To mark the festive season, Queen Victoria’s winter sleigh goes on public display for the first time at Windsor Castle, from 9 December until 12 January. It will be on view in St George’s Hall alongside the traditional Christmas tree from Windsor Great Park.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert spent many Christmases at the Castle, and the queen often enjoyed sleigh rides around Windsor during the winter months. The royal sleigh, built by the carriage-makers Hooper & Co. is painted red and gold, and lined with red velvet. According to contemporary newspaper accounts, Prince Albert drove the sleigh, which was pulled by a pair of horses with harnesses decorated with ostrich plumes and silver bells. The grooms and outriders who accompanied the royal couple were dressed in scarlet livery. The children travelled in a smaller sleigh, pulled by a pony.
An extract from Queen Victoria’s journal of 12 February 1855 records a winter outing in the sleigh with Princess Clementine of Orleans:
Another sharp frost and a fine day – Albert drove Clem and me out in the sledge…with the exception of 2 or 3 little places, we went beautifully and as smoothly as though we were on ice. The sun bright & the sky so blue. We were out for an hour!
The royal couple are closely associated with Christmas traditions. Prince Albert is credited with popularising decorated trees, dressed with coloured wax candles and artificial snow. Gifts, toys and sweets were heaped around the trees or hung on the branches, to be presented on Christmas Eve when the candles were lit. The royal children made homemade cards to give to members of the Household, and the family would go skating or play festive games introduced by Prince Albert from Germany.
On 20 and 21 December, Windsor Castle is offering special Victorian Christmas family activities. Children can follow a trail to learn about royal feasts and festive games, and the Victorian customs and traditions we maintain today, and then make their own traditional Victorian Christmas cards and decorations to take home.
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