Living with Style, People, Places & Spaces, The Newport Diary

Living the Downton Abbey Life: Highlights of Coaching Weekend

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Living in Newport gives one the sense of existing in another place in time – and then the much-anticipated Coaching Weekend comes along to reinforce that magical impression.  An equestrian sport, a tradition and a social pastime all rolled into one, Coaching was introduced to America (first in Newport) in the 1880s by William K. Vanderbilt.

Private venues punctuate each of the three day, eight-mile drives devoted to “calling on friends” as with Miramar, the first stop on Thursday morning. A 30,000 sq.’ French Neoclassical-style limestone mansion with (originally) 27 bedrooms and 14 baths, she has been lovingly restored over an 8 year period by new owners Pamela and David Ford, whose efforts have inspired much admiration. Indeed, preparations for Coaching are worthy of a Masterpiece Theater presentation and like any production, what goes on behind-the-scenes is every bit as well considered. Here, in a Downton Abbey-esque scene , David and his staff greeted the coaches and their passengers with bellinis and tea sandwiches.

Coaching Weekend

So Newport…silver punch bowl with silver cups, hydrangeas and petunias and elegant statuary.

The handsome restored coaches are in impeccable condition, the horses are matched pairs and liveried footmen sport gold-braided attire.

Coaching Weekend

Thursday morn…leaving Miramar and off to lunch at Price’s Neck.

Coaching Weekend

Those forecasted thunderstorms and rain never materialized, making this long-anticipated weekend a beauty. Friday lunch at Greenvale Vineyards has been a bookmark on the Coaching Weekend calendar for many years.


Colorful coats and coaches are a signature of this 130 year old event.

As it should be, Coaching Weekend is always a hat affair.

Friday evening, Miramar (“look to the sea”) was the site of a black tie dinner dance in honor of the Whips (those who own and drive the coaches.) But just as importantly, it was also this grand architectural dame’s 100th birthday! And here befits a recalling of one of the most newsworthy stories in American history (indeed, a version of this true tale was a story line in the first show of Downton Abbey…Lord Grantham’s cousin, James Crawley, who was the Lord’s heir presumptive, and his son, Patrick, died in the sinking of the Titanic, throwing all the predictable succession plans into turmoil.)

As it played out in Newport — Mr. and Mrs. George Widener, in the design stages of their new home on Bellevue Avenue, and their 27 year old son, sailed to Europe in 1912 to retain a chef for their new home, Miramar. Their return voyage was on the Titanic. Only Mrs. Widener was able to return to Newport; her husband and son went down with the ill-fated ship. Three years later, she completed Miramar as a memorial to her husband.

The dancing and dining tents, so beautifully sited and scaled to the proportions of the handsome limestone mansion, flowed off the 4,000sq.’ back terrace overlooking the water.


Some of the 200 party guests applauding the arrival of the coaches.


Framed by tall centerpieces of massed white flowers, accented with white peacock feathers, we began the dinner with a simply  elegant and elegantly simple appetizer.


The course was composed of red and green Belgian endive, mango, zucchini ribbons, corn and tomatoes accented with lobster and burrata, dressed with a citrus vinaigrette.


Fireworks provided dear friends Pamela and David the perfect finale to a night of celebration.

Happy  Birthday, Miramar!

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About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".