The Lord Mayor's State Coach
On Lord Mayor's day, in November each year, the City of London provide a stirring spectacle of civic pageantry. This is the day of the famous Lord Mayor''s procession when the Lord Mayor goes to the Royal Courts of Justice to make his statutory declaration of office before the Judges of the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice.
This is also the day when the golden state Coach, drawn by six horses, makes its one and only appearance during the mayoral year. The only other time when it is to be seen in public is on the rare accasion of a Coronation when it conveys the Lord Mayor to Westminster.
Records in the keeping of the Corporation show that the Coach was built during 1757 by Joseph Berry of the firm of Berry and Barker of Holborn. An entry in the British Chronicle of the 9th November, 1757, states that " Sir Charles Asgil, Knt., attended by Alderman, Sheriffs and other officers of the City, went in the new State coach drawn by six fine roan horses to Three Cranes, and being attended by several of the Companies' barges, went from thence to Westminster, where he was sworn into the high office of Lord Mayor of the City, before the Barons of the exchequer..." It would appear, therefore, that that this was the first occasion of its public use.
On 27th September, 1778, a report was presented to the Court of Commom Council which stated
" That the present State Coach was built in 1757 by subscription of £60 each from the several Aldermen then under the Chair; and the Aldermen entered into an agreement that every gentleman there after elected Aldermen should on his admission subscibe £60 towards the expense of building the Coach, and when elected Mayor £100, which £100 was to be allowed him for ornamenting and beautifying the same ". At the same time the then proprietors of the coach relinquished their rights to the Corporation and Common Council directed that measures should be taken for its preservation. It has since been maintained by the General Purposes Committee, who over the period of years have ordered various repairs to be carried out, which have almost rebuilt some parts of it.
The body of the Coach is not supported by springs, as is customary with most coaches and carriages, but on four thick black leather braces fastened with large gilt brass buckles of spirited design, each bearing the City Arms.
The roof is painted red and ornamented with eight gilt vases. The centre was formerly occupied by a group of four boys supporting baskets of fruit and flowers; the base of this still remains, covered with the Ciy's Arms from which ornamental gilt scroll-work trails over the remainder of the roof.
Except at the back, the upper intervals of the body are filled with plate glass. Above each door is a Phrygian cap with wings, surrounded with scroll-work and between the upper and lower panels a Roman trophy of helmet, spears and flags; at the lower angles of the body are dwarf figures, emblematic of the four quarters of the globe; the smaller enrichments of the shell and flowers around the panels are also admirably carved and grouped and over the back panel are a serpent and dove, typifying Wisdom and Innocence.
The panels are said to have been painted by Cipriani, and the original heraldic devices have been attributed to Catton, one of the founder members of the Royal Academy who was also coach painter to King George III. In shields at the lower angles of each door and on the front and back panels, are emblazoned the Arms of the City of London and those of the present Lord Mayor.
The undercarriage is richly carved and gilded and has a pair of marine figures in front supporting the seat of the driver; in front of these projects a large scallop shell forming the footboard. The double Perch, terminating in dolphins' heads is painted red and picked out with gold.
The four wheels resemble those of ancient triumphal chariots; they are carved and painted red with part gilding and have massive gilt bosses covering the wheelboxes. Above the rear axle is an open gilt framework, to which the braces supporting the Coach are attached ; the ends of the frame are ornamented with two Griffins, and in the centre is the shield of the City Arms supported by the figures of Commerce and Plenty.
During past years various repairs have been carried out to the Coach, which now weighs approximately three and three quarter tons. Extensive repairs and adornments were made by a Mr Jacob in 1777 ; it was regilded in 1868 and re-upholstered in 1897. In 1952 it was decided to carry out a major programme of overhaul, including repainting and regilding, and this enabled the Coach, in sparkling condition and comparable to its original appearance, to convey the Lord Mayor to the Coronation at Westminster Abbey in 1953.
The origin of the Lord Mayor's Show dates from 1215 when King John imposed on the City the necessity of having its Mayor approved by the crown. A procession was made to Westminster, at first on horse back all the way, until 1422 when part of it was made by water, travelling by barge from Blackfriars, it was often a lavish affair. Sir John Norman's barge, which he provided, was, was propelled, it is said, by silver oars. The water pageant ended in 1856, and the State Barge, purchased in 1807 for £2000, was sold in 1860 for £105.
The procession did not take place every year. For example in 1592 and 1593 it was prevented by an outbreak of plague,and the Lord Mayor " went not to Westminster but took his oath at the Tower Gate instead "
Sir Gilbert Heathcote was the last Lord Mayor to ride on horse back in the show. That was in 1711. After that a coach was used, hired for the purpose. In 1740 Sir Henry Parson was drawn by six horses, a sight " never before seen ".
Then in 1757 the famous Lord Mayor's Coach was built. It cost £1,065-3s-0d. since that date it has had many repairs and overhauls, notably in 1777, 1868, 1897 and 1952. The painted panels are said to be by Cipriani, and the original heraldic devices have been attributed to Cotton, coach painter to George I I I and one of the founder members of the Royal Academy. The coach now weighs just under three tons. It has no springs, the body being supported on four thick leather braces, with the result that it sometimes sways backwards and forwards.
In 1882 the Lord Mayor travelled for the last time to Westminster. Since then his destination has been the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand.