Put the word ‘royal’ in front of something in London, and the world goes wild. Royal wedding, royal baby, the list is endless. Usually I’m not one to jump on bandwagons (even if they are the Queen’s), but when I heard about the Royal Mews in London, I was intrigued. As anyone who follows me on Instagram knows, I’m a bit obsessed with London’s lovely mews streets. And when you put a ‘royal’ in front of the word, I’m even more excited.
Located right next to Buckingham Palace in Victoria, the Royal Mews nonetheless manages to maintain such a low profile that I’ve walked by a thousand times without even knowing it’s there. But I finally stumble across it, and I can’t wait to get inside.
The mews closes for the winter, but the February 1st opening means that tours of the Royal Mews in London are once again possible. And now I’ve come to see what it’s all about.
After I find the entrance next to the Queen’s Gallery on Buckingham Palace Road, I purchase my ticket and enter the Royal Mews. The first thing I learn is something I’ve wondered about for a long time: what does mews mean?
According to the exhibition, the first mews in London was set up in the 13th century as a place where royal falcons could shed their feathers. In fact, the word mews derives from the old French mue, which means a changing of the feathers, fur, or skin. Huh. I never would have guessed.
Over the centuries, falcons gave way to horses in the Royal Mews—which was originally located on the site of London’s National Gallery. In the 1760’s, the current mews was established in Victoria and over the years monarchs added buildings, carriages, and then cars to the mix.
Which brings me to where I’m standing now. The Royal Mews is a quadrangle, with a big open space surrounded on all sides by two stories of stables, carriage houses, garages, and homes. It’s a working mews, so many of the staff live above the exhibition spaces. I don’t think I’ve ever toured such a unique place.
After saying hello to a few of the horses, I walk along the perimeter and listen to an audioguide with information about the various royal carriages in the mews. I get to see the open-top carriage the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge used for the Royal Wedding, the shiny new one the Queen rode in during the Diamond Jubilee, and the Gold State Coach, which the Queen traveled to her coronation in.
The last of these has so much gilding I practically need sunglasses just to look at it. It’s pretty spectacular.
Away from the carriages, I see one of the royal Rolls Royces and a number of equine-themed gifts from visiting heads of state (including a big red box full of silvery horsey things from the Obamas). The Royal Mews holds some pretty impressive things.
The only let down is the building itself. It was built by famous British architect John Nash for George IV in the 1820’s, but it seems his heart wasn’t in the project (this is confirmed by information I read as I go). While stately and grand, it lacks the charm of many of the smaller mews streets dotted around the city center (not to mention the pink houses!).
So while my tour of the Royal Mews in London has revealed some incredibly impressive carriages and taught me a lot about the origins of the city’s mews, I think I will rely on it for the big things and stick to the lovely little streets for my daily dose of mews-ing.