The Lord Mayor of London puts on a magnificent spectacle once a year in November called the Lord Mayor’s Show.
As with many things in England, the Lord Mayor’s Show is steeped in history. In 1215 King John (of Magna Carta fame) gave the City of London the right to elect its own mayor in exchange for its support of his right to rule. In exchange, the Mayor of London had to trek to Westminster to pledge his allegiance to the King. In the old days Westminster and London were two separate towns. Over the years, this procession has grown until it has become the Lord Mayor’s Show that we know today.
In the early years, the Lord Mayor would go by barge, then by horseback and eventually in a splendid carriage. For hundreds of years, becoming Lord Mayor was the highest position in England that any commoner could reach. It was a very big deal and the Lord Mayor’s show was a very big deal.
The State Coach has been used once a year at the Lord Mayor’s Show for over 250 years. The rest of time the State Coach sits in grandeur at the Museum of London.
The State Coach was commissioned by Sir Charles Asgill in 1757 when he found out he would become Lord Mayor. He got the alderman of the City of London to cough up money for a new state coach. Asgill’s architect designed the coach which was built at a cost of £860 (£120,000 in today’s money). Even creating a replica of the State Coach would cost over £2 million.
The wheels have locks on them. Although I’m not sure any thief could get very far without being noticed in this carriage!
The sides are painted by Italian artist, Giovanni Battista Cipriani, who was one of the founding members of the Royal Academy. Cipriani also did the panels on the Queen’s Gold State Coach which you can find at the Royal Mews of Buckingham Palace.
The four panels on the State Coach represent Truth, Justice, Temperance and Fortitude (a reference to what Plato considered the four basic virtues for a life well-lived).
There are other allegorical features all over the State Coach. The four cherubs represent the four continents (America, Europe, Asia and Africa). The coachman’s seat is supported by mythical sea creatures.
The coachman’s footrest is a giant scallop shell (completely reminded me of Disney’s Ariel).
The Stage Coach is heavy and pulled by 6 horses. Only the Queen of England’s coach is allowed to have more horses (8).
The State Coach is somewhat blinding in its gilded glory. (It really is – my little camera had hard a difficult time finding its focus). There was no doubt who was the boss when this thing rolled down the street. It’s definitely worth seeing if you are in London for either the Lord Mayor’s Show or at the Museum of London.