• London On The Ground

Lord Mayor's State Coach still dazzles after 265 years

Updated: Oct 30

The Lord Mayor of London's State Coach is the world's oldest ceremonial vehicle in regular use.

The Lord Mayor of London's State Coach in its glass house at Guildhall Yard
The Lord Mayor's State Coach

The Lord Mayor of London's 265 year old State Coach will make its annual appearance in the 2022 Lord Mayor's Show on Saturday 12 November.


In the days leading up to the Show, the Coach can be seen up close in a temporary glass house outside the West Wing of Guildhall on Aldermanbury Street. Its splendour reveals much about the City of London's historic importance to Britain's status as a trading nation.

 

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The Coach was made in 1757 by Joseph Berry, Master of the Coachmakers' Company, at his workshop in Leather Lane. It was designed by architect Sir Robert Taylor, originally a sculptor, who created the pediment of Mansion House, the Lord Mayor's official residence.


The cost was either £860 or £1,065 and thruppence, depending on which source you read. Its elaborately decorative style, known as 'Rococo', was brought to England by immigrants from central Europe in the 1730s.


Weighing almost three tons, the Coach is constructed mainly of gilded wood, with detailed carvings and ornamentation. It is drawn by a team of six shire horses provided by Waldburg Shires of Huntingdon.


The cabin is suspended from its bow-shaped chassis by four large leather straps adorned with the City's coat of arms, although the weight is now taken by Kevlar bands alongside the straps.

The Lord Mayor of London's State Coach. The cabin is suspended from its chassis by leather straps  and Kevlar bands
The cabin is suspended from its chassis by leather straps and Kevlar bands

The coachman sits on a box seat at the front, which is covered with a decorated red cloth known as the hammer cloth, and has a foot rest shaped like a scallop shell.

The Lord Mayor of London's State Coach. The hammer cloth, with City coat of arms and silk tassels
The hammer cloth, with City coat of arms and silk tassels

The Lord Mayor's Coach is one of only three great State Coaches in the UK, together with the Monarch's Gold State Coach and the Speaker's State Coach. The status of the Lord Mayor's vehicle ranks only behind the Gold State Coach, as indicated by the number of horses used (six for the Lord Mayor's Coach, compared with eight for the Gold State Coach).


The Gold State Coach, completed in 1762, has been used at the coronation of every British monarch since George IV. It is also used for other grand occasions, such as weddings and jubilees, but has not been used for the annual State Opening of Parliament since before World War II. Now seldom used, it led the late Queen's Platinum Jubilee parade in June 2022 with a hologram of her younger self inside the carriage.


The Speaker's State Coach is the oldest of the three. Originally designed for King William III in 1698, it was given by his successor Queen Anne to the Speaker of the House of Commons. It is used for Coronations and only rarely for other events, the last occasion being for the wedding of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981. The lightest of the three State Coaches, it is drawn by a pair of horses.


The Lord Mayor's State Coach is the only one of the three that is used at least annually. In 2023, it is likely to be used twice: to carry the Lord Mayor to the Coronation of Charles III and for next year's Lord Mayor's Show.


The Lord Mayor's Coach is also unique in that it is both a working object and a museum piece (at the Museum of London).


All three State Coaches feature painted panels by a celebrated Italian painter and engraver named Giovanni Battista Cipriani. Born in Florence in 1727, Cipriani lived in England from 1755 and was a founder member of the Royal Academy.


The paintings and carvings on the Lord Mayor's Coach are allegorical depictions of the City of London, the Thames and the oceans, the City's historic role as a port and its importance to Britain's trading power.

The Lord Mayor of London's State Coach
The rear of the Coach, with carvings symbolising the River Thames

A painted panel on the left side of the coach shows the god Mars pointing to a scroll held by Truth (holding a mirror) containing the name of the first Mayor, Henry Fitz Ailwin.

The Lord Mayor of London's State Coach. Mars points to a scroll held by Truth
Mars points to a scroll held by Truth

In addition to the carved scallop shell foot-rest, the coachman's the seat is supported by tritons, mythical sea creatures resembling mermen, while the cherubs at the four corners of the cabin represent the four continents that were known in the 18th century (Asia, Africa, America and Europe).

The Lord Mayor of London's State Coach. The hammer cloth, scallop shell foot-rest and part of a merman
The hammer cloth, scallop shell foot-rest and part of a triton (merman)

The Lord Mayor's State Coach has been overhauled and refurbished many times, most recently in 2015-2018 when re-painting, re-gilding and re-upholstery were undertaken and all four wheels were replaced. Parts of the Coach are estimated to have more than 100 layers of paint.

The Lord Mayor of London's State Coach
The rear wheels and carvings symbolising the Thames

The origins of the Lord Mayor's Show go back more than 800 years. The first Mayor of the City of London was appointed by King Richard I in 1189, but his brother King John granted the City the right to elect its Mayor annually from 1215. In return, the Mayor was required to pledge allegiance to the Sovereign.


(Note that the Lord Mayor of the City of London, who serves for one year and has a mainly ceremonial role only in the Square Mile that forms the historic centre of London, is a very different position to the Mayor of London, who serves for five years in a role embracing all of Greater London.)

The Lord Mayor's Show serves two purposes: it gives the City's newly elected leading citizen the opportunity literally to 'show' himself or herself to the public; and it is the occasion for the traditional oath of allegiance to the Monarch.


The Lord Mayor travels to the Royal Courts of Justice on The Strand in Westminster, just outside the City border, to swear fealty in the presence of the Chief Justice as the King's representative.


From the 1420s to 1856, the Lord Mayor travelled from the City to Westminster on a grand barge on the Thames after riding to the river on horseback. It is said that the procession of barges following the Lord Mayor was the origin of the use of the word 'float' to denote vehicles in a parade.

By Canaletto - Web Gallery of Art: Image Info about artwork, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15494038
London, The Thames on Lord Mayor's Day, by Canaletto - Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15494038

In 1710 Lord Mayor Gilbert Heathcote broke his leg when he fell from his horse (reportedly caused by a drunken flower girl). After that, Lord Mayors travelled by coach to their barge until 1856, the last year the river procession took place.


The Show for the 694th Lord Mayor, Nicholas Lyons, will start at 11am on Saturday 12 November at Mansion House. The route includes a stop at St Paul's Cathedral, for a blessing by the Dean, before proceeding to the Royal Courts of Justice and returning to Mansion House by around 2pm.

The Coach carrying Vincent Keaveny returns to Mansion House, Lord Mayor's Show 2021
The Coach returns to Mansion House, Lord Mayor's Show 2021. Photo: Annemarie Fearnley

The spectacle will involve around 6,500 people, 250 horses and more than 50 floats. The three mile procession will include military bands, Taiko drummers, mounted knights, a 1955 Austin Champ and a large inflatable pig.


The State Coach will be accompanied by The Lord Mayor's ceremonial guard, the Pikemen and Musketeers of the Honourable Artillery Company (read more about the Pikemen and Musketeers here).

Pikemen and Musketeers of the Honourable Artillery Company guard The Lord Mayor of London's State Coach
Pikemen and Musketeers of the Honourable Artillery Company guard the Lord Mayor. Photo: Annemarie Fearnley

The Lord Mayor's Show is a splendid spectacle and entirely free to watch. The Lord Mayor's State Coach, which forms a dazzling centrepiece to the event, is unlike any other vehicle most of us are ever likely to see on the streets of London.

 

Walks available for booking

For a schedule of forthcoming London On The Ground guided walks, please click here.

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