Entrance to the Royal Mews

The Royal Mews is a mews, or collection of equestrian stables, of the British royal family. In London these stables and stable-hands' quarters have occupied two main sites in turn, being located at first on the north side of Charing Cross, and then (since the 1820s) within the grounds of Buckingham Palace.

The Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace, includes an extensive display of royal carriages and other associated items, and is open to the public for much of the year. It is also a working part of the palace, where horses and people live and work, and where carriages and cars are in daily use supporting the work of the monarch as head of state.

The titular head of the Royal Mews is the Master of the Horse (one of the three great officers of the Royal Household). The executive head is the Crown Equerry, who lives on site and oversees the Royal Mews Department (which is a department of the Royal Household).

History

At Charing Cross

"The mewes" (top right) at Charing Cross, depicted on John Norden's map of Westminster, 1593. The map is oriented with north-west to the top.

The first set of stables to be referred to as a mews was at Charing Cross at the western end of The Strand. The royal hawks were kept at this site from 1377 and the name originates from the fact that they were confined there at moulting time ("mew" being derived from the French verb "muer", to moult).[1]

In the Tudor Period, the Royal Stables were located in Lomesbury (present-day Bloomsbury).[2] In 1534 they were destroyed by fire, whereupon the King, Henry VIII, decided to rebuild the Charing Cross mews as a stables (the hawks having been given alternative accommodation). It kept its former name when it acquired this new function. On old maps, such as the "Woodcut" map of London of the early 1560s, the Mews can be seen extending back towards the site of today's Leicester Square.

The 'Royal Stables in the Mews, Charing Cross' in 1793.

It was rebuilt again in 1732 to the designs of William Kent, and in the early 19th century it was open to the public. This building was usually known as the King's Mews (or Queen's Mews when there was a woman on the throne), but was also sometimes referred to as the Royal Mews or the Royal Stables.

The King's Mews in 1809 (an etching by Rowlandson and Pugin).

Kent's redesign was a classical building occupying the northern half of the site, with an open space in front of it that ranked among the few large ones in central London at a time when the Royal Parks were on the fringes of the city and most squares in London were garden squares open only to the residents of their surrounding houses.

On 15 June 1820, the Guards in the Royal Mews mutinied in support of Caroline of Brunswick, whom King George IV was seeking to divorce.[3]

The whole site was cleared in the late 1820s to create Trafalgar Square, laid out in 1837–1844 after delays, and the National Gallery which opened in 1838.[4]

At Buckingham Palace

Stables in the Royal Mews

The present Royal Mews is in the grounds of Buckingham Palace, to the south of Buckingham Palace Gardens, near Grosvenor Place.

In the 1760s George III moved some of his day-to-day horses and carriages to the grounds of Buckingham House, which he had acquired in 1762 for his wife's use. The Riding School, thought to be by William Chambers, dates from this period (it was completed in 1764; the pediment, with sculptural motifs by William Theed, was added in 1859).[5] The main royal stables housing the ceremonial coaches and their horses remained at the King's Mews, Charing Cross; however, when his son George IV had Buckingham Palace converted into the main royal residence in the 1820s the whole stables establishment was moved there.

The Riding School, seen from Buckingham Palace Road.

The current Royal Mews was built to designs by John Nash and was completed in 1825 (though the mews buildings have been modified extensively since). The main quadrangle was laid out with coach houses on the east side, and stable blocks (alternating with harness and forage rooms) on the west.[6] Beyond it, the 'back mews' included accommodation for a veterinary surgeon.

The Main Quadrangle in 2015.

When Victoria came to the throne in 1837, Buckingham Palace became the monarch's principal residence. Prince Albert used the back mews for stabling his own horses (for riding and driving). By the 1850s there were just under two hundred people employed at the mews, most of whom lived on site with their families.[6] Standing either side of the entrance were official residences (one for the Crown Equerry, the other for the Clerk of the Stables); other staff were accommodated in rooms above the stables and carriage houses. In 1855 Queen Victoria established a Buckingham Palace Royal Mews School, for the education of the workers' children.

Under Victoria's successor, King Edward VII, motor vehicles were introduced into the mews. In 1904 the Crown Equerry wrote to the Office of Works to request the conversion of 'two small coach-houses in the Back Mews' into 'a suitable Motor House [...] with a Lantern roof, hot water heating apparatus and electric lighting'.[7] The conversion duly too place, and accommodation was provided nearby for the chauffeurs.

Present day

Windsor Greys at the Royal Mews.

As well as being a full-time working facility, the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace, is regularly open to the public. The state coaches and other carriages are kept there, along with about 30 horses, together with their modern counterparts: the state motor cars. Coachmen, grooms, chauffeurs and other staff are accommodated in flats above the carriage houses and stables.

Royal and state carriages

A few of the carriages stored at the Mews are pictured here in action; several more are illustrated on their own pages (see listing below).

Vehicles in the care of the Royal Mews are listed below. A good number are on public display, though not all are kept in London.[8] Most are in regular use, and some (for example, the broughams) are driven on a daily basis.[a] Others (above all the Gold Coach) are only used on great and rare state occasions. The list includes vehicles for personal, recreational and sporting use, as well as those designed and kept for state occasions:

A Royal Mews Brougham on display alongside a station bus at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh
Charabanc (presented by Louis Philippe of France to Queen Victoria) at Windsor Castle in 1844
Brakes are regularly used for training and exercising the carriage horses, as seen here in Hyde Park.

