“England’s public parks and gardens have played a central role in the celebration and the commemoration of royal jubilees for more than two hundred years. The roll call of jubilee gardens, coronation parks, queen’s parks and parks named after princes and princesses reflect these special associations from the Victorian era to modern times. Many of these parks and gardens are of special historic interest and protected by designations.”
Those words of Baroness Andrews, the then chair of Historic England prefaced the publication in 2012 of Jubilee-ation a short history of Royal Jubilees in public park, to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. It was largely written by my fellow Gardens Trust trustee, David Lambert, and it remains a good read.
Ten years on with the first ever royal Platinum Jubilee I thought over the next couple of weeks it would be a nice gesture to look back at the subject again and also see how things have developed. But I’m going to start earlier than that.
We probably forget the rarity of such jubilee celebrations. George III’s Jubilee in 1809 was only the third occasion, after Henry III’s in 1266 and Edward III’s in 1377, that a monarch had reigned for 50 years, and his is the first to have any real records of the public celebrations. To be honest I hadn’t realised there were any and then supposed that his jubilee would only have been marked in a comparatively low-keyed way. After all George was not in good health and, unlike the jubilees of Queen Victoria one never sees images or reads much about any celebrations. However I was, as so often, proved mistaken.
The date chosen for the event was the 25th October 1809, the first day of the fiftieth year of his reign, rather than the same date in 1810 when he would have completed a full 50 years. Surprisingly, unlike today, planning didn’t seem to have started until a couple of months beforehand. A recent book, A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs, even suggests that little would have been done at all except for a campaign started by her writing letters, anonymously, to the press. Certainly the letters were printed in almost every newspaper – national and local – and then slowly details began to emerge as each community generally decided how it was to mark the occasion.
Although it was generally popular – any excuse for a party with lots of booze, roast ox and plum pudding – not everyone was happy. The Napoleonic Wars were still raging all over Europe with the British army suffering heavy losses that year at Corunna, Talavera and in the Walcheren expedition. Taxes were high to help pay for the war so there were references in satirical cartoons like the one above/left while radical papers like William Cobbett’s Weekly Political Register railed: “A Jubilee, indeed! A proposition for dancing and singing and ringing and rejoicing, while the nation is weeping over the scenes at Talavera …[Saturday 23 September 1809] Cobbett himself was satirised for reputedly saying “The Jubilee—a Damned Ministerial Humbug upon the country”.
And if anyone has a clue what is going on in this “skit note” [as the British Museum calls it] please let me know because although I’ve tracked own some of the people named I can’t string the story together and the British Museum webpage doesn’t have any further information.
Nevertheless the nation rose to the occasion with, as the New Annual Register for 1809 makes clear, London in particular leading the way. Public and private buildings were opened and illuminated, a processional arch was erected, there were military parades , fireworks, great feasts and even free dinners and gifts of money for the poor. There were also commemorative medals a-plenty to suit every pocket from gold down to the cheapest white metal.
The city’s open spaces and parks played their part. The guards assembled in St. James’s park, and fired a feu de joi and all round the capital other regiments and the militia did the same. The Queen’s Royal Volunteers, for example, did so at Battersea, while in response on the opposite bank Lord Cremorne organised a cannonade from within his garden at Chelsea.
Nearby at Vauxhall Gardens pleasure grounds “The whole front was so mechanically arranged as to represent a brilliant temple of loyalty, upwards of 70 feet in height, closely studded with variegated lamps, each compartment displaying different splendid and appropriate devices, in number exactly fifty, and terminating with an imperial crown, and other regal insignia. This had a very grand and striking effect, as the crown alone contained upwards of 1000 lamps.”
Meanwhile down at Windsor the king himself, aged 71 and not in good health, marked the day quietly attending, with other members of the Royal Family, a private service in St George’s chapel. However later that evening “the queen gave a most superb fête at Frogmore, which in point of taste, splendour, and brilliancy has on no occasion been excelled.”
