The State Coach

For a long time the newly appointed Mayor of London would travel up to Westminster by river, which is why processions all over the world are made up of ‘floats’.

From the late middle ages onwards the Mayor and Aldermen tended to travel on horseback through boisterous crowds. That all changed in 1711 when Sir Gilbert Heathcote fell off his horse during the Show and broke his leg. The next year a coach and four was hired, such as the one we see being mobbed by admirers in Hogarth's Industry and Idleness, and so things remained for another 46 years.

The 1750s were an abundant and extravagant time in Britain. Slavery and empire brought shameful but enormous wealth, and the industrial revolution had not yet swept away the old world. It was a golden age of baroque music and neoclassical architecture, and London was in the ascendant. A rented coach was not going to do.

In April 1757 Sir Charles Asgill persuaded the other Aldermen of the City to commission a magnificent State Coach from Joseph Berry of Holborn. It cost £860, making it a little older and a lot cheaper the similar coach that is used for coronations. The cost was met by the Aldermen themselves and the coachbuilder was given five months, so that everything would be ready for the Michaelmas election of the next Lord Mayor.

The coach was designed by the same architect as the frontage of the new Mansion House and makes a similarly frank statement of wealth and power, with gilded coachwork and painted panels depicting London's majesty, piety and global reach. The project eventually overran by £200 but was delivered on time and as he had anticipated, Sir Charles was the first Lord Mayor to ride in it.