|As the nation prepares for Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee, let's take a look back at Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee celebrated in 1897|
While all of Britain are getting ready for the great festivities that will highlight Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, let us take a look back at Queen Victoria’s own Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 1897.
A Grand Celebration of Nations
Queen Victoria actually planned for a quieter, more restraint Jubilee event. But Joseph Chamberlain, secretary of State for the Colonies, thought everyone in the empire wanted to celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime celebration. And so, it went that way. Queen Victoria agreed and plans were laid to celebrate the grandest of all the festivities the British Empire had ever witnessed.
The accession anniversary of June 20, 1897 fell on a Sunday and was marked with special services around the country, with the Queen attending St George's Chapel, Windsor.
The day was declared a bank holiday in India as well as in Britain and Ireland. Among the many civic works erected, there were memorial fountains in the Seychelles as well as Manchester and municipal clock-towers in Penang, Malaysia, and Christchurch, New Zealand, as well as in Maidenhead and Chester.
Victoria was at the head of an empire that where the sun never set, with more than a quarter of the world's population under her rule.
The following day, she returned to London to receive foreign envoys. There was also a Torchlight Military Tattoo in the grounds of Buckingham Palace.
The official celebration of the Diamond Jubilee took place on Tuesday June 22 1897.
In the morning, the Queen transmitted a telegram across the world with the personal message: "From my heart I thank my beloved people. May God bless them."
Before the age of television, the only way to watch the festivities was to head to London and thousands of people flocked to the streets to catch a glimpse of Victoria's grand procession. Sailors in boaters pulled gun carriages on ropes while guards in bearskin hats and tunics lined the roads.
The highlight of the day itself - a generally bright day in an appalling year for British weather - was a procession along six miles of London streets of the extended Royal Family and the leaders of the self-governing dominions and Indian states. Among many others, the Indian Lancers in their turbans, the Jamaican Artillery and New Zealand Mounted Troops had travelled to take part in the parade, joined by the traditional Sovereign's Escort of the 2nd Life Guards.
The Queen-Empress was all garbed in her usual black silk dress, with a black bonnet decorated with white ostrich feathers and diamonds. She rode through the streets of London in a carriage to St Paul's Cathedral for a service, across London Bridge, through south London and back past Parliament to Buckingham Palace. The parade was witnessed by hundreds of thousands of spectators, huddled beneath bunting and banners - one of which declared Victoria "Queen of earthly Queens".
The experience was so touching, writing in her journal that night: "No-one ever, I believe, has met with such an ovation as was given to me, passing through those six miles of streets... The crowds were quite indescribable and their enthusiasm truly marvellous and deeply touching.
"The cheering was quite deafening and every face seemed to be filled with (real) joy."
There was one mishap during the procession when the elderly Gold Stick, Lord Howe - tasked with protecting the sovereign - fainted, although he did remount to be greeted by cheers from the crowd, according to Debrett's look back at the commemoration.
Vanity Fair, published on June 24 1897, declared that the Jubilee Day had strengthened the bonds of the British Empire thanks to the welcome visiting premiers and troops were given.
"For in Her Majesty, as she sat in her magnificent carriage, amid all the splendour of her court, the glistening of gold, the shining of sabres and the pomp of cavalry, in her quiet simple dress, all of us recognised a grand example of humility, of patience, of long suffering - in a word, womanliness."
In the evening on the official Jubilee Day, there was a grand dinner party at Buckingham Palace where the Queen's table was decorated with a 9ft high display of 60,000 orchids from every part of the then Empire, crafted into the shape of a crown. There were also royal engagements all week long including a State Ball at the Palace and a mass Naval review at Spithead in Hampshire attended by the then Prince of Wales and involving 165 ships. Jubilee hymns were commissioned and society garden parties hosted by various Countesses, while a reception and ball was held by the Corporation of the City of London at the Guildhall.
The celebrations had been the subject of tense negotiations between the officials of the Royal Household who said they were anxious to avoid "the expenses incurred to the Privy Purse" of the Golden Jubilee. In the end, the costs were split.
A Celebration of Generosity
But the heart of the celebration was actually generosity. The spirit of Victorian philanthropy was kept alive. Alexandra, Princess of Wales, held the biggest banquet in the world and feed some 400,000 of London's poor. She staged a series of vast Diamond Jubilee Feasts where everyone was welcome no matter what their background or what state their clothes were in. More than 700 tons of food was needed and 10,000 waiters with the meals sponsored by millionaire Sir Thomas Lipton. Diners ate roast ribs of beef and veal and ham pies, followed by dates, oranges and a drink of English ale or ginger beer and then pipes and tobacco.
The parties went on into the evening, with a chain of beacons lit across Britain; a series of civic festivities in the newly-created Jubilee cities of Nottingham, Bradford and Hull; fireworks displays; and the son et lumiere illumination of St Paul's for the first time. By order of the government, and to much disgust from the Temperance Movement, pubs remained open until 02:30.
It is not recorded whether Victoria - who was known as Drina within royal circles - enjoyed the following day as much, which included a meeting with 10,000 schoolchildren on a rainy Constitution Hill followed by a civic reception in Slough.
A Proud Empire
All the celebrations were very much focused on the empire, its success, its expansiveness and its seeming invincibility. Historian and writer Juliet Gardiner says: "The year could be seen as the apogee of British power... once the Boer War started it was clear that we were a bit friendless in Europe."
There were of course dissenters. James Connolly, the Edinburgh-born Irish nationalist, called the Jubilee a "feast of flunkeyism" and wrote: "Join your voice with ours in protesting against the base assumption that we owe to this empire any other debt than that of hatred of all its plundering institutions."
But in mainland Great Britain - and in many of the colonies, such opinions were rare. Gardiner adds: "Queen Victoria was held in great reverence by the nation. People simply couldn't imagine life without her on the throne. Before her reign, the monarchy had been pretty unpopular overall. She could be said to have re-established the people's support for the monarchy."
Queen Victoria's reign lasted until 1901, longer than anyone else in British history. At her death, Great Britain was at the zenith of her greatness as the world's biggest and most powerful country.