The Queen’s new Diamond Jubilee State Coach will be used for the first time today at the State Opening of Parliament, it is only the second new Royal Carriage to be built in a century. What makes this one so special however is that it contains relics of key moments and incidents from more than a thousand years of British history. The State Coach was designed by Australian Jim Frecklington, 64.
Surmounted by a crown made from the timbers of HMS Victory, which houses the royal website’s ‘coachcam’ – allowing users at home to get a Monarch side view of the procession. The panelling inside includes slivers of Scott’s Antarctic Sled, Sir Isaac Newton’s apple tree, Hut Six at codebreaking centre Bletchley Park, one of Sir Edmund Hillary’s Everest Ladders and the beams of most of our great Cathedrals.
Below the Queens seat inside the carriage is a capsule carrying a piece of Scotland’s Stone of Destiny, upon which monarchs are traditionally crowned, and 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. There’s even 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 three-ton Coach – 18ft long – has taken 50 people more than ten years to assemble. The Australian who created her, Jim Frecklington, 64, worked in the Royal Mews as a young man before returning home to help organise the Queen’s Silver Jubilee exhibition in Australia. Having repaired carriages on the family farm in his youth, he set about building a replica of the 1902 State Landau.
This led to something even more ambitious and, in 1986, he built the Australian State Coach, a gift from the people of Australia to the Queen to mark the country’s bicentenary. It proved a very popular addition to the Royal Mews, not least because it was the first state coach with heating. But Mr Frecklington, whose family emigrated from Britain to New South Wales in the 1850s, was not finished.
“I wanted to make something in honour of Her Majesty’s great reign and something which represents our extraordinary history,” he explained. So, he set about building something even larger than the Australian State Coach at his workshop near Sydney.
Mr Frecklington wanted to use the finest craftsmen and women from all over the Commonwealth. So, all the leather is English, as is the gold silk brocade upholstery (from Sudbury). The lamps are glazed with the finest lead crystal from Edinburgh. The intricate heraldic paintwork has been hand-painted by Irish-born Australian Paula Church. The door handles are from New Zealand — each is gold-plated and inlaid with 24 diamonds and 130 Australian sapphires by Kiwi master jeweller Mike Baker.
Even the bolts which fix the gold-plated hand supports to the bodywork have been finished using the same guilloche enamel as a Faberge egg. And so it goes on. Mr Frecklington has applied the same mind-boggling attention to detail to the historical artefacts which give the Diamond Jubilee State Coach its special status.
He began by asking the custodians of HMS Victory if he might have a piece of timber from Nelson’s flagship. The result is a crown resting on four lions modelled on those found on the gates of Buckingham Palace. The entire coach is covered with heraldic emblems, crests and motifs, all of which have been approved by the College of Arms.
He then broadened his quest for other historic artefacts to include every great building and institution he could think of. The trust which looks after Britannia donated some teak handrails from the old Royal Yacht. They now form the armrests (flip them up and there are discreet, Bond-style controls for the heating and electric windows underneath).
He secured contributions from Windsor Castle, Balmoral and even the old Royal Box at Ascot. St Paul’s and Winchester Cathedrals presented certified pieces, as did Westminster Abbey and many stately homes. The panelling includes yew from Glamis Castle in Scotland, where the Queen Mother grew up, ash from Blenheim Palace and oak from Althorp, ancestral home of the Spencer family. Going back somewhat further is a little bit of timber from the Bronze Age Ferriby boat found in the Humber.
A strong theme throughout is sacrifice. Hence the metalwork from a Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster and many of our best-known battlefields. The coach has now been formally acquired for the nation by the Royal Collection Trust following a private donation. In other words, it hasn’t cost the taxpayer a penny.
After today, though, the public will be able to view it, along with all the other coaches and carriages, during the daily opening of the Royal Mews at the back of Buckingham Palace.