June 4, 2014 at 4:29 PM ET
Britain’s longest living monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, arrived to open parliament this week in a shiny new state coach — a piece of history on wheels.
Designed and built by Australian Jim Frecklington, the Diamond Jubilee State Coach is the product of a decade of work. Taken on as a personal endeavor rather than a royal commission, the project was financed entirely from Australian government grants and personal loans.
The carriage was intended as an 80th birthday present for the Queen, but has been delivered eight years late because of financing issues and heavy interest from contributors. “So many people, once they learned what I was doing, wanted to have material from a great building, great ship or great aircraft incorporated,” Frecklington explained.
Here are five things to know about the queen’s new ride:
1. It's a museum on wheels. Frecklington used more than a hundred pieces of British history to decorate the interiors and exteriors of the carriage, including fragments of Henry VIII’s warship, the Mary Rose, and Lord Nelson’s ship, the Victory, as well as pieces of wood from Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, Kensington Palace, and even a supposed piece of Sir Isaac Newton’s apple tree. But it also contains modern history in the form of wood from the royal yacht Britannia, on which the queen traveled many times before it was decommissioned in 1997.
2. It's a piece of history with modern touches. Coaches can be pretty uncomfortable and bumpy, but this one has six hydraulic stabilizers fitted to provide a smooth ride. They are covered in gold leaf to give the impression of pageantry. The carriage is also fitted with electric windows and heaters for maximum comfort.
3. It's the ride of a lifetime.The Queen’s Royal Mews contain some coaches dating back to the 18th century: The Gold State Coach dates back to 1762, and the Scottish State Coach was built in 1830. It is expected that the Diamond Jubilee State Coach will join its siblings in longevity.
4. It's a priceless work of art.Eighteen feet long and 11 feet high, this is only the second royal coach to be built in 100 years, and it definitely was not cheap to build. It is reported to have cost $4.5 million to complete the project, and the carriage is likely worth twice that if sold.
5. It's got a seat fit for a queen. Frecklington embedded a part of the Stone of Destiny, an artifact used for centuries in the coronations of monarchs of Scotland, England and Britain, under the seat of the carriage where the monarch sits. The 336-lb. stone is housed in Edinburgh Castle, but travels down to Westminster Abbey when it is needed for coronation ceremonies. It was last used during the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953.
The Diamond Jubilee State Coach can be enjoyed by the public starting June 15, when it goes on display at the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace.