History of the Carriage Museum

Set in the historic stables at Arlington Court in North Devon, the National Trust's Carriage Museum has been amassed over the past 60 years. Whilst none of the carriages actually belonged to the Chichester family, who inhabited the estate for over 600 years, the collection reflects a wide range of vehicles from those used at grand state occasions, to more humble servants carts.

Early beginnings

The National Trust carriage collection started with a gift of eight carriages, donated to the Trust by the 6th Marquess of Bute in 1964. None of the carriages was linked to any specific property, so the National Trust had to find a suitable place to display them. Most stable yards had been converted into tea rooms, shops, toilets or accommodation, or a combination of these, either by the National Trust or the previous owners. However, probably because the stable block at Arlington Court is quite a walk away from the mansion and entrance, it was had not been converted for an alternative use. This meant that Arlington was the ideal home for the collection.

Starting the collection

After the first carriages were donated it was decided in 1966 to create a representative collection of British carriages, as they were starting to become a very rare commodity. Carriages had become expensive collector’s pieces which were bought popular in America and many carriages were rescued from decay and exported across the world. A gift of three carriages which had belonged to Sir Dymoke White was received, as well as a loan of seven carriages from the Science Museum. Some carriages in the collection came from other National Trust houses.

Using the space

Discover more about the evolution of carriages
An information board at the carriage museum Arlington Court

Despite the stables and loft being converted into exhibition spaces for carriages, the collection soon outgrew the available space. In 2003 a modern extension was built, but even this new wing soon filled up. We now have over 40 private vehicles on display in the museum, mostly dating from the nineteenth century. Our collection includes carriages of the wealthy and aristocracy, coachman-driven vehicles, owner-driven carriages, more informal carriages and some vehicles for other uses. The coach house is currently used to show the Speaker’s State Coach, a magnificent and rare vehicle dating from the late seventeenth century and entirely covered in gold leaf.

Enhancing the offer

Displayed alongside the carriages is a variety of carriage driving paraphernalia and props which help us tell stories about travel, craftsmanship, technology, wealth and transport in the nineteenth century. A lot of individuals, researchers, carriage builders and restorers already use the museum as a place of reference, so we plan to foster the museum as a place of excellence for research, training, conservation and interpretation.

The historic stables

Sunny skies over the carriage museum
The stable block clock tower at Arlington Court carriage museum

The stable block, which houses the collection, was designed for Sir Bruce Chichester in 1864 and would originally have housed several carriages in the purpose built coach house. There was also space for 16 horses for the family and their guests; probably just two for driving and several for riding and hunting, plus accommodation for the coachman and other stable staff. In the courtyard the clock tower bears the Chichesters’ heron crest. The last of the family to live at Arlington, Miss Rosalie Chichester, used the coach house as a garage in the later years of her life and sadly none of the family carriages survive. To accommodate the carriages in the stable block, the spaces have been converted slightly, but the original harness room and some of the stables are still visible.