Buckingham Palace with kids – Coronation display review: Coronation Robes, Coach and State Rooms

Buckingham Palace is not somewhere I would have dared take my very young children, all those ropes to hurdle over or conga under, those priceless breakables to upend and the miles of corridors, just an open invitation for a cheeky sprint. But my recent visit to admire the Coronation display including the Coach and Coronation Robes in the State Rooms has turned my view of Buckingham Palace upside down.

Buckingham Palace with kids - Coronation display review: Coronation Robes, Coach and State Rooms

Greeting minor royalty

It turns out to be a super-welcoming place for kids, especially those who take the trouble to dress up as princes and princesses. Every Warden will curtesy or nod if they suspect royalty may be passing, however minor. What a treat for children to have such recognition for their efforts from adults who curtsey and bob to the ACTUAL King!

Caption: Full-on history quiz on coronation dates in the Activity Centre

Full-on history quiz on coronation dates in the Activity Centre

Childrens’ audio guides

The audio guide content has been adapted well for children, so, for example,  the weight of the Diamond Jubilee Coach is compared to the size of a baby blue whale. It’s presented as a jolly chat, and when the two characters are imagining what Mars and Athena might be saying to each other, one comes up with, ‘Who stole our clothes?’

Chatty, knowledgeable Wardens

Sometimes, in the nth drawing room, the details aren’t so inspiring. So where the curator waxes on about wallpaper, I recommend you go up to the Warden, every one of whom is the personification of Courteous. And you mine them for fun facts for children. In the Throne Room, say, it was such a joy, getting the low-down on Queen Vic’s chair – it was designed with short legs to suit the petite Monarch, because it wouldn’t do for one’s legs to dangle, now would it.

Coronation guest dress up in the Activity Room, with child-height mirror and a stage with the backdrop of Queen Victoria's Coronation ceremony

Coronation guest dress up in the Activity Room, with child-height mirror and a stage with the backdrop of Queen Victoria’s Coronation ceremony

 

The Activity Room

On the left as you exit the Palace building, under a spacious marquee, you will find activities catering for all ages. There’s a soft play area for tinies;  photo opps as royalty on parade, dress up and even a balcony to wave behind for 4s-8s; table-setting tasks, story-telling,  and worksheets of royal costumes for 6-10s. For the mid teens and parents, royal history quizzes will get the competition started.

Challenge to learn how to set the table for Royalty, in the Activity Centre

Challenge to learn how to set the table for Royalty, in the Activity Centre

 

Package deals – The Royal Day Out

If the prospect of acres of silk, gold and canvas won’t inspire for long, there’s the Royal Day Out ticket, which will probably tick most boxes. In addition to the State Rooms, you can access the Gardens for restless ones, The Queen’s Gallery for arty ones, and the working Royal Mews for animal lovers. Although there is no playground within the Palace, St James’s park has one, 2 minutes away, in the shadow of the Queen Victoria Memorial, south side.

Buckingham Palace with kids - Coronation display review: Coronation Robes, Coach and State Rooms

 

FUN FACTS: The Diamond Jubilee State Coach

Buckingham Palace with kids - Coronation display review: Coronation Robes, Coach and State Rooms

1) Made Far Far Away

There is a very special carriage-making company which has made other carriages for the Royal family, all the way out in Australia, that’s 3 months on a boat, or 90 sleeps, the time between the end of the summer holidays and CHRISTMAS. It’s LONG.

2) How to move something that weighs 3 tonnes

It takes 6 horses or 20 men to move it, and the horses are very specially picked. They have to have calm personalities, be all Windsor Greys, and be all the same colour, height and age. It takes lots of training with their horse-driver who’s called a Postilion.

3) Bumpy ride

You see the wheels are made of wood, with hard tyres like on a scooter, not cushy pump-up air tyres like we have on a bike or car. So you’d think it would be very bumpy and rattly, but hidden inside the old-fashioned frame is super-modern suspension technology, so the King and Queen have a extra-smooth ride whenever they pop out to the shops.

