The day Queen Victoria brought joy and celebration to the Black Country
ORDINARY Blackby Country folk hadn’t AWORKMAN lot to cheer about during the bleak years of the Industrial Revolution, when hard work and surviving pitiful living conditions outweighed any chance to enjoy even a modest social life and leisure time.
So when the word was bandied about that the Queen of England was coming to town a celebration of hysteria broke out both in Wolverhamprton, her ultimate destination and right across the whole of the Black Country and beyond. The chances of ever seeeing the Queen again in a live situation were remote to say the least and every man and his wife wanted to be present on November 30 1866.
Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert were an adoring couple, so when Albert died in 1861 Victoria was distraught with grief and retreated from public life, until the widows of Wolverhampton, sympathetic to her situation, persuaded her to change her mind. They had sent her a letter which Victoria found deeply moving and despite invitations from cities such as Manchester and Liverpool, she declared that if she appeared again at a public function it would be Wolverhampton.
The death of Albert, who had been a much loved and admired Prince Consort throughout the country, sparked a race to erect statues in his honour. In Wolverhampton the Mayor, George Underhill, led fund-raising for a commission to sculptor Thomas Thornycroft, well known for statues of Boudicca and Queen Victoria herself, to produce one for the town.
The Queen was consulted on this and she requested the carved image of Prince Albert should show him riding his favourite horse. The horse and Albert’s uniform were put at the sculptor’s disposal and the Queen herself went to Thornycroft’s studio to see how the statue was progressing. The work of art was completed at a cost of £1150 and Queen Victoria herself decided on the date for the unveiling, Friday November 30.
Needless to say the town of Wolverhampton was thrown into chaotic celebration. The statue was erected on a plinth in High Green, and a grandstand and scarlet and gold pavilion were constructed nearby for 2,000 invited guests. Routes to High Green from Low Level Station had been chosen to allow as many people as possible the chance to see the Queen and her entourage. Everywhere streets had been decorated extensively, houses cleaned, even painted and extra decorations added.
Low Level Station was also used for holding the Queen’s refreshments after the ceremony and local builder Henry Lovatt had been charged with the job of creating three classes of dining room and even more classes of lavatories for the Queen and her attendees.
As you might expect Friday November 30 was cold with a winter chill, but nevertheless it had been declared a holiday to enable as many people as possible to witness the arrival of Queen Victoria, and during the morning thousands of people began to fill the streets, specially hired trains from Birmingham, Worcester, Stafford, Stoke and other Black Country towns, swelling the numbers. Royal protocol meant Victoria not only had to travel in the Royal train, but the short journey from the station to High Green had to be completed in the Royal coaches and several of these had been brought up from London during the week and kept at the Swan Hotel, High Green.
The Royal party arrived at 1.08pm and included the Prince and Princess Christian and Princess Louise and the famous John Brown, the Queen’s manservant. A Royal salute was fired by the Artillery Volunteers which sent a signal to St Peters Church to start a peal of bells. The procession left the station to tulmultuous applause, cheering and shouting, a day never before witnessed in Wolverhampton or anywhere else in the Black Country.
The Royal coach passed through an arch of coal that had been specially made for the visit with the words “Welcome to our Queen” clearly visible, and proceeded towards High Green. Amid the cheering of thousands of voices the Queen took her seat and then a silence overtook everyone’s excitement as the Bishop of Lichfield delivered a prayer. Then the Recorder read from the illuminated address with the Corporate Seal, inviting the Queen, when she was ready, to unveil the statue of her beloved Albert. The Mayor, John Morris, then handed this Address to the Queen who was so impressed with the reception she had received from the people of Wolverhampton and the Black Country, she called for a sword and to everyone’s astonishment told John Morris to kneel and knighted him on the spot. At this point the cheering crowd who had just seen this incredible gesture cheered even louder. The Queen was now ready to unveil the statue and a very proud Thomas Thorneycroft did the honours.
With the unveiling ceremony complete the Queen and her entourage returned to their Royal coaches and made their way back to the station for a late luncheon. The Queen would once again have passed underneath the arch of coal, the perfect symbol to describe the Black Country at the time. Soon after 3.45pm the Royal train left for London.
The Queen may have left, leaving memories to be told and retold down the generations, but the celebrations of her visit carried on well into the night with a firework display held at the Race Course, now West Park.
As a result of Queen Victoria’s famous visit on November 30 1866, High Green was renamed Queen Square and adjacent Cock Street became
The famous Wolverhampton coal arch at Low Level Station November 30 1866
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert very much in love
Prince Albert’s statue