No horses in the aisle, 1897
And poor old Gold Stick.
The streets were beautifully decorated, also the balconies of the houses, with flowers, flags & draperies of every hue.
Last week we saw how an 1897 interview with Bram Stoker ended with the interviewer, Jane Stoddart, saying, ‘No interview during this week would be complete without a reference to the Jubilee’, and Stoker dutifully gushed something about ‘the immense variety of the Queen’s dominions’. Now, 125 years later, those dominions have shrunk somewhat – from an estimated 13 million square miles/33 million square kilometres then to about 100,000 square miles/250,000 square km today, less than one per cent of the peak figure – but we still have a queen here in the UK… and a new jubilee. I’m no great royalist myself, but it seems apt, given that this is going out over the Platinum Jubilee long weekend, to look back at the events of 1897.
Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee was the first of its kind, only made possible by her longevity (she was 78 at the time, and was already then the longest-reigning monarch in British history as well as the longest-living one after George III).1 In fact, the jubilee also became a celebration for that longest reign, which she had reached the previous September (but asked people to wait to celebrate). Technically the 60th anniversary of her succession was 20th June 1897, although the public events took place two days later on a special bank holiday for the occasion.
We’ve met Queen Victoria a couple of times here before, in 1865 and in 1887; below, here she is for a third, with her impressions of the jubilee day in her own words (I’ll try to leave her be after this). Victoria kept a journal from the age of 13 until only 10 days before she died in 1901 and the surviving volumes have been digitised.2
Plans for the celebrations began in earnest back in 1896. A letter sent in November from Schomberg Kerr McDonnell, prime minister Lord Salisbury’s principal private secretary, to Sir Arthur Bigge, the queen’s private secretary, refers to plans for the queen to visit St Paul’s Cathedral:
I fear you would find that the idea of bringing horses into the building would shock the people; why, however, should they not be taken out and H.M. drawn in procession up the aisle? It would be a magnificent spectacle, and would afford the Queen the minimum of discomfort.
In the end a compromise was reached: halfway round her three-hour procession route (see the image at the bottom of this article) Victoria’s carriage paused at the steps of St Paul’s, and she sat in it for a short open air service.
And here’s a queen’s eye view of the whole occasion…
20th June 1897
This eventful day, 1897, has opened & I pray God to help & protect me as He has hitherto done during these 60 long eventful years! … How well I remember this day 60 years ago when I was called from my bed by dear Mama to receive the news of my accession…
I, with all my family went to St. George’s Chapel, where a short, touching, service took place… This very impressive, but simple service, concluded with the National Anthem, which all joined in singing. I was much touched & overcome, especially when all my children & grandchildren, came up to me, & I kissed them, just as I did 10 years ago at Westminster Abbey… Felt rather nervous about the coming days & that all should go off well.
The 10th anniversary of the celebration of my 50 years Jubilee. — Breakfasted with my 3 daughters at the Cottage at Frogmore. A fine warm morning. — At ¼ to 12 we drove to the station to start for London… Passed through dense crowds, who gave me a most enthusiastic reception. It was like a triumphal entry… The streets were beautifully decorated, also the balconies of the houses, with flowers, flags & draperies of every hue. At Edgeware Road there were 2 more very fine arches. The streets, the windows, the roofs of the houses, were one mass of beaming faces & the cheers never ceased. On entering the Park, through the Marble Arch, the crowd was even greater, carriages were drawn up amongst the people on foot, even on the pretty little lodges, well dressed people were perched. Hyde Park Corner & Constitution Hill were densely crowded. All vied one with another to give me a heartfelt, loyal & affectionate welcome. I was deeply touched & gratified. The day had become very fine & very hot.
Reached the Palace shortly after 1, & Vicky [her daughter] at once brought me her 3 daughters, Charlotte, Vicky & Mossy, & Adolf… Then I was taken round in my wheeled chair to the Bow Room, where all my family awaited me… Seated in my chair, as I cannot stand long, I received all the foreign Princes in succession, beginning with the Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand… I got back to my room a little before 4, quite exhausted. Telegrams kept pouring in. It was quite impossible even to open them… After dinner went into the Ball Room… [She lists the many dignitaries presented to her.]
The Ball Room was very full & dreadfully hot, & the light very inefficient. It was only a little after 11, when I got back to my room, feeling very tired. There was a deal of noise in the streets, & we were told that many were sleeping out in the Parks.
A never to be forgotten day. No one ever I believe, has met with such an ovation as was given to me, passing through those 6 miles of streets, including Constitution Hill. The crowds were quite indescribable & their enthusiasm truly marvellous & deeply touching. The cheering was quite deafening, & every face seemed to be filled with real joy. I was much moved & gratified. — The night had been very hot & I was rather restless. There was such a noise going on the whole time, but it did not keep me from getting some sleep…
At ¼ p. 11, the others having been seated in their carriages long before, & having preceded me a short distance, I started from the State Entrance in an open state landau, drawn by 8 creams… I felt a good deal agitated, & had been so able these days, for fear anything might be forgotten or go wrong…
Before leaving I touched an electric button, by which I started a message which was telegraphed throughout the whole Empire. It was the following: “From my heart I thank my beloved people, may God bless them”. At this time the sun burst out… St. James’s Street was beautifully decorated with festoons of flowers across the road, & many loyal inscriptions. Trafalgar Square was very striking & outside the National Gallery stands were erected for the House of Lords. The denseness of the crowds was immense, but the order maintained wonderful. The streets in the Strand are now quite wide, but one misses Temple Bar. [This arch was the ceremonial entrance to the City of London, designed by Christopher Wren but dismantled and moved to Hertfordshire in 1880. In 2004 it was moved again, near to St. Paul’s.] Here, the Ld Mayor received me & presented the sword, which I touched. He then immediately mounted his horse, in his robes & galloped past bare headed carrying the sword, preceding my carriage accompanied by his Sheriffs. As we neared St. Paul’s the Procession was often stopped, & the crowds broke out into singing God Save the Queen. In one house were assembled the survivors of the Charge of Balaclava.
In front of the Cathedral, the scene was most impressive. All the Colonial troops, on foot, were drawn up round the Square. My carriage, surrounded by all the Royal Princes was drawn up close to the steps, where the Clergy were assembled, the Bishops, in rich copes, with their croziers, the Arch Bishop of Canterbury & the Bishop of London, each holding a very fine one. A Te Deum was sung, specially composed by Dr Martin, the Lord’s Prayer, most beautifully chanted, a special Jubilee prayer, & the benediction concluded the short service, preceded by the singing of the old 100th [a hymn tune, often used for ‘All People that on Earth Do Dwell’], in which everyone joined. God Save the Queen was also sung…
I stopped in front of the Mansion House, where the Lady Mayoress presented me with a beautiful silver basket, full of orchids. Here, I took leave of the Ld Mayor. Both he & the Lady Mayoress were quite émus [moved]. We proceeded over London Bridge, where no spectators were allowed, only troops, & then along the Borough Road, where there is a very poor population, but just as enthusiastic & orderly as elsewhere. The decorations there were very pretty, consisting chiefly of festoons of flowers, on either side of the street. Crossed the river again over Westminster Bridge, past the Houses of Parliament, through Whitehall, Parliament Street, which has been much enlarged, through the Horse Guards & down the Mall. The heat during the last hour was very great, & poor Ld Howe, who was riding as Gold Stick [a ceremonial guard role – the old gent in question was 75 at the time], fainted, & had a bad fall, but was not seriously hurt. Got home at ¼ to 2.
At her death she managed to pip him to the longest lifespan by just five days.