In less regular use is Queen Victoria's state sledge, one of a number of royal sleighs in the Mews.

Also on display are some of the historic and immaculately kept liveries and harnesses (which likewise see regular use), ranging from the plainer items used for exercising and working horses, to the ornamented state liveries and harnesses designed for use with the similarly appointed state coaches.

Carriage horses

The horses in the Royal Mews today are mostly either Windsor Greys or Cleveland Bays.[b] The horses are regularly exercised in the art of pulling carriages (one of the reasons for the continuing use of horse-drawn transport for the daily messenger rounds); they are used for competitive and recreational driving as well as for ceremonial duties. The manure that is produced by the horses is used by the adjacent Buckingham Palace Garden.

Motor vehicles

Main article: State and royal cars of the United Kingdom

The maintenance and provision of modern motor vehicles is as much a part of the work of the Royal Mews as that of carriages and horses. Edward VII first established a garage in the Mews in the early years of the twentieth century.

The principal official cars are all painted in black over claret (known as Royal Claret).[9] They are driven, cared for and maintained by a number of chauffeurs, who are based in the Mews and work under the head chauffeur (who, along with his deputy, is primarily responsible for driving the monarch).[6]

State cars

The five principal state cars are without number plates. They comprise:

Other official vehicles

The following vehicles, used for less-formal occasions and as support vehicles, are similarly painted in the royal claret and black livery:

Land Rovers, luggage brakes and people carriers are also kept at the Royal Mews. A number of electric vehicles have been acquired since 2012, for various purposes, ranging from a BMW i3 and a BMW 7 Series hybrid to a Nissan van and a Renault Twizy.[10]

The Royal Mews Department

The following chart shows the staff structure of the Royal Mews Department at the end of the twentieth century (when around fifty people lived and worked at the Mews).[11] The position of Superintendent, which included oversight of the staff of the Mews, was abolished in 2000.[5]

Crown Equerry
Superintendent of
the Royal Mews
Veterinary
Surgeon
Horsebox Driver
of Windsor
Stud Groom of
Hampton Court
Stud Groom of
Windsor
Comptroller
of Stores
Chief Clerk
StoremanCarriage
Restorers
Daily Ladies
of London
Daily Ladies
of Windsor
Deputy
Chief Clerk
Head ChauffeurHead CoachmanAssistant
Chief Clerk
Deputy
Head Chauffeur
Deputy
Head Coachman
First ChauffeursSergeant FarrierRough RiderSenior
Liveried Helpers
Carriage CleanersYardmen
Second ChauffeursLiveried Helpers

Other locations

Entrance to the Royal Mews, Windsor Castle

The Royal Mews, Hampton Court Palace overlooks Hampton Court Green. It continues to provide accommodation for royal staff, and horses are stabled there from time to time. It is not open to the public.

There is a working Royal Mews at Windsor Castle where the Ascot carriages are normally kept, together with vehicles used in Windsor Great Park. Some horses for riding (rather than driving) are also stabled here.

At Holyrood, the Royal Mews (situated in Abbey Strand) is one of the oldest parts of the Palace, and is still pressed into service whenever royal carriages are used in Edinburgh.

Historically, the old stables of St James's Palace, which stood where Lancaster House is now, were also sometime referred to as the Royal Mews.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Since 1843, the daily messenger brougham has set out from the Royal Mews to collect and deliver post between Buckingham Palace and St James's Palace.
  2. ^ This has not always been the case. For example, for over 200 years locally bred Hanoverian Cream horses took pride of place in the harness on major state occasions, until problems due to inbreeding led to their use being discontinued in the mid-1920s

References

  1. ^ "Moult - Definition in the English-French Dictionary - Cambridge Dictionary". dictionary.cambridge.org. Retrieved 10 September 2022.
  2. ^ Ackermann, Rudolph (1904). The Microcosm of London (vol. II). London: Methuen and Co. p. 162. Retrieved 12 December 2023.
  3. ^ Robins, pp. 126–127
  4. ^ "National Gallery - About the building". nationalgallery.org.uk. Retrieved 10 September 2022.
  5. ^ a b Vickers, Hugo (2012). The Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace. London: Royal Collection Enterprises Ltd.
  6. ^ a b c Stewart-Wilson, Mary (1991). The Royal Mews. London: The Bodley Head. p. 187.
  7. ^ Smith, Brian E. (1976). Royal Daimlers. Brentwood, Middlesex: Transport Bookman Publications. p. 30.
  8. ^ 'The Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace', Pitkin, London, 1973 &1990
  9. ^ The Royal fleet of limousines
  10. ^ Javed, Saman (15 October 2021). "HOW ECO FRIENDLY IS THE QUEEN?". The Independent. Retrieved 2 November 2021.
  11. ^ Allison, Ronald; Riddell, Sarah, eds. (1991). The Royal Encyclopedia. London: Macmillan and Co. Ltd. pp. 464–467.

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