4) The windows

When Cinderella needed some air, on her way to the ball, how do you think she opened the windows? Maybe pinch-down, or wind-down? Probably the same for this carriage, you’re thinking, because it looks so fairytale, but, no, they’re push-button electric. You can also control the heat and lights like in a modern car.

5) The crown on the roof

It has a hidden dash-cam inside and is carved out of wood from a very old war-ship (250 years old) with 104 guns called HMS Victory, the famous ship that fought the French at the battle of Trafalgar. Its captain, Lord Nelson, you can still see at the top of his column in Trafalgar Square, a 12 minute walk away.

6) The tiled walls

On the walls inside there are lots of little square tiles, like in a bathroom. These ones are made of wood, each from very important places and times in our history, to remind the King what a marvellously strong, brave, clever bunch of chaps and chapettes we all are. In his carriage, the King can see a bullet from the Battle of Waterloo and wood from big churches and his other Palaces. There are bits of airplane that fought in the Great Wars, pieces of other battleships, and precious personal things owned by famous people.

Art Project: buy some white cardboard and invite your children to draw, paint,  glue, sew on to the squares whatever important flotsam and jetsam they wish to immortalise in their lives. Arrange them into a deep frame and hang it in the loo, signed and dated.

FUN FACTS: The Coronation Robes

1) Spot the Dogs

Queen Camilla’s beautiful dress was made specially for her and if you look carefully near her feet, you will see her two dogs embroidered in gold thread, and the names of all her near family.

2)  The furry capes

The white fur comes from sewing together the skins of many stoats. They are brown in summer and white in winter with black tails, so they blend in with the snow. The tails make the black flecks. So you have to kill the stoats in winter to get enough pelts to make the cape.  In winter they are called ermine, and it’s what kings and queens wear to make them look royal. In the past, no one else was allowed to wear it. By the way, did you know, no one is allowed to eat swan meat in the United Kingdom except the King and Queen, even today?

Art project: buy a set of plain white cotton clothes, top and trouz, shorts or skirt or a dress, and textile paints, and colourful permanent marker pens. Invite your children to pull together meaningful fragments from their life past, present, including wishes for the future.  Sew them on, remembering that the materials must be washable and non-staining; so textiles, plastics, string, wool. Photos can be transferred to t-shirts for example. And the child becomes a self-made living autobiographial sculpture!

Exhibition runs: 14 July – 24 September 2023

Carriage: Addendum for Adults

I found the Coronation display fascinating. That the Queen could pimp her ride with bits of Mayflower, Spitfire and Stone of Scone! That museums around the world were willing to saw away or ping off a chunk of irreplaceable heritage and send it to Oz for incorporation into this ‘museum on wheels’ as the Daily mail calls it. Can you imagine the equerries pulling every string. ‘I say, Her Maj wonders if would you be an absolute dear and send over a shard of Shakleton’s sled. It’s a big ask… but it’s for an art project of hers…’ I would totally love to know if anywhere said No. Could one even say no to the Queen? The R0yal Collection Trust tells us there are artifacts, both of wood and metal from over 100 historic sites and donors, with a tantalisingly brief list as follows:

  • Caernarfon Castle
  • Canterbury Cathedral
  • The Mary Rose (Henry VIII’s flagship)
  • 10 Downing Street
  • The Antarctic bases of Captain Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton.

I just HAVE to have the whole list. Ms Sally Goodsir, Curator of Decorative Arts, Sculpture and Furniture at the RCT, will hopefully oblige, and you shall be updated as and when with  a special feature for grown-ups this time. I will be equally interested in noting what is not represented, either because it was a No, or because it was not considered worthy.

The special Coronation display is included in a visit to the Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace, 14 July – 24 September 2023.

Visitor information and tickets: www.rct.uk, +44 (0)303 123 7300. Buckingham Palace is open five days a week, Thursday to Monday, remaining closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

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