The Gold State Coach

LONDON, January 8.

Yesterday the old State Coach, built for King George I and the Carriages of his late Majesty, given by the late Master of the Horse to the Servants, were sold at Bever’s Repository; it is remarkable the Gold Lace of the State Coach, which was taken off before the sale and burnt, amounted to 53l. 19s.

A new superb State Coach is building for his Majesty, which, when finished, will be the most magnificent ever seen in this Kingdom.

(Derby Mercury, 9 January 1761)

George III had taken the throne on 25 October 1760, upon the death of his grandfather, George II (George III’s father, the old king’s eldest son, had died in 1751). His coronation took place almost a year later, on 22 September 1761, but if he was hoping that his new State Coach would be ready for the occasion, then he was going to be sorely disappointed. It took almost two years for the coach to be completed, for it was no ordinary coach. It would be, the new king decided, the most elegant and magnificent coach that had ever been seen in his kingdom.

George III in his coronation robes, by Allan Ramsay.
George III in his coronation robes, by Allan Ramsay.

It is said a new State-Coach is going to be built (from a design already made by a celebrated English Artist) which for elegance, taste, and grandeur, will, it is thought, excel any thing of the kind ever yet doe in Europe; and we have the pleasure to add, that the construction, painting, and every other part of the same, is to be the work of our own countrymen.

(Leeds Intelligencer, 20 January 1761)

Sir William Chambers, a Scottish/Swedish architect was responsible for the original design, while the contract for building the vehicle was given to the coachmaker, Samuel Butler. Then came the ornamentation, carved sculpture by Joseph Wilton which was then gilded by Henry Pujolas and decorated by the metal chaser, George Coyte.

Sir William Chamber's design for the new State Coach, 1760.
Sir William Chamber’s design for the new State Coach, 1760. © Royal Collection Trust

The whole concept was for the coach to be the most wonderful – and therefore the most expensive – ever to have been built in England, and the decoration was full of symbolism. It was intended that ‘when riding in the coach, the King would appear as Neptune, monarch of the seas, and also Apollo, leader of the muses of artistic innovation’.

There are four Triton, mythical sea-gods placed on the body of the coach and, at the front, almost appear to be pulling the coach. Whether it was intended or not, in motion the coach rocked about as if it was rolling on the high seas, to the distress of those inside! When George III’s younger son, William IV used the coach during his reign in the 1830s, he complained that it was just like being on board a ship ‘tossing in a rough sea’, and as he’d served in navy for many years, he ought to have known.

The Gold State Coach, built in 1762.
The Gold State Coach, built in 1762. © Royal Collection Trust

The first outing of this magnificent new state coach was on 25 November 1762 when the king travelled in it to the State Opening of Parliament. So great was the public interest, that anyone with rooms in and around Parliament Street were able to rent them out at exorbitant rates for the day, and those ladies and gentlemen lucky enough to get one leaned out of the windows to watch the king pass by in his state coach, drawn by eight horses. As it turned out, watching from above was by far the safest vantage point.

London, November 25

This Day, about two o’clock, his Majesty went to the House of Lords from St James’s in his new State Coach, drawn by eight fine cream coloured horses, ornamented with blue ribbands and Morocco trappings. His Majesty went through the Park, and was attended by the Lords Oxford and Cadogan, the Master of the Horse and other principal Officers of State. The crowd was so great on this occasion, and carriages so numerous, that they extended quite from St James’s to the Parliament House, and it was with great difficulty that foot passengers could pass along the streets. In Parliament Street, one of the horses which drew his Majesty’s Coach fell down, and occasioned some little confusion, but we do not hear of any damage.

(Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 2 December 1762)

George III's Procession to the Houses of Parliament in his new State Coach, attributed to John Wootton.
George III’s Procession to the Houses of Parliament in his new State Coach, attributed to John Wootton. © Royal Collection Trust

The crowds were so great that they led to injuries and even – reportedly – to death. The first accident occurred just as the coach left the gates of the Royal Mews on Charing Cross when a young woman fell beneath the hooves of one of the Life Guards horses. We haven’t found any further report on her, but it reads as if she survived her accident. The deaths were due to the immense press of people in confined spaces.

In the narrow passage leading from Spring Gardens into the park, a woman and child were crushed to death, and their bodies were laid on the grass in the park; another woman and a lad are said also to have been crushed to death near the Horse Guards, and several were beat down and trampled on, and had their arms broke, and otherwise much bruised; and divers women lost their hats, capuchins, gowns, shoes, &c. I the crowd.

(Derby Mercury, 26 November 1762)

The Gold State Coach is still used for ceremonial occasions, but has been modernised over the years to give a (slightly!) more comfortable ride.

Sources not mentioned above:

Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 2 September 1762

Derby Mercury, 26 November 1762

Leeds Intelligencer, 20 January 1761

Royal Collection Trust: notes against object RCIN 917942, Design for the State Coach by Sir William Chambers and object RCIN 5000048, the Gold State Coach.

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One thought on “The Gold State Coach

  1. Brian Lynch

    It has been said that it is rivalled by the Lord Mayor’s coach in Dublin. See here:

    Irish Arts Review
    A Colourful Spectacle Restored: The State Coach of the Lord Mayor of Dublin Author(s): Philip McEvansoneya
    Source: Irish Arts Review Yearbook, Vol. 17 (2001), pp. 80-87
    Published by: Irish Arts Review
    Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20493168 .

    Like

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