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Last weekend, the lovely ms_siobhan and I set off on a Hammer horror-related adventure, the first leg of which took us to Luton. More or less every person to whom I mentioned the Luton part of this endeavour curled up their lips in disdain, from which I gathered that Luton's public image is more or less equivalent to Birmingham's. But, just like Birmingham, Luton is actually well worth visiting for the under-rated treasures it offers to the intrepid visitor. In our case, the main attraction was the Stockwood Discovery Centre - once the grounds of a stately home; now home to a multiplicity of attractions, including gardens, adventure playgrounds, a local history museum and the the Mossman Carriage Collection.

What was so exciting about the Mossman Carriage Collection? Well, it contains more or less every horse-drawn vehicle ever to appear in a Hammer horror film, not to mention at least 50 other films made between 1937 (Doctor Syn) and 1985 (Out of Africa) besides. Basically, if you have ever watched a British-made film or TV production from that period which featured a carriage, the odds are it came from this collection. The man behind it was George Mossman, a Luton businessman born in 1908, who realised just at the time when horse-drawn transport was passing out of regular use that it would be a) fun and b) a good idea to buy up and restore some of the many carriages which were by then languishing away in barns and coach-houses across the country. Lending them out to film companies was of course one way of helping to make back the cost of buying and restoring them, and on Mossman's death the collection passed to the Luton Museum Service in 1991.

Before we went, I spent the best part of every evening for a week screen-capping every single carriage to feature in a Hammer Dracula film, and combing through the pictures on the Mossman Carriage Collection website to try to identify them. I'm glad to say that on arrival, my identifications proved 100% correct, so below each cut which follows you will find historical information about the carriage in question as taken from the website, pictures of it as it appears today, and screen-caps showing it in use within the Dracula films. Any pictures with me in them were of course taken by my trusty travel companion and acclaimed professional photographer, ms_siobhan. Oh, and it's important to note that the paint colours on the carriages today don't always match up with how they look in the films, but as the website notes explain for the Private ‘Favorite’ Omnibus (first entry, immediately below), Mossman himself was quite happy to repaint them as required for film commissions. In most cases, I was able to confirm what previous colours each of the carriages had been painted by simply looking closely at the inevitable scratches in the finish to see the previous layers.


Private ‘Favorite’ Omnibus, about 1880

From the Mossman Carriage Collection website:
This is a Station Omnibus which was built in London by the Aldebert Company. This type of vehicle was popular amongst hotel owners who used it to transport their guests between the hotel and station. The painted livery is not original but George Mossman often modified his vehicles to make them suitable for period film work.
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Our first subject appeared as the stage-coach in which Jonathan Harker arrives at the start of Dracula (1958):

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The uncannily similar stage-coach in which Marianne arrives at the start of Brides of Dracula (1960):

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And the inexplicably similar stage-coach out of the back of which Weller gets thrown at the beginning of Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970):

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Hearse, about 1860

From the Mossman Carriage Collection website:
This would have been pulled by two or four black horses wearing plumes. At the funeral of a person of high social standing, the mourners followed in procession in vehicles such as Landaus and Broughams. This example has a small cross platform behind the driver’s seat which was used for the coffins of babies or small children. It was built by John Marston of Birmingham.
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This was the vehicle I was most excited to see! I literally jumped up and down and squeed when we found this one. It was used without the purple velvet curtains, and with George Mossman himself at the reins, in Dracula (1958):

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And with the curtains (and in a rather larger role generally) in Risen from the Grave (1968):

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So beautiful!


Town Coach, about 1860

From the Mossman Carriage Collection website:
The Town Coach is a less formal version of the State Coach and was used by wealthy families. It seats four and has painted panels with plate glass windows, fitted with blinds. Inside it is sumptuously lined with cloth or silk. It was driven by a coachman in livery with two similarly dressed footmen standing on a small platform between the rear springs. This Coach was built by C Healy and Son of Gloucester.
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This starred as Baroness Meinster's carriage in Brides of Dracula (1960). I know the exterior colour is different now, but I could see clearly from a scratch on the side that it has been gold-yellow in the past, and the interior upholstery also matches up correctly:

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Victoria, about 1890

From the Mossman Carriage Collection website:
The Victoria was first brought to England from Paris in 1869 by the Prince of Wales. Queen Victoria often travelled in one and it became highly fashionable in the 1880s. Its elliptical (oval) springs and rubber tyres made it a very comfortable lady’s carriage. This example has a panel boot and was built by Offord and Sons of London.
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Van Helsing used this coach in Brides of Dracula (1960) to roam around the countryside rescuing young ladies:

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ms_siobhan was really quite excited to be in close proximity to a vehicle which the divine Mr. Cushing had sat in!


