Prince's wedding carriage ready to roll

A strong wind whips through scrub on Sydney's North Head next to a small brick workshop where Jim Frecklington is putting the final layers of varnish on a golden carriage that may one day carry Prince William to his wedding.

The grey January skies could be mistaken for those of its soon-to-be home in the Royal Mews in London, but the carriage has been entirely constructed on Australian shores.

From the crystal lamps to the diamond-encrusted door handles made of gold, the carriage is truly fit for a king.

The State Coach Britannia is the Australian master coach builder's creation and has taken six years to complete since he originally proposed the idea to Buckingham Palace.

Working out of his workshop in the former School of Artillery, Mr Frecklington began the project in 2004 and has spent hundreds of painstaking hours perfecting every detail on the carriage that will carry the Queen and her family.

Prince William, who arrives in Sydney on Tuesday for a two-day visit, isn't expected to view the carriage, but was most welcome if he wanted to, Mr Frecklington said.

It will most likely carry Prince William and his future bride on their wedding day, he said.

"He will ride in it probably many, many times in his life," said Mr Frecklington, who recently returned from a pre-Christmas trip to London to meet with royal officials.

"It will be the main coach used by the British Royal Household."

Mr Frecklington received a A$250,000 federal government grant in 2006 to complete the carriage, which is now finished and ready to be flown to Britain.

Decorated with 24 diamonds, 130 sapphires, and 400 books of gold leaf, the carriage maintains a quintessentially Royal Coach appearance.

More than 100 pieces of timber sourced from important Royal events, buildings and objects were used to construct the 2.5 tonne, three metre high carriage.

Pieces sent from Britain include timbers from the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Edinburgh Castle, Lord Nelson's ship Victory, England's 16th century warship The Mary Rose and a fragment of the Stone of Scone (known as the stone of destiny).

"I've been told it has more history than any other royal item," Mr Frecklington said.

A team of expert craftsmen helped build the elaborate carriage, including Irish-born heraldic artist Paula Church, from nearby Manly, who applied most of the gold gilding and painted the Royal Coat of Arms on the carriage.

"The coat of arms took over a month to complete," Ms Church said.

"But the gilding takes the longest. The surface has to be perfect before the gold is applied - it shows up every imperfection."

Ms Church, who worked on the carriage at various times over five years, said besides "touching up the odd nut and bolt" her work was done.

Despite its traditional outward appearance, the carriage is fitted out with the latest high-tech features, such as a heating system, electric windows and six hydraulic stabilisers used in the suspension, allowing royal passengers to travel in comfort.

"The Queen prefers my coaches because I use hydraulics, not like the older coaches that have just four straps on the undercarriage for suspension," said Mr Frecklington, who previously made another carriage for the Queen.

He said the Queen was aware it had been completed, but a transport date had not yet been set.

"The place where they keep the horses and coaches is closed over winter," Mr Frecklington said.

"There's no definite date, but things are on the move."

Born in the central-western NSW town of Parkes, Mr Frecklington built his first carriage when just eight years old, a small cart to be pulled by his pony.

He travelled to England as a young man and landed a job working with the Duke of Edinburgh's horses and Royal ceremonial horses and driving carriages at ceremonies.

"One thing led to another and I ended up working at the Royal Mews. It was a great experience," Mr Frecklington said.

He also learned to restore carriages and buggies in his spare time.

Mr Frecklington also lays claim to The Olympic Gold Chariot used during the Olympic Torch Relay at the Sydney Games in 2000.

The chariot now sits outside his workshop, dwarfed by the new carriage holding prime position inside.

The Australian State Coach, which was given to Her Majesty by the Australian people to mark the Bicentennial in 1988, is another of his creations.

It carries the Queen most years to the opening of British Parliament, which may be the first Royal outing for the new carriage in November 2010.

In the newly created State Coach Britannia, aircraft grade aluminium which went into making the wheels were specially designed to meet the engineering requirements of Prince Phillip.

Timbers used in the door panels represent centuries of British history retrieved from historic war battles at Gallipoli, the Western Front and Waterloo, plus historic items such as wood from Shakespeare's Mulberry Tree and a piece of a barrel used in John Franklin's 1845 Northwest Expedition.

The main timbers of the undercarriage are carved Australian hardwood gilded with 23.5 carat gold leaf.

"More gold went into making it than any other object in Britain since 1761," Mr Frecklington said.

The four lamps on the exterior were created using etched Waterford crystal, hand-blown and donated by Edinburgh Crystal.

The springs were hand-formed especially for the carriage and the silk and leather used for the seating were hand stitched.

An international team was employed for their skills and knowledge rarely called upon in today's modern era.

Carpet makers in Ireland, wood-carvers in England and metal workers in France are just some of the craftspeople who contributed to the creation.

Fabric, leather and silk used in the seating was woven in England, the heating system imported from Germany and door handles were moulded from New Zealand gold.

Whether Prince William first lays eyes on the carriage during his Sydney visit or when he steps into it himself one day, it will be hard for him to miss one thing, Jim Frecklington's name carved into the hub of each wheel.

"You may as well do something with your life that's going to last," Mr Frecklington said.

- AAP

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