Diaries and journals are great resources for historians giving a contemporary view on events and at LSE we have a wide collection of diaries from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. With the Diamond Jubilee weekend approaching I decided to see what some of our diaries had to say about Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in June 1897. I came up with accounts by three women each with a different perspective on the event.
Kate Courtney, sister of Beatrice Webb
Kate Courtney (1847-1929), Beatrice Webb’s sister and wife of the Liberal politician, Leonard Courtney (1832-1918) had trained as a social worker with the Charity Organisataion Society and worked at Toynbee Hall. She was also a keen internationalist who strongly opposed the Boer War. In 1897 Leonard Courtney was MP for Bodmin and they spent jubilee week in London and had a view of the royal procession from the Houses of Parliament. Despite the couples anti-imperialism Kate Courtney was generally enthusiastic about the event but it didn’t warrant more than a brief paragraph in her diary:
‘A wonderful week. Surely never did a few days give enjoyment to a greater number and with not a single bad accident as far as we know……11.30 by steamboat to the House of Commons. The cloudy morning became a brilliant hot day about that time and we lingered on the Terrace and about the House until 10 o clock when we took our seats and immediately after the procession went past. After the Queen perhaps the most interesting part was the troops and mounted police of our Colonies and Dependencies – every shade of race and colour and all sorts of costumes & they had a great reception.’
Twenty five year old Violet Markham (1872-1959), who counted Joseph Paxton designer of the Crystal Palace, amongst her ancestors, was down from Chesterfield for the event. She was later to be active in the organisation of women’s labour in both World Wars. Violet had great fun over the three days of celebrations and and wrote pages about her activities over the Jubilee weekend describing the decorations, processions, crowds and parties. Violet thought that the best street decorations were to be found on Piccadilly but felt:
‘one grows a little tired of the endless combinations of red, white & blue. But there can be no doubt the loyalty & enthusiasm of London are universal. No house, however poor, is without a bit of bunting or a Union Jack of sorts.’
I think I might agree this year about the ubiquity of red, white and blue!
Violet watched the procession from the Reform Club with her family. She would have agreed with Kate Courtney about the representatives from across the Empire. However, it was her impression of Queen Victoria which created the greatest surprise:
‘I was delightfully surprised when the carriage with the eight cream horses came into view. I thought I should see a poor little shrunk old woman looking worn and overdone. But on the contrary there was a bonny old lady sitting smiling and upright & as spry & capable as one could wish. She really looked ten years younger than when I saw her last at Cimiez & so well!! ‘
The following night she went out with friends to see the illuminations but spent most of the evening stuck in a carriage jam:
‘The traffic was stopped in the Strand, Piccadilly and St James & down the City. It was a wonderful sight the dense wedge of carriages & ominibuses….The good temper of this densely packed mass of humanity was incredible, chaff, jokes, drinks & concertinas were the order of the day.’
Not everyone was so immersed in the celebration and spectacle and some were distancing themselves from the events. Beatrice Webb (1858-1943), one of LSE’s founders and Kate Courtney’s sister, provides a very different view of the event from her vantage point of a holiday in the Surrey hills.
‘June 22nd Jubilee Day. Brilliant summer sun veiled with mist, absolute stillness in the country – no sound except an occasional cock crowing – all the countryside has moved into London. The little town of Dorking also deserted – the flags flying disconsolate in villa and cottage.’
Beatrice enjoyed the warm summer’s day out in the fields noticing the flowers and the sky. A few days later Beatrice returned to London:
‘Back in London: Imperialism in the air – all classes drunk with sight seeing and hysterical loyalty.’
Beatrice Webb, 1904
So whether you are staying in London to view the pageant, running the local street party or escaping to the country – have a good long weekend.