When one thinks of the Royal Mews, you may think of horses and maybe a carriage. The Royal Mews is not your typical garage or storage facility. It is home to not only to the Horses and carriages of the Royal household; it is home as well to the State cars and operates as a full service garage. The Royal Mews is directed by the Crown Equerry.
The present Royal Mews is on the grounds of Buckingham Palace, south of Buckingham Palace Gardens, near Grosvenor Place.
Dating back to the time of Richard II (1377-1399), the Royal Mews began as what was known as the King’s Mews. From this time through the reign of Henry VII (1485-1509), the Mews was located at Charing Cross. If one stands in front of the National Gallery, then one is standing on the original site of the King’s Mews.
From 1377 onward, the royal hawks were housed at the King’s Mews. According to historians the name ‘mews’ comes from the word ‘mew’ which is defined as moulting. The hawks were sequestered at the Charing Cross location during the time of moulting. The building was devastated in 1534 by fire but was rebuilt as stables, keeping the moniker Mews.
When George III (1760-1820) began his reign, he had several of the carriages and horse transferred over to the Buckingham, House grounds. George purchased Buckingham House in 1762. The King then appointed Sir William Chambers to craft a riding school at Buckingham House. The main royal stables housing the ceremonial coaches and their horses remained at Charing Cross.
When George IV (1820-1830) acceded he chose to have the entire royal stables moved to what was then about transform into Buckingham Palace. John Nash who was working on the renovation was also charged of designing the new Royal Mews.
Nash constructed extensive stables across the riding school. He also fashioned a clock tower and arch that would lead into the Mews quadrangle. The main coach house was constructed and situated on the east side. Over on the west side of the Palace was two sets of State stables that would hold 54 horses. Nash also included harness and forage areas in the State stable area.
During the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) the Royal Mews expanded to house over 200 horses. Prince Albert constructed various sheds and had a new forge installed. There was even cow kept in the Mews during Victoria’s reign.
Using her personal funds, in 1855 Queen Victoria began the Buckingham Palace Royal Mews School for the children of the Royal Mews’ staff. For over 20 years the school stayed in existence. A new space was built in 1859 for the 198 staff members and their children.
Today the Royal Mews is an essential part of the Lord Chamberlain’s Office. Not only providing horse and carriage transport, the Mews is also responsible for the Royal vehicles. The Mews is considered to be one of the premier stables today.
The horses in the Royal Mews currently are one of two breeds; Windsor Greys or Cleveland Bays. Throughout the history of the Mews, other breeds of horses were used such as the Hanoverian Cream horse. Issues with inbreeding had the former horse usage stopped in the 1920’s. In order to keep the horse fit and ready for carriage pulling, they are dispatched on daily message routes. Along with their ceremonial duty, the horses also partake in leisure and competitive driving.
Also cared for and stored at the Royal Mews are the State vehicles. The State Cars unlike the private vehicles are painted only in claret and black and do not contain a number plate as everyday cars on the road do. The State Car fleet includes two Bentley State Limousines, three Rolls Royce’s and three Daimler limousines.
The State Limousine contains opaque panels over the rear light of the car. They may be installed for added privacy or removed for occasions where Her Majesty and other Royal family members may be visible. The cars body and glass are armoured, the tyres are reinforced with Kevlar, the vehicle is also blast resistant and the inside of the car has the ability to be locked air tight in the event of a gas attack.
The Bentley is used for official engagements, and is always accompanied by a group of marked and unmarked Royal Protection Squad cars as well local police vehicles and motorcycle escorts. Her Majesty also uses the State Limousine when at Balmoral and Sandringham House to attend church.
As all of the other British State vehicles, the Bentley has a rood mounting to allow for the illuminated Royal Standard. When The Queen is en route, the well-known Bentley ‘Flying B’ bonnet ornament is replaced with either Saint George slaying a dragon or a solitary standing lion in honour of Her Majesty.
Since January 2009 both of the Bentley State Limousines were altered to run on bio fuel.
The Rolls Royce has played a district role in the history of Royal travel. The Queen has two Rolls-Royce Phantom VI’s in the Royal fleet. The one of a kind ‘Silver Jubilee Car’ was given upon Her Majesty’s 25th anniversary of her accession in 1977 and an additional car in 1986.
The Silver Jubilee Car was the main mode of transport until the two Bentley State Limousines were introduced in 2002. As with the other state cars, the Phantom VI’s do not have registration plates and a special mount was installed for a Royal Standard and coat of arms.
The Phantom has been in the media in the past few years. In 2010 it was the vehicle that The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall were riding in when they were attacked by student protesters. The Royal couple went unscathed but the car suffered paint splatter damage and a smashing of a side window.
Many might remember the car as it drove to Westminster Abbey with then Catherine Middleton on her way to her wedding to Prince William.
The British Royal Mews is now in ownership of three Daimler DS420′s on hand for Royal use on state functions and for visiting public figures. One of the three belonged to the Queen Mother and the other two are owned by Her Majesty. Unlike the Rolls-Royce and Bentley vehicles, the limousines are considered state cars and do have number plates.
The attention and training the numerous horses as well as the continuing upkeep and care of the carriages, cars, tack. By all means is why the Mews such an integral part of the Palace.
In part II, we will take a look at the history and splendour of the Royal Coaches.