Apparently as many as 1200 people were invited and “at half past nine the gates were thrown open for the nobility, gentry, and others having tickets of admission. On the entrance into the gardens, the spectator was struck with astonishment and delight at the charming and fanciful scene of variegated lamps of different figures and colours. The avenues and walks were hung with brilliant coloured lamps in the shape of watchmen’s lanterns. The lawns adjoining to the house afforded a rich display of the choicest shrubs and plants, taken from the green-house.”
The lawns also housed “twelve beautiful marquees where the company partook of tea and coffee during the fire-works.” When the pyrotechnics finished “there appeared of a sudden, and as it were by magic, on the beautiful piece of water opposite the garden front of the house, two triumphal cars, drawn by two sea-horses each, one occupied by Neptune, and preceded by the other with a band of music. The cars had a very superb appearance…”
“On coming to the temporary bridge erected over the canal opposite the garden front, transparencies were displayed in an equally sudden and unexpected manner on the battlements, with the words “Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves!” inscribed on them. At the same moment the band struck up the tune….”
“Opposite the bridge, an elegant Grecian temple [designed by George’s daughter Princess Elizabeth] was erected on a mount, surrounded by eight beautiful marble pillars. The interior of the temple was lined with purple; and in the centre was a large transparency of the Eye of Providence, fixed, as it were, upon, a beautiful portrait of his majesty, surmounted by stars of lamps.”
In the town of Windsor itself Bachelors’ Acre, the space used for markets and fairs near the centre of the town, was given over for an ox roast for the benefit of the town’s poorest inhabitants. Although George himself was too ill to attend, Queen Charlotte did and seems to have enjoyed herself.
A contemporary report stated: ‘The Duke of Sussex, with his hat off, held the tray from which Queen took two or three pieces of beef and bread. The Duke of Clarence distributed the plum pudding.’ And, in addition to such patriotic food, there were of course plenty of fireworks.
Elsewhere in the country celebrations were also much more widespread than one might have expected given the short amount of time that was available for planning. An Acccount of the celebration of the jubilee, on the 25th October, 1809 shows, county by county, how church services, illuminations, fireworks, military parades and fusillades dinners and gifts of money to pensioners and the poor seem to have happened everywhere. Town councils opened their guildhalls for grand dinners and aristocrats their estates for entertainment for tenants and workers.
However few did what Windsor did and follow it up with a permanent reminder of the event. The following year an obelisk was put up on Bachelors’ Acre with a plaque reading: “Grand National Jubilee celebrated 25 October 1809. The Bachelors of Windsor hereby gratefully record the condescension of HM Queen Charlotte and her August Family in honouring them with their presence in this Acre to witness the roasting of an ox, the gift of R O Fenwick Esq of the Royal Horse Guards Blue, of which as also Plum Puddings provided by the Bachelors, they graciously partook amidst the acclamation of the joyful populace to whom this old English Fare was distributed”.
Where places did commemorate the jubilee with a monument it tended to be at the behest of a local dignitary or landowner.
For example, another obelisk was put up at in the square of Broughton-in-Furness in the Lake District by the widow of John Gilpin Sawrey, the local lord of the manor, from nearby Broughton Tower who had laid out the square as a planned development in 1760, the year of George’s accession.
Perhaps the best known of these permanent reminders is the king’s statue at Weymouth, where he had spent many holidays and as a consequence brought considerable prosperity to the town. It was first suggested as early as 1802 and indeed duly designed and made in Coade stone – very appropriate as not only did Eleanor Coade have a house in Lyme Regis just along the coast but she had a royal appointment to George III for whom she made the Gothic screen at St George’s Chapel, Windsor.
But the king fell ill in 1805 so the plan was mothballed and the monument put into storage and forgotten about until the jubilee provided another opportunity for it to be erected. [Reminds me of the story of the Albert memorial in Swanage] Apparently, and rather bizarrely it was originally painted bronze and only given a more realistic finish after the second world war. It stands in the middle of the town and acted as a focal point for community events including queen Victoria’s jubilees. Vandalised at the beginning of this century the statue was restored again in 2007/8 with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. This involved replacing the iron framework with a stainless steel one and repainting after stripping off twenty layers of paint.
