Queen Victoria’s 200th anniversary - Why are we all still fascinated by her era?
May 24, 2019, is the 200th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birth. Various celebrations are lined up nationally - but what is the monarch’s legacy in East Anglia?
There are memories of the Victorian age all around us - from churches, museums, factories and other buildings to the great 19th-century novels and Dickensian fairs and Christmas celebrations.
But Victoria, the teenage queen who became the grandmother of the nation, also still holds a unique place in the public consciousness.
Many may struggle to recognise images of some other monarchs, such as her predecessor, William IV, or even to remember exactly when they reigned.
There’s no danger of that with Victoria, though. Her figure, made familiar by countless statues and portraits, is still instantly recognisable - and her most famous saying, “We are not amused,” is constantly quoted.
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Partly it is the sheer length of her reign that fascinates, even though she is now only the second longest-reigning monarch, having been on the throne for 63 years, compared to her great-great-granddaughter’s 67 years so far.
Victoria’s very public marriage to Prince Albert, who was also born 200 years ago, on August 26, 1819, and her many years of mourning after his death in 1861, are all part of the fascination too.
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She was in many ways the first monarch to lead her life in the eye of the media, with the invention of photography and the spread of newspapers and magazines, as well as her travels both in Britain and abroad. She can even be glimpsed in her old age in tiny snippets of surviving film.
Here in East Anglia, huge crowds turned out to celebrate her Golden Jubilee in 1887. Then they did it again for her Diamond Jubilee 10 years later, when Norwich marketplace saw one of the biggest events in the area.
In 2012, when residents of Aylsham in north Norfolk organised a party for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, they took the town’s huge party of 1897 as their inspiration.
Numerous permanent memorials of these occasions were set up, including Swaffham Cottage Hospital, founded in 1887 to mark the Golden Jubilee, and a set of cottages built in Heacham to commemorate the 1897 jubilee.
Attleborough’s jubilee pump was built to mark Queen Victoria’s 60th anniversary, and refurbished for our current Queen’s Golden Jubilee.
Statues to Queen Victoria were also erected around the region. Some are still there, such as the imposing statue on Marine Parade in Dovercourt, which is one of the most famous local landmarks.
Others, though, have not survived. The massive statue of Victoria unveiled in 1904 in Christchurch Park, in Ipswich town centre, was demolished during the Second World War, with its metal being melted down for munitions.
A statue of Prince Albert stands outside Framlingham College in Suffolk - or, to give the private school its full original name, the Albert Memorial College. The school was set up by public subscription as the county’s memorial to the Prince Consort.
The Suffolk Victoria Nursing Institute in Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, was built as a memorial to Queen Victoria,
Events to mark 200th anniversary
To mark the 200th anniversary, a wide range of Victorian-themed events are being planned. Holkham Hall has opened up new rooms to see this year, where visitors can follow in the footsteps of the 16-year-old Princess Victoria, who visited in 1835. You can also see state rooms used in the filming of recent docudramas about Victoria and Albert.
The Suffolk Record Office in Lowestoft is holding a free “Queen Victoria at 200” exhibition from May 1 to July 31, showcasing all things Victorian.
The programme of guided walks in Ipswich includes a “Victorian Ipswich” walk on Tuesday, May 14, which will explore how the benefactors of Ipswich introduced important improvements to the town and built some of its most important buildings. An earlier walk, in February, explored the areas visited by Prince Albert when he came to the town in 1851.
And a “Norwich in the Victorian Age” guided walking tour will be held on the 200th anniversary itself, Friday, May 24, as well as several walks on other dates.
Nationally, a number of special events are being held, including exhibitions at Kensington Palace and Buckingham Palace, a “Royalty and Splendour” tour of the Houses of Parliament, and a display of Victoria’s sapphire and diamond coronet, designed by Prince Albert, at the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Two commemorative coins are being issued by the Royal Mint, and there will also be a special set of stamps.
Giving children a taste of Victorian times
Maybe we can’t climb into a time machine and take a trip back to the 19th century. But many youngsters have done the next-best thing over the years, by taking part in Victorian days at schools and museums across the area.
The events are great fun, of course, offering the chance to dress up in caps, gowns and other 19th-century clothing.
But they also have a serious educational purpose, giving children a taste of how times in their own home area have changed since that era.
Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse in Norfolk regularly holds immersive “living history” Victorian activity days, where children meet costumed characters, both rich and poor, and engage in learning sessions in the Victorian schoolroom, cottage kitchen, workhouse and laundry.
There is also an element of mystery for the day, as the children are asked to help investigate who has stolen a pair of silver candlesticks from the workhouse chapel.
Victorian buildings in East Anglia - embodying the spirit of the age
What are the most important Victorian buildings in the area? We asked Tom Taylor of the Victorian Society, who said it was impossible to give a definitive answer.
However, he and his colleagues suggested these seven interesting buildings to look at, to give “a flavour of the things Victorians did to contribute to the built environment”.
• Sandringham House and Gardens — Although Sandringham was the home of future Edward VII, then the Prince of Wales, rather than his mother, it is an important Victorian house and garden, and fascinating because of its continued use by the royal family.
• Elveden Hall, Suffolk — This large country mansion was built for the Prince Frederick Duleep Singh, formerly Maharajah of the Punjab, then extended for the Guinness family. It has been used as a filming location for many films, including Eyes Wide Shut and Stardust.
• Fisons Factory, Bramford, Ipswich — This was one of the Victorian Society’s top 10 endangered buildings in 2017, and there has recently been a major fire in offices at the site. The factory played an important role in the development of super-phosphate fertilisers.
• Norwich Station (previously known as Norwich Thorpe)- Railways were key to the Victorian age. Designed by John Wilson in 1886, the station includes an imposing dome above the central bay and classical decoration in the foyer, as well as many other features.
• Huntingfield Church, Suffolk — While the church itself dates from the 15th century, it is a spectacular example of a Victorian church restoration, with amazingly elaborate and colourful ceiling paintings by Mildred Holland, the wife of the rector. Other features include a late 19th-century tall canopied font cover. The Victorian Society says this church expresses the spirit of restoration and a particular do-it-yourself attitude.
• Cromer Pier - Piers were a quintessential Victorian contribution to the coastline. This famous traditional pier was built right at the end of the Victorian era, in 1900-1901. It recently hit the national headlines when it featured in the BBC’s Christmas station ident.
• Great Yarmouth Winter Gardens — This amazing iron and glass structure was constructed in Torquay between 1878 and 1881, but moved to Great Yamouth in 1904, reputedly without a single pane of glass being broken. It was listed in the Victorian Society’s 10 most endangered buildings list last year, but a rescue deal could now be in sight after Great Yarmouth Borough Council said last month that it was seeking an investor to make the building a major regional attraction.