Royal wedding wheels

BRITISH HERITAGE

Royal wedding wheels

HAPPY COUPLE Prince William and Kate Middleton, who are to be  wedded soon.

When Prince William of Britain and Kate Middleton go for their wedding (which will be watched by an estimated 1 billion people around the world on TV) to St Paul’s Cathedral in London on April 29, 2011, which famous glass coach  would be used for their journey to the cathedral?

Historically, the royal bride always arrived at the church with her father in the 130-year-old Glass Coach, belonging to the Queen of England. After the wedding, the newly married royal couple would return to the Buckingham Palace in the State Landau. But, in 1988, the Dominion of Australia presented the British Sovereign (titular head of Australia) with a glass coach worth one million pounds, named as State Coach Britannia and it was supposed that this new glass coach would be used for the wedding ceremonies of the British Royal Family, thus starting a new tradition.

Of course, there is no problem as to the availability of coaches in the Royal Mews — the stables of the British Sovereign, maintained near the Buckingham Place have over 100 historic royal coaches, preserved for over 200 years. But the tradition-bound British are strict and these coaches have specially marked occasions for use. For example: We all know the 250- year-old State Gold Coach (weighing four tonnes and requiring eight horses to pull it), has been used only three time in the 68 years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, namely her coronation in 1953, her silver jubilee celebrations in 1977 and the golden jubilee ceremonies in 2002.

The Irish State Coach is used only for the State Opening of Parliament and another magnificent coach known as Queen Alexandra’s Coach, is used to carry “The Crown” to the Opening of Parliament; the Scottish State Coach is used only when the British Sovereign has ceremonies to attend in Scotland; the Ivory Phaeton is used for the Birthday Parade, and the Ambassadors coach aka The Semi State Coach brings ambassadors to present their credentials.

But now, we are mainly interested in the royal coaches that would be used during the marriage of the royal couple in 2011. The Glass Coach used by the royal brides is not actually made of glass like Cinderella’s, but has large glass windows. The Glass Coach has carried the last three royal brides (Queen Elizabeth in 1947, Princess Margaret in 1960 and Princess Diana in 1981) to their weddings. So, this particular carriage may make another appearance in 2011.

This elegant coach, built in 1881 by John Peters & Son, London, was originally used by Lord Mayors of London. But only weeks before the coronation of King George V in 1911, fire destroyed one of the royal coaches that was scheduled to be used in the procession. According to the Royal Mews archives, the firm of John Peters & Sons was proud to convert the Mayor’s coach into a Royal coach. Since then, this coach has played an increasingly romantic part in the weddings of the Royal Family.

The Glass Coach made its debut as a bridal coach in 1922. It was also used to transport the newly-weds back to the Buckingham Palace. Meanwhile, another competitor to the above glass coach has been the the new bejeweled State Coach Britannia. Designed and built by master coach builder Jim Frecklington of Australia in 2008, this coach might look very traditional but has many modern innovations like an independent hydraulic suspension, electric windows, and heating. It is also decorated with 24 diamonds, 130 sapphires and more than 400 books of gold leaf. That’s more gold than any other coach made in Britain for almost 200 years!

The $1 million carriage (45 million Indian rupees) was commissioned by the Australian Government and was  a gift to the Queen from Australia. In order to give it a historical patina, Jim Frecklington ensured that the historical wooden segments came from British heritage like Lord Nelson’s flagship, the HMS Victory and  famous historical mansions like Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, Tower of London, and 10 Downing Street (home of current British prime ministers).

Using it for the marriage of Prince William will ensure that a tradition would be started for this opulent coach. But the carriage in which the newly-weds would return to the Buckingham Palace is likely to be the 1902 State Landau from the Royal Mews.

STATE LANDAU Carriage of grandeurA Landau is a  four-wheeled covered vehicle, the top of which is divided into two sections which can be let down or thrown back, in such a manner as to make an open carriage. Eight State Landaus are still in use for royal occasions today; all of them made before 1872. State Landaus are drawn by two bay horses driven from the box; the footmen stand when the hood of the carriage is closed and are seated when the hood is open. The 1902 State Landau can be seen in the Royal Mews.

The reason for this change to State Landau from the glass coach is that in 1981, during the wedding of Princess Diana, one great problem noticed with the glass coach was that it was too tiny to accommodate the magnificent bridal dress with its long trains and the dress got badly crumpled up. So, after the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton (who would have become Princess Catherine), the State Landau would be used for their return trip to the Buckingham Palace.

Maharaja Features, by arrangement with Albion Features of UK

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