On the day of Victoria’s funeral in 1901, her coffin was to be carried on the gun carriage through the streets of Windsor but, in the bitter cold of that February day, the horses which were going to pull it panicked and reared, threatening to topple the coffin from the carriage.
Captain Prince Louis of Battenberg, the future First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy, intervened and suggested to the new king, Edward VII, that the senior service should step in.
Once this was agreed, the horses were unharnessed and improvised ropes were attached to the gun carriage, which weighs 3,000kg (2.5 tonnes), and the team of sailors was brought in to ensure the coffin was carried safely for the rest of the route.
Only nine years later, at the funeral of Edward VII, the new routine became enshrined as a tradition which has been followed at all state funerals since, including those of kings George V and VI, Sir Winston Churchill and Lord Louis Mountbatten – the son of Captain Prince Louis of Battenberg.
At the Queen’s funeral, the gun carriage will be pulled by a 98-strong team of sailors known as the Sovereign’s Guard, while 40 sailors march behind the carriage to act as a brake.
The carriage was built at the Royal Gun Factory at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich to carry the standard light field gun of the Army at the time, the breech-loaded 12-Pounder, but was converted into a ceremonial gun carriage by fitting a catafalque – a raised platform with horizontal rollers for moving the coffin.
Nowadays it is stored at HMS Excellent on Whale Island in Portsmouth, under environmentally-controlled conditions at a temperature of between 16C and 20C, and at humidity of between 40% and 70% to prevent it becoming dry and brittle and to stop fungal growth.
Maintenance is carried out on behalf of King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery based in Woolwich, with work on the wheel and coach carried out by Mike Rowland and Son Wheelwrights and Coachbuilders from Colton, South Devon.