A second larger than life statue of George was commissioned by Robert Hobart, the 4th Earl of Buckinghamshire for display on Dunston Pillar to replace the lantern. If that sounds strange its because the pillar which was erected in 1751 by Sir Francis Dashwood (of West Wycombe and the Hellfire Club) was the first, indeed probably only land light-house and supposedly designed to help guide travellers across an area frequented by highwaymen. It stood 92ft high and soon became a popular gathering place for picnics and games as, Sir Francis had planted trees round the tower and added a bowling green. Later a dining room was built encouraging a local vicar to dub it “the Vauxhall” of Lincolnshire.
The king had already lost part of an arm when he was taken down from the Pillar in 1941 because he was thought to pose a hazard to low flying aircraft from the local RAF airfield. The statue was further broken while being dismantled. The pieces ended up in storage in Lincoln castle where it remained until the early 1970s when the bust was put on display in the grounds.
Further restoration was carried out in 2010 but as far as I can see there are no plans to repair the broken sections and re-assemble the rest.
There is a much fuller history of the pillar and statue by the Folly Flaneuse which makes a really good read, as do all her posts of course!
According to Jubilee Jottings by Thomas Preston, more statues were planned. A column was started at Chester, and foundations laid for others at Bristol and Liverpool. The Bristol one was definitely erected because it was destroyed by protestors in 1813 but I cannot find any more information about the others. Get in touch if you know more!
In North Wales a tower rather like a 3-tiered Egyptian obelisk was commissioned – by a group of the local gentry headed by Lord Kenyon of Hanmer and the wonderfully named Rev Whitehall Whitehall Davies and supported by a donation of of 100 guineas from the future Prince Regent. It was to stand on top of Moel Famau, a hill on the Flintshire- Denbighshire border. Designed by Thomas Harrison of Chester, the foundation stone was laid in 1810 at a ceremony attended by thousands of people.
Its design was unusual to say the least and it’s often thought that it was unfinished. However Charles Stephenson who has researched it thinks it was. It was clearly not very well built and had to be substantially repaired in the 1840s before then being partially destroyed by a terrible storm in 1862. Two thirds – some 35m – of the tower fell. As so often it was declared unsafe and so instead of being repaired the rest was then reduced almost to ground level.
That pleased the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins who recounted a walk to see the remains of the “ugly and trumpery construction, make believe-massive… that cumbers the hilltop and interrupts the view.”
In 1970 a group of volunteers carried out further essential repairs and installed some plane tables and other visitor information. Their work won the Prince of Wales Countryside Award and the tower’s remnants now form the centrepiece of the Moel Famau Country Park and it’s estimated it’s visited by more than 200,000 visitors a year.
West Wales too has its monument: A rustic stone arch. It was commissioned by Thomas Johnes of Hafod and marks the point where the road across the Cambrians to Rhayader and becomes the ‘mountain road’. Until only a couple of years ago the road actually ran through it although now it has been bypassed and stands in a picnic area.
Finally, perhaps the oddest of all the permanent landmarks is a large smooth boulder on Bodmin Moor. That might sound a bit odd as a memorial, but according to the Parochial History of the County of Cornwall of 1867 the Jubilee Rock at Blisland had designs carved on it by a naval officer who was home in Cornwall on sick leave. He cut the arms of Falmouth and the local gentry families who owned that stretch of the moor – the Morsheads and the Molesworths- and then added the figure of Britannia as seen on a penny coin [remember her and them?], a beehive, ship, plough and the Cornish Arms surmounted by the Prince of Wales [also Duke of Cornwall] plume of feathers. Other carvings have been been added since including those to commemorate the golden jubilees of Queen Victoria in 1887 and of the present Queen in 2002, and again in 2012 for her diamond jubilee.
And talking of that I hope to report on some of the myriad public parks and gardens that are associated with Victoria’s jubilees next week.