The newly appointed Mayor of London originally travelled up to Westminster by river, which is why processions all over the world are made up of ‘floats’, then from the late middle ages onwards the Mayor and Aldermen travelled on horseback. That all changed in 1711 when Sir Gilbert Heathcote fell off his horse during the Show and broke his leg. For the next 46 years a coach and four was hired, such as the one we see being mobbed by admirers in Hogarth's Industry and Idleness.
In April 1757 Sir Charles Asgill persuaded the other Aldermen of the City to commission a magnificent State Coach from Joseph Berry of Holborn for £860, which makes it a little older and a lot cheaper the similar coach 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 new Lord Mayor.
The coach was designed by the same architect as the frontage of the new Mansion House and makes a similar 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 anticipated, Sir Charles was the first Lord Mayor to ride in it.
The coach has been used in every Show since 1757, making it the oldest working ceremonial vehicle in the world. It still requires periodic maintenance and regilding - the Museum has counted almost 100 layers of paint on its ceiling - but has not seen a major service since it was stripped down and rebuilt in 1952.
The coach is pulled by a team of six horses; a sign of the Lord Mayor's status, and also of its over 3 ton weight. It is escorted and guarded by the Pikemen of the Honourable Artillery Company, whose uniforms date back to the reign of Charles 1. You can get a little closer if you visit the Museum of London, where the coach lives on prominent display in between Shows.
It is estimated that even to build a replica would now cost over £2 million, so there are only two ways to get inside the coach: become Lord Mayor, or take this guided tour from Dominic Reid, Pageantmaster of the Lord Mayor's Show.