The history of the Royal Mews

Origins

The Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace evolved from the King’s Mews, an institution that goes as far back as the reign of Richard II (r.1377-99). From Richard II’s time until the reign of Henry VII (r.1485-1509), the Mews was at Charing Cross, at the western end of the Strand, on the site of the present National Gallery. The royal hawks were kept here from 1377, and the name ‘mews’ derives from the word ‘mew’, meaning moulting, as the birds were confined there at moulting time. The building was destroyed by fire in 1534 and rebuilt as stables, keeping the name ‘Mews’ when it acquired this new function.

George III

In the 1760s George III (r.1760-1820) moved some of his horses and carriages to the grounds of Buckingham House, which he had acquired in 1762. The King commissioned the architect Sir William Chambers to create a riding school here. The main royal stables housing the ceremonial coaches and their horses remained at Charing Cross.

George IV

It was not until the reign of George IV (r.1820-30) that the royal stables transferred completely to what was now known as Buckingham Palace. The King commissioned the new Royal Mews from John Nash, who was already in charge of rebuilding the Palace for him.

Nash built grand stables around the riding school and a Doric-style arch, surmounted by a clock tower, leading into the quadrangle of the Mews. He also designed the main coach houses on the east side, and on the west he created two sets of State stables with room for 54 horses, as well as forage and harness rooms.

Queen Victoria

The Royal Mews became a much more active place during the reign of Queen Victoria, who had as many as 200 horses there at one time. Her husband, Prince Albert, installed a new forge and added sheds in which a cow was kept.

In 1855, at her own expense, Queen Victoria set up the Buckingham Palace Royal Mews School for the children of the servants belonging to the Royal Mews. The school remained for over 20 years. In 1859 new accommodation was built for the 198 members of staff and their families.