If you were reincarnated as a horse you would want to find yourself living in the Royal Mews, England`s most famous and luxurious stables at Buckingham Palace. Interestingly enough the Royal Mews did not originally house horses; King Richard II established the Mews in 1377 near Charing Cross to house his hunting hawks during moulting (or mew) time. Sadly the building burnt in 1534 (some historians say 1537) and was rebuilt as stabling for horses while keeping its former name by the infamous King Henry VIII.
In 1762 George III bought Buckingham Palace and installed stables there in addition to those at Charing Cross. He also built an indoor arena and changed the name to the Royal Mews Pimlico. In 1820 George IV succeeded his father as King and began to change Buckingham Palace and the Royal Mews into a home fit for a King and the King’s horses. John Nash the famous architect came on board and he is credited with changing both the palace and the Mews. Nash built lovely stables around the existing riding school and had a Doric arch placed at the entrance to the central Mews quadrangle. The main coach house was on the east side and two sets of stables to house 54 horses were built on the west side. The upper Mews were added at the north end of the quadrangle where the Master of the Horse and his assistance were housed.
The Royal Mews were completed in 1825 and throughout the ages future Kings and Queens have made their own changes to keep up with the times.
Queen Victoria was the first Monarch to use Buckingham palace as both official residence and home and her beloved Prince Albert added a new forge and sheds in which a cow was stabled. She also established a school for the children of the Royal Mews servants in 1855 and this school continued for 20 years. All nine of her children learned to ride at the Mews in the school lined with pilasters and pediments.
A Peek Inside
Commoners are able to enjoy a tour of the Royal Mews and see the splendour of the stables which can house 70 horses today along with a carriage repair shop and the forge. Many of the horses in residence are the famous Windsor Greys along with the Cleveland Bays, the rich chocolate brown horses used for pulling coaches when commissioners and ambassadors come to pay a visit to the Queen to present their credentials to her. If the coach is carrying an ambassador the coachman drives the coach from a box on top. If the guest is a high commissioner, then a postillion is used – that is a rider who actually sits on a horse.
Apparently Queen Victoria hated the idea of cars in the Mews and said to the Duke of Portland, her Master of the Horse, “I hope you will never allow any of these horrible machines to be used in my stables.”
Today, stabled near the bays in the Mews are the Queen’s two Bentleys and three Rolls Royces with their own fuel pump close by. But, besides modern conveyances, the Mews also houses one of the world’s best collections of carriages and coaches: broughams, clarences, phaetons and a miniature donkey barouche restored in 1962 for Price Andrew as a young child. There is also a sleigh in the collection that was given to the Queen as a gift from Canada and this has been used at the Queen`s Scottish castle Balmoral. These days it is decorated and, with small wheels attached, is driven by Santa Claus to the Queen`s annual children`s party in the Mews.
The most famous coach in the collection is the 1762 Gold State Coach, the huge gold coach that is used for the most prestigious occasions. Built in 1762, the Gold State Coach has been used at every Coronation since George IV including the Queen’s Coronation in 1953 when it was equipped with lighting so that the Queen appeared to be sitting in sunshine to the people on the street. The interior was decorated with crimson satin and a special stand was built to carry the incredibly heavy royal orb and sceptre giving onlookers the impression that the Queen was actually holding these as she went past. Finally, because of the cold temperatures on that summer day in 1953, a copper hot water bottle was also squeezed under the floorboards.
The Gold State Coach weighs four tonnes and it never goes faster than a walking pace. The eight horses who pull it have to undergo a fitness regime which includes pulling an empty carriage with rubber tires. Bags of sand are added over time until the weight is at the four – tonne level of the coach.
Most horses living and working at the Mews are broken to harness there and they undergo a rigorous training period. They are distracted by coloured flags, balloons, sudden noises, shots, clapping and all manner of unforeseen activity. They even have to get accustomed to soldiers fainting in front of them in the hot summer weather during official functions.
Many of the Mews staff actually live there with their families and one reporter noticed a jumble of children’s bikes in one corner of the otherwise spic and span stable. The Mews has been compared to a village and Prince Charles says: “The Royal mews is a village in the fullest sense; a close community of people both live and work there, and it has it own economy, founded on traditional skills which are still practiced today, as they have been for centuries. ”
Did you know?
The Royal Mews is a working department of the Royal Household and the Mews is responsible for all royal road travel whether by car or horse drawn carriage.
100,000 people come to visit the Royal Mews annually.
A day at the stables kicks off at 6 am or 5 am. Mucking out and brushing is done before the stable lads have thirty minutes for breakfast. At 8:30 the horses are exercised with their carriages and this is followed by harness cleaning, a rigorous process that includes Belvoir Leather Balsam, soda crystals and an Oral B toothbrush for those tough to-get-at places.