Brougham, about 1860

From the Mossman Carriage Collection website:
The Brougham was popular in towns and as a family carriage at country houses. Designed by Lord Brougham, Lord Chancellor of England (1830-1834). It gained the nickname ‘pill box’ because of its small size and frequent use by doctors. Various models were produced, ranging from light and single models for short trips to the park to larger examples with two horses for family use. This example is a bow-fronted version built by Cund of Wolverhampton.
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This, complete with a dark blue paint job, is the carriage in which the four English travellers arrive at the cross-roads early on in Dracula Prince of Darkness (1966):

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One coat of yellow paint later, and it was also the Paxton family carriage (seen on the left, behind the Hargood family carriage) in Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970):

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Round Backed Gig

From the Mossman Carriage Collection website:
The Round Back Gig is a two-wheeled vehicle for a driver and one passenger. This example was built by Canham of Ipswich and uses Dennett springing. This vehicle was frequently driven in competitions, with great success by one of George Mossman’s daughters.
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In Prince of Darkness (1966), Klove uses this gig to collect Diana from the woodcutter's hut at the cross-roads. After an encounter with Dracula at the castle, Diana and Charles then use it to escape, but come to grief in the middle of the forest:

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In Risen from the Grave (1968), the Monsignor travels in it to the little village in the valley, and find out how they are getting on a year after Dracula's death in the icy mountain stream at the end of the previous film:

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So far, so lovely, then. But after this, things got a bit frustrating. Because on arrival, we discovered that a wedding reception was going on inside the largest room of the collection, housing on my estimation at least half of the carriages. And we were not allowed to go in. That's pretty damned annoying when you have travelled all the way from Leeds to get there, I can tell you - especially when there is nothing on their website to warn potential visitors that this might happen. I'm pretty sure that there were at least three more carriages in that room which were used in the Dracula films, but I could only see one of them well enough to get a photograph of. Thankfully, it was the carriage I was second-most excited about seeing after the hearse, but I would really have liked to see it a lot better than I did - to say nothing of the other two which I think were in there.


Travelling Chariot, about 1790

From the Mossman Carriage Collection website:
This vehicle was a less sophisticated, but slightly larger, version of the town or dress coaches and state chariot. It was designed for long distance travel. It was often used for the Grand Tour of Europe, popular with upper-class men. Some family chariots would have the family crest or monogram decorated on the door panels. It was mainly popular between the 1780s and 1830s.

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Yeah, crappy photograph taken through a glass door. Boo to unexpected wedding receptions! Still, though, this coach is very exciting indeed, because it basically played the role of Dracula's formal chariot every time the films required him to have one. In Prince of Darkness (1966), it appears sans coachman while the travellers are stranded at the crossroads, and takes them to his castle (despite Charles' attempts to direct the horses towards Carlsbad instead):

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In Taste (1970), Dracula gets Alice to abduct Lucy in it and take her to the Courtley family church, where he is waiting:

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And finally in Scars of Dracula (1970), both Paul (seen here) and later the bar-maid, Julie, are unfortunate enough to stumble across it in the middle of a darkened forest:

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I can't tell you had badly I want a ride in that carriage! ;-)


There are a number of other carriages in the Hammer Dracula films which I never could identify on the Mossman Collection website, and after having visited as much as I could of the collection and looked through their excellent souvenir brochure as well, I have concluded that this is probably because they never came from it in the first place. From about 1970 onwards, Hammer must have been hiring from somewhere else - or possibly even making their own replicas, which would of course have had the advantage of being able to be bashed about a bit in the course of filming if needed. Certainly, I can't identify the Hargood family coach in Taste, the coach which Paul falls into from the window of Sarah's party in Scars, or the coach from the famous opening chase-through-Hyde-Park sequence at the beginning of Dracula AD 1972.

