Decorated with gold leaf, featuring large carved figures at the front and rear, and painted with intricate Roman mythological panels, the Gold State Coach is a showstopper.
It has been used at every coronation since William IV’s in 1831, but was built in 1762. Designed by William Chambers and made by the coachmaker Samuel Butler, the notoriously uncomfortable coach is made of wood, with a thin layer of gold leaf over the top.
Gilded sculptures adorn the carriage, including three cherubs on the roof, representing England, Scotland, and Ireland, holding the Imperial State Crown and the sword, sceptre and the badge of Knighthood.
At each wheel, a triton figure sits above, representing Britain’s imperial power (helping to distinguish George III as a British rather than Hanoverian King) while palm fronds frame the roof. Sculptor Sir Joseph Wilton produced these elaborate carvings.
The painted panels on the body of the carriage depict the British success in the Seven Years’ War, through allegory of Roman gods and goddesses.
While it was not ready in time for George III’s coronation in September 1761, they did first use it at the State Opening of Parliament in November 1762. Unbeknownst to the crowds who had gathered to see the new carriage, having heard of its creation with great interest, one of the windows was broken, as was a door handle, meaning a less-than-graceful exit from the coach at Westminster…
The Gold State Coach is seven metres long, 3.9 metres tall, and weighs four tonnes, requiring eight horses to pull it – but they can only go at walking pace, it is simply that heavy! The brakeman, who walks behind the grooms accompanying the horses, must apply the break 27 metres before the coach needs to stop.
It is a testament to the skill and craftsmanship of the artisans who built it over 250 years ago, and it has been used for many of the most important events in British history.
The coach is a beautiful and ornate piece of art, with such a grand look and historic connections, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it could be the oldest coach in the UK.
But two older exist: The Speaker of the House of Common’s Coach is the oldest, dating from 1698, and the Lord Mayor of London’s Coach was built in 1758 (below).
The Gold State Coach is not only a beautiful piece of craftsmanship, but it is also an important part of tradition. A key part of coronations, the interior is lined and upholstered with velvet and satin but was not favoured by many Monarchs.
Queen Victoria eschewed its use for the State Opening of Parliament, and George VI described his coronation journey in the coach as ‘one of the most uncomfortable rides I have ever had in my life’. William IV compared riding inside with being at sea, tossed around by the waves….
Elizabeth II used it on her Coronation Day in 1953 to travel from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey, and to return. It has been reported that Royal Mews staff strapped a hot water bottle under the seat, as the day was unseasonably cold and wet.
The coach has been maintained and restored over the years to ensure that it remains in good condition. In 1902, the coach was extensively restored for the coronation of Edward VII and was further restored for the coronation of Elizabeth II.
In 2018, it underwent another major restoration, which included the replacement of the coach’s wheels and axles.
The Coach recently appeared in the late Queen’s Platinum Jubilee when it featured in the Platinum Jubilee Pageant, with a hologram of the late Queen from her coronation day in the windows of the coach.
While it will be used for the return procession to Buckingham Palace at Charles III’s coronation, it is so old and precious it is only used for important events.