A Visit to the Royal Mews
By Allison Lail
Horses, riding, and driving are important British traditions. Horses and carriages play a role in nearly every important British royal ceremony, so the royal stables and carriage houses, called the Royal Mews, are situated beside Buckingham Palace, the official London residence of the monarch. When visiting England, a must see on the tour for any horse person is the Royal Mews. About 100,000 people come to visit the Royal Mews annually, and we were among the many. While in London, we had the best tour guide – Cary Hart, who carefully organized all the places we were to visit so we could get in as many as possible in the short time we had as tourists.
The Royal Mews provides transportation for The Queen and members of the Royal Family by both horse-drawn carriage and motor car. It is one of the finest working stables in existence, responsible for the training of the Windsor Greys and Cleveland Bays, the horses that pull the royal carriages.
The Royal Mews is built like a typical English barn, with a large courtyard in the middle. It has stabling for up to 70 horses (a mixture of straight stalls and “loose boxes,” or box stalls), housing for the royal carriages and state motor vehicles, a spacious indoor arena, a large quadrangle, and apartments for staffers and families with connections to the Mews. The carriages are all kept on one side and the horse stalls on the other side. The Queen usually keeps only about four horses at the Mews, unless there’s a special occasion that requires more horses.
In the area where the horses are lined up for inspection, and then hitching, the horses are tied in standing stalls facing head out, not butt out as is the usual case with standing stalls. The Queen knows every horse by name, knows their personalities, and she stops to touch each horse, taking a keen interest in each individual. The Queen is an avid horsewoman! She goes to Southampton often to ride. The horses at the Mews get exercised regularly, while the horses not currently at the Mews are out to pasture in Southampton.
A day at the stables kicks off at 5 am or 6 am. Mucking out and brushing is done before the stable hands have thirty minutes for breakfast. At 8:30 the horses are exercised with their carriages and this is followed by harness cleaning, a rigorous process that includes Belvoir Leather Balsam, soda crystals and an Oral B toothbrush for those tough to-get-at places. Each time the equipment is used it is thoroughly cleaned and polished, then hung up in the royal tack room. The stalls are mucked regularly, as they must be kept clean for all the visitors. All the horses and equipment at the Mews get top notch care!
The horses are fed straight oats, vitamins, bulk fiber, sugar beet chaff, and haylage. Haylage is a grass crop which is cut, harvested, and stored for feeding farm animals. It is made from the same crops as normal hay, but with a higher moisture content. With the proper equipment and storage techniques, this method significantly increases the food value.
State vehicles are also housed and maintained at the Royal Mews. Carriages from the Royal Mews are used on roughly 50 occasions each year such as State Visits, weddings and the State Opening of Parliament. The most dazzling of all coaches housed in the Royal Mews is the Gold State Coach, which has been used at every coronation since that of George IV in 1821.
The carriages all have special occasion uses. The Diamond Jubilee State Coach was used only once and is now on permanent display within the Royal Mews. It is carried by eight grey stallions because it is so heavy. The Queen doesn’t like riding in it because she gets “car sick” in it, it is so wobbly. The room in which it is housed looks like an enclosed room and one wonders how the coach can be taken out of the room. But there’s a secret! To get it out, one of the walls is moveable.
There’s horseback riding for the public in London, too. Hyde Park Stables offers adults and children group and private horse rides and horse riding lessons all year round in Hyde Park London. There’s a lovely riding path through Hyde Park where horses are ridden daily.
History: The Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace evolved from the King’s Mews, an institution that goes as far back as the reign of Richard II (r.1377-99). From Richard II’s time until the reign of Henry VII (r.1485-1509), the Mews was at Charing Cross, on the site of the present National Gallery. The royal hawks were kept here from 1377, and the name ‘mews’ derives from the word ‘mew’, meaning moulting, as the birds were confined there at moulting time. The building was destroyed by fire in 1534 and rebuilt as stables, keeping the name ‘Mews’ when it acquired this new function.
In the 1760s George III (r.1760-1820) moved some of his horses and carriages to the grounds of Buckingham House, which he had acquired in 1762. The King commissioned the architect Sir William Chambers to create a riding school there.
In the reign of George IV (r.1820-30) the royal stables transferred completely to what was now known as Buckingham Palace. The King commissioned the new Royal Mews from John Nash, who was already in charge of rebuilding the Palace for him.
Nash built grand stables around the riding school and a Doric-style arch, surmounted by a clock tower, leading into the quadrangle of the Mews. He also designed the main coach houses on the east side, and on the west he created two sets of State stables with room for 54 horses, as well as forage and harness rooms.
The Royal Mews became much more active during the reign of Queen Victoria, who had as many as 200 horses there at one time. In 1855, at her own expense, Queen Victoria set up the Buckingham Palace Royal Mews School for the children of the servants belonging to the Royal Mews. The school remained for over 20 years.
The Horses. The Queen’s horses who draw the coaches and carriages housed in the Mews. The Cleveland Bays are used to escort newly appointed High Commissioners and Ambassadors to their audience with The Queen, when they present their formal credentials from their country’s Head of State.
The famous Windsor Greys are named thus because they were kept at Windsor during the reign of Queen Victoria and drew the private carriages of the royal family. They are at least 16.1 hands high and are chosen for their steady temperament and stamina.
More information about The Mews is available at:
By the way, there was a job posting for a groom at the Royal Mews in May, 2014, listed at www.ponybox.com.
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