Meanwhile, the Mossman Collection Carriages of course had a wide and varied film career which went well beyond the world of Hammer. On the whole, I didn't worry about this - indeed, I didn't even worry about Hammer films other than the Dracula cycle. There's only so much film-geekery one brain can manage, after all. But I was excited to stumble across a replica chariot which its information panel informed us had been custom-made by George Mossman for use in Ben Hur (1959):


Replica Roman Chariot

From the information panel next to the chariot:
This replica chariot was produced by George Mossman for the film 'Ben Hur' (1959) starring Charlton Heston. It represents an ornate ceremonial chariot similar to those used by Roman Emperors.
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Unfortunately I don't have Ben Hur on DVD, so I haven't been able to identify and screen-cap the right chariot, or to find it via a Google image search. But I'm sure next time there's a bank holiday I will be able to track it down. Meanwhile, it was lots of fun to see, and especially to be able to stand in. That's me pretending my hand-bag strap is a pair of reins there in that last picture.

The fact that I was able to stand in it was in keeping with the collection's general policy, which was that genuine antique carriages had 'do not touch' labels on them, whereas visitors were allowed to sit or stand (as appropriate) in the replicas. This seems reasonable, but on the other hand I'm not sure they have thought hard enough about the heritage value of even some of the replicas, especially where they have appeared in really famous films like Ben Hur. Certainly, they don't draw very much attention to it. Only one small section of the museum mentions it, and this was the only information panel I saw which linked up a specific vehicle with a specific film. Meanwhile, as you can see in the photos, the decorative detail on the chariot is badly degraded. At first we assumed that this was just because it had been made in the first place of materials which had naturally perished over the years, but this is a picture of the same chariot from the collection's souvenir brochure:

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And this is it again in a video which was playing in one of the rooms of the museum:

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Judging by the hair and clothes of the people in the video, it must have been made within the last ten years at most. And meanwhile, when we looked closely at the chariot we realised that all the damage to its decoration is concentrated on the side of it which faces outwards from the arched entrance-way where it stands, and hence towards the elements. So in other words, at some point in the last ten years it has been placed facing into an open courtyard, and the result is that an iconic prop used in one of the biggest block-busters of the 20th century, which was fine ten years ago, has degraded into the state seen in the above pictures.

This makes me feel really sad, not only because it is a neglectful waste, but also because it is surely very short-sighted on the part of the museum management. Film tourism is a real thing, as our own visit proved, and the value of a prop from a film like Ben Hur is only going to grow as time goes by. Imagine being able to say at the time of its centenary in 2059 that you have a chariot used in that film! You know, a film which is famous for its chariot races... Except that a prop which is rotting away in the rain is going to be a lot less of a draw than one which has been kept in good condition.

In fact, I think the Mossman Collection could do with getting some film specialists to collaborate with them asap to draw up a proper and comprehensive list of all the films its vehicles have been used in, complete with screen-caps of the kind I've done here for the Dracula films, which could be displayed on their website and within the museum. They could reach whole new audiences by publicising that information properly - but right now, it is acknowledged only fleetingly and incompletely. It is up to geeks like me to create their own guide to the carriages used in the films they are interested in if that's what they want to see - and while I will do it and enjoyed the results enormously, even I would have been glad of a guide which covered just the other Hammer films at least.

A bit of a sad note there at the end, then, and the wedding reception thing was annoying too. But on the whole I would very much recommend a visit to the Mossman Collection, especially if you are a British film geek. You just might need to be prepared to do your own research in advance...

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Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
ms_siobhan
Aug. 24th, 2015 08:22 am (UTC)
I think it's verging on criminal the way that chariot has been allowed to decline. And I think there is a lack of being proud about our film industry in general - Pinewood don't do tours, Bray is being made into apartments I think but at least Oakley Court is still in business and it does make a mention of its role in british film history.
strange_complex
Aug. 24th, 2015 12:03 pm (UTC)
Yes - it's very different from Hollywood, isn't it?
ms_siobhan
Aug. 24th, 2015 12:05 pm (UTC)
Yep :-(
Alistair Hughes
Nov. 19th, 2016 05:11 pm (UTC)
Absolutely fascinating - thanks so much for sharing this. I've been hunting down good reference for the coach used in the opening of Dracula AD 1972 for a long time (I'm an illustrator and life-long Hammer fan), and although you've confirmed it wasn't part of this collection, this post has at least brought me a step closer.
Thanks again!
strange_complex
Nov. 21st, 2016 10:33 am (UTC)
Hi Alistair! Glad you enjoyed the post. I'm sorry I can't help with the coach from AD 1972. I would love to know more about it, and what's happened to it since the film was made, myself. But yes, as I've said here, it doesn't seem to be from the Mossman collection as far as I can tell. I hope you eventually strike lucky in tracking it down!
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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