Buckingham Palace: The Diamond Jubilee State Coach – an armchair voyage

At first sight, it strikes one as another gold-encrusted piece of pointless extravagance, bordering on, I have to say, kitsch. And it cost an ‘undisclosed sum’, which means ahelluvalot. So my immediate response was disapproval, have to say.  But but BUT, the Diamond Jubilee State Coach, known Down Under as the State Coach Britannia, is a treasure trove of surprises… and I now am a total fan. What swayed me was a bunch of square wooden tiles inlayed into the interior panels; plain, unadorned wood, with some brass beading running alongside. Surprisingly unassuming, you think, after all the tantantara on the outside.

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But this is the wonderful thing, which lost me some sleep last night. Each square is sourced from a game-changing location or event or person in British history, making this coach a ‘museum on wheels’, and ‘a time capsule’. Alluded to only briefly in the official Royal press releases and Palace captions, there are slivers of: Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse; cathedrals including St Paul’s and Westminster Abbey; and historic ships, such as the Mary Rose.

The mind is exploding. I run a small independent museum and I know how impossible it is to organise even a loan item from another museum. I needed a year’s worth of humidity data, for starters, officially recorded, with the humidity showing consistently between two specified percentages. Yet the Queen was GIVEN whole pieces off irreplaceable artefacts. WOW, that’s soft power.

The Royal Collection Trust scatters a few more crumbs: The interior wooden panels of the coach are made from objects donated by over 100 historic sites and organisations from across Britain. The seat handrails are from the Royal Yacht Britannia, and the window frames and interior panels include material from:

  • Caernarfon Castle
  • Canterbury Cathedral
  • 10 Downing Street
  • The Antarctic bases of Captain Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton.

The gilded crown on the top of the coach, [is] carved from oak from HMS Victory.

 

HOW. Is. This. Possible…? I did some more trawling and found the The Daily Mail has some great shots of the interior, courtesy of PA Images, with yet more interesting background: The coach also incudes a fragment of the bronze cannon from which every Victoria Cross is cast, and a piece of metal from the wreckage of a 617 Squadron Dambuster. 

The Diamond Jubilee State Coach

Which bit of which Dambuster? Some beautiful Getty images of the interior appear in The Crown Chronicles website also, and at last a quote from the makers W.J. Frecklington O.A.M about his labours and a photo of him in front of his creation.

A very knowledgeable Blue Badge Guide Karen Sharpe notes: [it] has taken 50 people more than 10 years to assemble. And some more juicy details follow: Below the Queen’s seat inside the carriage is a capsule carrying a piece of Scotland’s Stone of Destiny, upon which monarchs are traditionally crowned, surrounded by a bolt from a Spitfire, a musket ball from the Battle of Waterloo, a bolt and rivets from the Flying Scotsman and a button from Gallipoli. 

Who was ok-ing this? Now I had to know everything. Wikipedia, credit to them, had the greatest list of all. I scanned their bib and Praise Be, the maker Mr Jim Frecklington, of Australia – a guy called Jim did this! – has very proudly listed each source of each tile in his Magnum Opus.

Jim, every bit as incredulous as me, says in his Acknowledgement:

We are indebted to those who have contributed – their kindness, vision, determination and ingenuity has enabled this project to far surpass original expectations. We owe special debts of gratitude to the Governments of Britain, Scotland, Canada and Australia. We could not have hoped to dream that a small piece of the Stone of Scone could be made available through the kindness and vision of the Government of Scotland, and in truth the inclusion of a segment of Newton’s apple tree or Shakespeare’s mulberry tree was almost beyond our imaginings. The co-operation and goodwill we have encountered in key areas have added dimensions to the project that, while part of the original vision, came to be fulfilled in a way we could never have hoped to envisage.

To those who grasped the vision and helped realise this extraordinary concept – we thank you.’

Behold. Finally. The exhaustive list of tiles

Dear man, in all his wonderment, he proudly lists, in alphabetical order, every source of each of these 106 magic tiles. And I can get some closure. Totally loving the charming little notes in brackets.

