The attics of stately homes are often treasure troves of curiosities and historic wonders. Goodwood House in West Sussex, the family home of the Dukes of Richmond for over 300 years, is no exception. High up under the eaves, floors above the Canaletto and Stubbs paintings for which Goodwood is best known, are rarities, including King Charles I’s nightshirt and Mary Queen of Scots’s chessboard. Sometimes, a rummage around the attics turns up something unexpected; the joy of being Goodwood’s Curator - the keeper of its collection - is you never know what you might find.

This year treasures relating to the participation of the Dukes of Richmond in the coronations of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries were discovered. Between 1702 and 1953 they were centrally involved; on eight occasions they were appointed to bear the Sceptre with the Dove – a rod of gold topped with a golden cross and white enamelled dove which is part of the crown jewels - and in 1727 the 2nd Duke was appointed as Lord High Constable of England. Most of the items relate to the Coronations of George VI and our late queen, Elizabeth II, although the oldest was used in 1902 at Edward VII’s. The items were carefully packed away after Elizabeth II’s Coronation in 1953, and as her Coronation Day became a distant memory and the custodianship of the house passed to a new generation, their whereabouts faded from recollection.


The timing of the find was fortuitous, as it coincided with Goodwood’s 2023 Coronation Exhibition: ‘The Dukes of Richmond and the Coronation’, staged to celebrate the Coronation of Their Majesties King Charles III and Queen Camilla.

A bleak January day spent sorting out the linen attic brought the first discovery. An old box hidden under piles of historic linen was opened quite by chance to reveal a glint of something bright yellow. A cheerful yellow frock coat with red velvet cuffs emerged, followed by a lace ruff worn at the neck, a cream silk waistcoat glistening with silver thread, cream woollen breaches, black patent leather shoes with their buckles intact, a tricorn hat with plumed feathers, gloves, and even a silver knot to tie onto the end of a ceremonial sword. The size of the garments suggested they had been worn by a child. The ensemble, 18th century in appearance, looked as though it would have fit in well at the fashionable court of Queen Charlotte - consort to George III and the protagonist of Netflix’s latest Bridgerton spin-off.

Great British Life: The 9th Duchess in her coronation robes in 1937The 9th Duchess in her coronation robes in 1937

A black and white photograph of the current Duke’s grandparents, the 9th Duke and Duchess, on George VI and his wife Elizabeth’s Coronation Day in 1937, though, revealed the outfit had been worn much more recently. The image shows the Duke and Duchess in their splendid coronation robes, accompanied by the Duke’s page boy, his nephew Charles Vyner (the Dukes who participated always took a page boy, aged between 10-14 years, to carry their coronet).

Vyner’s ceremonial attire bears striking similarity to the ensemble in the attic, and a colour reproduction of the image confirms Vyner’s coat was bright yellow. Vyner, who was sadly killed in action in the Second World War, wore yellow and red as these are the Richmond livery colours. The outfit was also probably worn by Simon Benton Jones, who acted as the 9th Duke’s page boy in 1953. It was not uncommon for page boys to share the same ceremonial dress, especially when the coronations of 1937 and 1953 were so close, and that of 1953 was amid post-war austerity. Benton Jones, who was the Duke’s godson, presented his godfather with an image of him in his outfit on Coronation Day, endearingly addressing it on the back to ‘Dukie’. Near-complete page boy’s outfits from the 20th century are rare, and this, combined with the excellent condition of the outfit, made the find particularly exciting.

Great British Life: Simon Benton Jones in the 1953 page boy's liverySimon Benton Jones in the 1953 page boy's livery

Great British Life: Lord Settrington in 1911 as Page Boy to the 7th Duke of RichmondLord Settrington in 1911 as Page Boy to the 7th Duke of Richmond

The first discovery led to another and another - it was as if once the first item had been found everything with a coronation connection wanted to be found. A search among the 19th century livery outfits in the costume attic -a small room where some of the ceremonial outfits have been historically kept - turned up another page boy’s frock coat, this time older. A little matchbox inside the pocket with the initials ‘GR’ for ‘George Rex’ and the date 1911 told that it had been worn at George V’s Coronation in 1911 by Lord Settrington, who was page boy to his grandfather, the 7th Duke.

