HORSES FOR COURSES: The State Coach Britannia in its current home in Manly
HORSES FOR COURSES: The State Coach Britannia in its current home in Manly

FIT FOR A QUEEN

By TOBY WALKER

TO look at, Michael Lowe's workshop on the grounds of his Glenugie home does not seem all that remarkable.

It's a handyman's haven, with an assortment of woodworking machinery popping up in the jumble of timber offcuts and random pieces of useful scrap.

But when Mr Lowe begins emptying the contents of a box filled with marked clip-seal bags, each containing small pieces of timber, the historical importance of this unassuming garden shed becomes clear.

Inside one bag is a piece of oak taken from the Mary Rose, King Henry the VIII's favourite warship, sunk off the coast of France in 1545. Another contains a small square of pitch pine taken from the Tower of London dating back to the 12th Century.

More and more bags come out of the box, each containing discarded pieces of timber from some of Great Britain's most symbolic historical relics.

The Royal Yacht Britannia, Canterbury Cathedral, Blenheim Palace, the Cutty Sark, Westminster Abbey ? Mr Lowe has small bits from each of these places and more. If they were to remain in his workshop, sealed up forever, their story would still be a good one, but these bits of timber will play a role in a bigger story that is yet to unfold.

Last year Mr Lowe was asked if he would construct the interior joinery for a horse-drawn coach intended for none other than Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. But the unique request was nothing new for him. As a man who began as an apprentice building carriages and wagons for State Rail and expanded his talents into restoring vintage cars, including one used by Sir Winston Churchill, Mr Lowe's creations had already received royal approval once before.

His delicate skills were employed in the construction of the Australian State Coach, a ceremonial carriage presented to the Queen in 1988 by the people of Australia to mark our country's Bicentenary.

At the time, Mr Lowe travelled to Yarralumla to meet the Queen and Prince Philip during an official presentation ceremony.

This time around a trip to Buckingham Palace might be out of the question but Mr Lowe is still excited to be working on such a unique project again.

The centrepiece of Mr Lowe's work will be the cedar marquetry boards which line the coach's quarter windows and doors.

The boards will be inlayed with the historic squares of timber, along with an engraved inscription detailing their origin on a strip of brass next to it.

"It's beautiful," he said.

"I'm not being paid well, basically just covering costs, but I wanted to do the work because I love it.

"And getting to actually handle the timbers from these ancient ships and buildings is great let alone being able to keep a few offcuts."

The significance of the work is certainly not lost on Mr Lowe who will spend the next few months and possibly years detailing the interior for the coach, known as the State Coach Britannia.

If the Queen accepts the lavish gift, it will be renamed the Royal Coach Britannia.

"She didn't knock back the last one," he said.

"There's no guarantee but if she does accept it then it will go on display at the Royal Mews (in London) with the rest of the coaches."

For the time being Mr Lowe will continue to finish the basic inlay work so the coach can be readied for a planned exhibition at the upcoming Sydney Royal Easter Show and then presented to the Queen in England later this year.



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