I would love them to be in chronological order…

  • 10 DOWNING ST (front door frame – 1760)
  • MAYFLOWER
  • ALTHORP HOUSE
  • MUSKET BALL (Waterloo battle)
  • BADEN POWELL, Sir Robert
  • N.Z. KAURI (oldest wood – carbon dating standard)
  • BALMORAL CASTLE
  • OLD LONDON BRIDGE
  • BASINGSHIRE ABBEY
  • OSBORNE HOUSE
  • BATTLE OF HASTINGS
  • OXFORD UNIVERSITY
  • BELVOIR ESTATE
  • PALACE OF WESTMINSTER
  • BIG BEN CALIBRATION WEIGHT
  • PDSA DICKIN MEDAL
  • BLAIR CASTLE
  • ROBERT STEPHENSON (Rocket)
  • BLENHEIM PALACE
  • RMS OLYMPIC
  • BLETCHLEY PARK (Hut 6)
  • RMS QUEEN ELIZABETH
  • BRITISH PARLIAMENT (Carving)
  • RMS QUEEN ELIZABETH 2
  • CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY
  • RMS QUEEN MARY
  • CANTERBURY CATHEDRAL
  • RMS QUEEN MARY 2
  • CARLISLE CATHEDRAL
  • ROLLS ROYCE MERLIN ENGINE
  • CAERNARFON CASTLE
  • ROLLS ROYCE SILVER GHOST (AX201)
  • CHATSWORTH HOUSE
  • ROMAN PILE (York)
  • CHARLES DARWIN
  • ROMAN TIMBER (Bath)
  • CHICHESTER CATHEDRAL
  • ROYAL ASCOT
  • COVENTRY CATHEDRAL
  • ROYAL PAVILION (Brighton)
  • CUTTY SARK
  • ROYAL YACHT BRITANNIA
  • DOMESDAY BOOK (Micro card)
  • RSS DISCOVERY
  • DOUGLAS BADER
  • RUGBY SCHOOL
  • DURHAM CATHEDRAL
  • SALISBURY CATHEDRAL
  • EDINBURGH CASTLE
  • SCONE PALACE
  • EDMUND HILLARY (Ladder – 1953)
  • SCOTTS SLEDGE (South Pole 1912)
  • ELY CATHEDRAL
  • SHACKLETON’S HMS Endurance (spar)
  • ETON COLLEGE
  • SHAKESPEARE (Mulberry tree)
  • FERRIBY BOAT 1 (Humber River)
  • SIR ERNEST SHACKLETON (hut)
  • FLORENCE COURT
  • SIR FRANCIS DRAKE
  • FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE
  • SIR ISAAC NEWTON (apple tree)
  • FRANKLIN EXPEDITION (oak barrel)
  • SIR ROBERT FALCON SCOTT (hut)
  • GALLIPOLI (Button)
  • SPITFIRE (D-DAY RAIDS)
  • GLAMIS CASTLE
  • SS GREAT BRITAIN
  • GLASTONBURY THORN
  • SS GREAT EASTERN
  • GLOUCESTER CATHEDRAL
  • ST ANDREWS (Golf course)
  • GUILDHALL LONDON
  • ST GEORGES CHAPEL
  • HADDON HALL
  • ST PAUL’S CATHEDRAL
  • HAMPTON COURT
  • STIRLING CASTLE
  • HMS ENDEAVOUR (Ballast)
  • THE FLYING SCOTSMAN
  • HMS SIRIUS
  • THE STONE OF SCONE
  • HMS VICTORY
  • THE TOWER OF LONDON
  • HOLYROOD PALACE
  • TOWER BRIDGE
  • HURRICANE FIGHTER (B.O.B)
  • VICTORIA CROSS METAL
  • JENNER, EDWARD
  • VIKING TIMBER (York)
  • JOHN HARRISON (timber gear segment)
  • WELLS CATHEDRAL
  • JOSEPH BANKS
  • WESTERN FRONT SOLDIERS (Button)
  • KENSINGTON PALACE
  • WESTMINSTER ABBEY
  • LANCASTER BOMBER (Dambuster)
  • WIMBLEDON
  • LINCOLN CATHEDRAL
  • WINCHESTER CATHEDRAL
  • LORDS (Cricket ground)
  • WINDSOR CASTLE
  • MAGNA CARTA (Micro card)
  • WORCESTER CATHEDRAL
  • MARY ROSE
  • YORK MINSTER CATHEDRAL
  • All items have supporting documentation

Note: The crown on the roof of the Coach Britannia is carved from wood from Nelson’s HMS Victory – the cross on the crown contains a capsule with compartments holding gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Spellings/labels sic.

And it just throws up more questions…

Where’s Basingshire Abbey? What bit of Baden Powell? What’s with the gold, frankincense and myrrh – bit excessive surely? I note this biblical parallel to the Three Kings  is not widely shared in the media. Did the Queen decide what fragments of our Glory Days she wanted in? Did Jim suggest stuff -‘What about a shard of Scone under your seat Ma’am’? Did anywhere turn her down? What do the tiles say about what the Queen valued and didn’t value? How would I pimp my ride?

More information about the State Coach Britannia may be obtained by contacting Jim Frecklington whose details are publicly available from the Internet. If his email doesn’t work, I’m calling Jim in Oz. I so AM.

Answers from Jim in the next nail-biting episode, I hope.

The funding of the coach

The coach was his own initiative, and not commissioned by the Royal Family, but was the culmination of a long connection with the family since he worked at Windsor and the Royal Mews in his youth in the 70s. So, what happened? According to the Telegraph, he approached his old Boss about a new ‘shock-absorbant’ coach, knowing full-well how the existing carriages were proper bone-rattlers; plus with a totally brilliant museum feature, said it would cost say 5 mill, and would she be game. Her Maj must have said she loved the idea of the Best of British museum and the smooth ride but no, she just couldn’t justify that outlay, so, being Head of State Down Under, she got the Ozzy government to stomp  up some, and a mysterious ‘private donor’ to pay the rest? So did Charles charm one of his Saudi Prince chums into The Royals and English Heritage ‘endorsed’ it though, or he would never have got the priceless treasures entrusted to him. He sent the letters with the blessing of the Queen’s ‘Surveyors of the Fabric’. In an interview on ABC News Australia, Jim confirms he has a proper sweet spot for the Queen, to take such a financial risk and to go to these extraordinary lengths, even to the point of remortgaging his own house. I wonder if they had a Victoria-Mr Brown relationship.

Why this particular coach?

Royal, the King’s website, mentions he owns 100 carriages, so what made him want this one. Various sources vie for justifications: possibly it was to commemorate Queen Elizabeth EII, or the King wanted a smoother ride. My theory is, it’s just a much more comforting coach to ride out in, and on such a momentous day, I’d be needing all the hygge I could get. King Charles loves the Arts and Crafts, so the natural wood surfaces would be soothing. What’s more, those tiles must be uplifting, for someone who’s living with the reality of being a possible assassination or raw-egg target and must surely battle with feelings of paranoia at every outing. It’s not stated anywhere, but are the windows bullet-proof and the body blast-proof? Jim clearly wanted to make his carriage smooth, beautiful, reassuring and safe: the Best Royal Carriage Ever.

 

The Diamond Jubilee State Coach can be seen at Buckingham Palace this summer as part of the Coronation display.

 

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