Also in the pocket was a handkerchief with the initial ‘H’ on for his mother, Hilda, the future 8th Duchess. The twelve-year-old Lord Settrington placed these little objects in his pocket on Coronation Day, the handkerchief perhaps given to him by his mother for good luck. There they stayed for over 100 years. The find was all the more poignant, as Lord Settrington was killed in action only eight years later in 1919 at the age of 20. The objects provide a glimpse into a life that was so short-lived; and a life for which so few objects remain enabling us to remember.

Great British Life: 9th Duke of Richmond standing behind the Queen at her 1953 coronation in coronation robes9th Duke of Richmond standing behind the Queen at her 1953 coronation in coronation robes

If the livery outfits proved a good place to look, so too did a clothes rail with frocks and furs from the 1950s. Amid the voluminous skirts was a sleek crimson velvet robe, trimmed with miniver, a pure white fur. Again, it was familiar. It could be spotted in that black and white image of the 9th Duke Frederick and Duchess on Coronation Day in 1937. The 9th Duchess Elizabeth had worn it to George VI’s Coronation, and also Elizabeth II’s in 1953. A label inside told that the robe had been bought, rather amusingly, from a ready-to-wear shop called ‘Margaret Marks of Knightsbridge’. In a separate box, the Duchess’s two-yard-long crimson velvet train, trimmed with five-inches of ermine and finished with a cape of Canadian ermine, was found. The length of the train, width of the ermine, and number of rows of ermine on the cape denoted her rank. Ermine has long been associated with royalty and the peerage, and it began to appear on the Coronation robes of the nobility as early as the 14th century.

Other, more amusing items were found connected with the Duchess, including a Brettle’s Silkestia Stockings box dating from 1937. Brettles was founded in 1786, and by 1937 had become one of the leading manufacturers of luxury silk stockings. Its rise had been aided by Queen Victoria’s decision to wear a pair of Brettle’s silk stockings at her Coronation in 1838. The 9th Duchess followed the Queen’s example. The lace worn by the Duchess on the sleeves of her coronation robes during a photoshoot in 1937 by the famous photographer Dorothy Wilding was also found. On Coronation Day itself, the Duchess took off the lace, probably as lace sleeves were seen as somewhat old-fashioned by this time. The Duchess’s court feathers were also uncovered. Until 1937, peeresses had to wear court feathers at coronations, as part of their formal court dress, which made navigating putting a coronet on during the ceremony somewhat difficult.

Great British Life: Goodwood Estate is a treasure trove of historical garmentsGoodwood Estate is a treasure trove of historical garments

If the attics of Goodwood House proved fruitful, so too did the Duke of Richmond’s historic trunks, stored at Ede & Ravenscroft in Chancery Lane, where certain garments including those with ermine, are kept in certain conditions to preserve it. It was known they housed the 9th Duke’s coronation robes, worn in 1937 and 1953, but when the trunks were opened after 50 or more years there was great delight upon finding crimson velvet coronation surcoats, the earliest dating from around 1821 (surcoats were worn under coronation robes in the 18th and early 19th centuries), as well as Order of the Garter Robes and Parliamentary Robes dating from the 20th century. Like the outfits in the attic, the trunks had been stored since the 1953 Coronation; there had been little reason to take them out.

One item which was known about was a blue silk cushion with gold tassels said to have been used at Queen Victoria’s Coronation. Yet, there were still discoveries to be made. There was some mystery over what exactly the cushion had been used for in the ceremony, as no paper trail concerning it survived. The first theory was that it had supported the Queen on the King Edward’s Chair, the chair that monarchs are traditionally crowned on. A chance visit by Westminster Abbey’s archivist to the conservation studio where the cushion was being conserved revealed that the cushion is exactly the same size as the chair – the archivist just happened to measure it the day before. This theory remains on the table, but is somewhat overshadowed by another. A painting by George Hayter of Queen Victoria taking the Coronation Oath shows the Queen with her right arm resting upon a great Bible, and underneath the Bible is a large blue cushion with gold tassels.

Great British Life: The Goodwood exhibition features the discovered robesThe Goodwood exhibition features the discovered robes

The cushion, together with the finds mentioned, and other objects in Goodwood’s Collection, including Queen Victoria’s Coronation blue glove, feature in Goodwood’s Coronations Exhibition, which runs until the end of October. Many of the items, including the cushion, have been specially conserved to go on display. The majority of them have never been seen by the public before. All in all, putting the exhibition together has been quite the journey of discovery; and here’s to the next six-months delving into the other nooks and hiding places of what is truly a remarkable house. Who knows, the next discovery might be just around the corner.