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Maidstone Carriage Museum and royal carriage once Queen Victoria's on show to the public

By Angela Cole

Your carriage awaits... As the world watches as a happy royal couple are taken from Windsor Castle after their wedding this weekend in a carriage, did you know you can see one of its regal relatives right here in Kent.

Surrounded by 21st century traffic is a tiny oasis of its history. Now marooned amid one of the busiest road junctions in Maidstone town centre, the Maidstone Carriage Museum is a reminder of days gone by, when the wealthy had carriages for different occasions and even sent their carriage in place of themselves to events, such was their status.

The 14th century building houses one of the best original collections of carriages in Europe, some 60 in total, and their tales include tragedy, everyday use - and, of course, royalty.

Martin Oates, senior carriage restorer, polishes the Ascot Landau, which will be used in the case of dry weather at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Picture: Victoria Jones/PA Wire
Martin Oates, senior carriage restorer, polishes the Ascot Landau, which will be used in the case of dry weather at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Picture: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

As Harry and Meghan climb into their Ascot Landau carriage this weekend, one of its relatives sits quietly in state retirement.

Theirs was used in William and Kate's wedding in 2011 to take the bridesmaids and pageboys to the service, while one of its sisters now at home in Kent, once carried Queen Victoria to state functions.

The Queen's 5th State Landau, which was donated to the museum, is one of the most original examples of a State Landau in existence and one of the very few outside the Royal Mews to still have its original paintwork.

The Landau in the museum
The Landau in the museum

Dating from the late 19th century, it has a plush interior, and has a split hood, like Harry and Meghan's, so it can be open to the elements in good weather, and bears the royal coat of arms.

Landaus can be drawn by up to six horses and ridden by liveried coachmen - the one used at the Royal Wedding will be drawn by six Windsor grey horses.

THE HISTORY

In the 1920s and 30s people's, the car was replacing the carriage. Maidstone's 12 times Mayor, Sir Garrard Tyrwhitt Drake, was concerned about this and wrote to a London newspaper inviting people to send him theirs. He then opened the carriage museum in 1946 and it was the first of its kind in Britain. The oldest carriage is from 1817 and some designs inspired the first prams. A number of carriage terms are now used for their predecessors - a dashboard was at the back of the carriage, for instance and horsepower was how many horses were pulling your carriage.

Though museum staff carefully turn the wheels of all the vehicles once a year, only one in the collection moves, which is the one used for the civic parade.

Inside Maidstone Carriage Museum
Inside Maidstone Carriage Museum

THE SADDEST CARRIAGE

The only carriage in the museum to have never been used is a travelling coach, made in 1830 for John, 12th Earl of Moray. It was made specially his honeymoon with the daughter of the Earl of Elgin. Six white horses were to draw it on a grand tour round Europe. The wedding, however, was called off, and the heartbroken Earl ordered the coach to be wheeled into the coach house and never used - and the horses were all shot.

Hobby horses at Maidstone Carriage Museum
Hobby horses at Maidstone Carriage Museum

DETAILS

The Carriage Museum in Mill Street, Maidstone is open Fridays to Sundays in the summer months, noon to 4pm. There is a £2 charge and £1 for over fives. Young visitors can borrow a hobby horse to canter around the museum to get into the spirit.

Sir Garrard Tyrwhitt-Drake loved carriages but didn't ride in them very often
Sir Garrard Tyrwhitt-Drake loved carriages but didn't ride in them very often

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