Thursday, 23 May 2013

The Craven State Chariot

A couple of weeks ago I visited our National Trust colleagues at Arlington Court and went to the National Carriage Collection. One of the stars of this wonderful museum is the Craven state chariot and it was great to be able to see the carriage in real life. I am indebted to Katy Dainton at Arlington for the following information.

"This chariot is one of the most important carriages in the collection. Not only is it in original un-restored condition, but also it is an example of the work of Hooper & Co., one of the very finest London coachbuilders of the 19th century.  It has silver-plated furniture including axle caps and stock hoops, head plates (the crests of the Craven family on the upper quarter panels), snake head body loops and beautiful decorative terminations to the plated pin beads.  It also has the silver-plated coats of arms of the family on the hammer cloth.  The interior is beautifully lined in a bright, very rich shade of blue damask.
It is called a chariot because of the shape of the body.  A coach seats four inside the body, and therefore has
a seat ahead of the doors and one behind them.  A chariot only seats two on a seat behind the doors.  This chariot was built for the Earl of Craven between 1831 and 1836.  State carriages were only owned by the nobility and used on very important occasions such as the State Opening of Parliament, society weddings and grand receptions. This very limited use has kept it, and other vehicles like it, in excellent condition."

I had a good look inside the chariot and it was much smaller than I had imagined, positively cosy! The blue damask is very opulent. It was also great to get a good look at the carriage steps. These folded down and were covered in leather. The windows could be lowered and were covered by blinds for privacy. I loved the lamps, which were much bigger than I had imagined, were silver-plated and adorned with the Earl's coronet!

The carriage was made for William, 2nd Earl of the 2nd creation and would have been kept in the mews at his London address at Grosvenor Crescent.


White Horse Pilgrim said...

It's fantastic to be able to see such a historic vehicle unrestored. All too often restored vehicles are finished in colours that are 'best guesses' or even fanciful. It's lovely to be able to see the original craftsmanship too.

Nicola Cornick said...

I think that is one of the reasons the chariot is so highly prized in the collection. It's wonderful, isn't it. Apparently there are seven layers of the yellow paint. They gave me lots of the technical specifications of the carriage as well which would probably be very interesting to an expert.

White Horse Pilgrim said...

It's just occurred to me too that yellow is a difficult colour to apply (therefore expensive). Even today yellow requires a good undercoat and a number of layers to create a colour that isn't weak. I discovered this years ago painting a yellow leisure carriage to represent a Habsburg mail vehicle, so I should have remembered earlier. Yellow, simply, is a sign of wealth - perhaps a little like purple was to the Romans. .

Nicola Cornick said...

Yes, that's a very interesting point. I was told that the Craven chariot has seven layers of the yellow paint and it was the most expensive colour to choose.