been a part of the British monarchy for over two centuries and is an essential part of the coronation ceremony. Its intricate details, beautiful decorations, and rich history make it not only a symbol of the Royal Family, but also a symbol of British power and prestige.