Occasionally life smiles upon you, and this week was one of those occasions. I was lucky to go with a party of fellow wheelwrights to an after hours private view around the Royal Mews, escorted by their coachmen.
For the want of a better term the Royal Mews is effectively the transport section of the Royal Household with a collection of 80+ carriages, including the major state carriages such as the Gold state coach, which is awe inspiring. Although I am told that due to the suspension, the body of the coach sits suspended on four leather straps, the occupants have a rotten ride, but as I am unlikely to ever experience it, I will let that pass. If you do go and see the Gold Coach you then need to go to the City of London Museum for the Lord Mayors Coach, and you can see the rivalry.
In addition to the headline carriages they have an amazing array of everyday carriages, and it seems a vehicle for every occasion. Apparently twice a day a small town coach goes to the front of the palace to collect the post, no post office van for them. There is a wagonette used specifically to transport six Beefeaters from the Tower to the Palace to stand guard at investitures, another coach used to bring new Ambassadors to present their credentials. To support all of this they have a complete maintenance infrastructure, several full time saddlers whose work as you can see from the photo taken in their workshop was magnificent. A carriage restoration shop, where they can strip something down to bare wood and start again with incredible results. Now I know it helps if you have the workshop set up and tools, but you also need skill and talent. Apparently they have a coach painter who is the third generation of his family to be the painter there and look at the results
As a craftsman in my own workshop I reckon I’m good and can hold my own most places, usually when I go to some one else’s workshop I come back inspired to get better but I have never been anywhere before when I have felt so outclassed and in the presence of true masters of their craft. I wonder if I could be an apprentice. If you get a chance do go and visit, and admire the carriages, and cars if that’s your thing, but the hidden gem is the craft skills.