As Queen Elizabeth celebrates a remarkable attainment, as Britain’s longest reigning monarch, I thought it might be interesting to have find out how Birmingham celebrated the previous record holder’s reign. I found an article in Aris’s, July 2nd, 1838 that reported on local celebrations for Victoria’s coronation and of course, ‘the Coronation was observed in this town in a manner suitable to the occasion’.
On the day of the coronation, Thursday June 28th, ‘the Churches of the Establishment were opened for the performance of divine worship, and appropriate sermons were preached’. Sunday school children from different congregations were treated to a free lunch of ‘good English fare’ after which they all joined together in singing the National Anthem. They then joined with children from the Wesleyan Methodist chapels, around 4,000 all together, and formed a procession to Holloway Head (then an open patch of waste ground) where they were ‘addressed by their Ministers’. The children then ‘to the delight of all surrounders, sung a hymn and God Save the Queen in a very effective manner’. The children from other Nonconformist chapels appear to have had separate celebrations: ‘The children of Carr’s Lane, Ebenezer and other Dissenting congregations were assembled, addressed and regaled; and the children of the Old and New Meeting congregations were addressed , and afterwards proceeded to a field at Highgate where they had refreshments’.
The celebrations were not reserved only for the pious and the young. At 1 o’clock ‘the doors of the Market Hall were thrown open and an interesting sight presented itself of tables most judiciously arranged and abundantly provided for dining four thousand of the industrious classes of both sexes, who were admitted by the tickets of subscribers to the fund raised for the purpose.’ It was a feast indeed, and those industrious men and women must have felt a great cordiality towards the Queen for the food given in her honour! ‘The fare consisted of roast beef and plum pudding, with a quart of ale to each guest. The Hall was most tastefully decorated, and too much commendation cannot be bestowed on the zeal and judgement manifested in the arrangements made by the gentlemen of the committee’. As well as the feast, the guests were treated to a band of musicians who played ‘in the intervals of the festive scene’. The Rev. William Marsh said ‘grace’ and at the end of the meal the High Bailiff raised the toast ‘the Queen, God bless her’ at which all in the hall rose and ‘responded most joyously’. Another toast was raised by Mr. Scholefield ‘though a foreigner by birth, she is in heart and feeling an Englishwoman’ and a final toast was given to ‘the Town and Trade of Birmingham’.
There were other feasts provided for the workers of Birmingham: 1500 sat down to dinner at Bindley’s Horse Repository, and ‘various parties of workmen were provided for by their masters’. Food was also distributed to households not partaking in the organised celebrations, while ‘the inmates of the Workhouse and Asylum were suitably entertained’.
At 3pm the public procession began, leading off from the still new Town Hall, and Aris’s reveals the order of that very grand sounding march of local dignitaries:
The procession moved through Ann St., Colmore Row, Bull St., High St., Digbeth, Smithfield, Bromsgrove St., the Horsefair, Smallbrook St., Worcester St., New St. and back to the Town Hall – which I think would certainly have walked those big dinners off!
In the evening there was a ‘thinly attended’ ball at the Town Hall and an ‘Illumination’, I’m afraid I have no clue what this was (would be very grateful of answers though), but which was described as ‘not general, but very good and such as gave life to the town until a late hour’. Other evening events seem to have been largely private affairs, with lots of hotel dinners.
Children and feasting for all appear to have been central to the celebrations – and perhaps we see already here, right at the beginning of the period, what would become a copule of the defining features of the Victorian age, the family and philanthropy. The report on Birmingham’s celebrations ends,
Beyond comparison, however, the most gratifying of all the scenes were those in which, within the limits of the borough, nearly fifteen thousand Children connected with the schools were enabled to partake of the joys of the day, and to unite their voices in imploring blessings on a reign in which their happiness is so especially involved.
I searched Aris’s Gazette using the British Newspaper Archives subscription service. Birmingham newspapers are also archived and can be viewed free of charge at the Local Studies Centre, 4th floor, Library of Birmingham. Our local archives are currently under threat because of financial cuts and many staff have already been lost. Please support our local archives, without them we have no history!