Heritage: Royal wedding fever in Romford - for the future Edward VII
PUBLISHED: 08:00 19 May 2018
PA Archive/PA Images
As Prince Harry and Meghan prepare for their nuptials today, Prof Ged Martin looks back at a Victorian royal wedding
Major royal weddings usually take place in London, but in 1863 the future King Edward VII – eldest son of Queen Victoria and her humourless husband Albert – got married at Windsor.
Two years earlier, then aged 19, the Prince of Wales – “Bertie” to his family – had been sent to Ireland (still part of the UK) for intensive military training.
Army officers took pity on his strict upbringing, and helpfully smuggled an actress into his bed. (In those days, the term “actress” had a range of meanings).
Inevitably, Bertie’s parents heard about the escapade and – equally predictably – they were shocked.
On a November day, Albert took Bertie for a long walk so they could have a Serious Talk. Father and son got soaked in a rainstorm. Albert became ill. Three weeks later, he died.
He’d probably already caught typhoid – Victorian drains could be lethal.
We’ll never know: it was said that Albert’s personal physician wasn’t fit to treat a sick cat.
Victoria, never Bertie’s biggest fan, insisted her husband had died of a broken heart.
But the heir to the throne had discovered sex, and had to be married off, fast. The bride must be a nice girl, a princess and a Protestant.
Alexandra of Denmark ticked the boxes. The youngsters met, and obediently fell in love. And so, in March 1863 as in May 2018, Windsor celebrated.
Romford also took “active and vigorous measures to celebrate the nuptials of the Prince of Wales”.
The town’s biggest employer, Ind Coope’s brewery, presented new uniforms to the local band, and allowed its employees the day off.
Each brewery worker was given two pounds of meat, two pounds of bread – and four pints of ale. Married men with families received extra – extra food, that is.
Funds collected to support the poor through the previous winter were diverted to give local schoolchildren “a good English dinner”.
One well-wisher provided rosettes for policemen. Another wealthy resident offered “two ounces of good tea” plus a pound of sugar to every poor widow in Romford.
It seems poor widows didn’t drink much tea.
In the evening of the big day, important local buildings – the town’s bank and court house – were “illuminated”. This involved placing candles and oil lamps in the windows.
Brentwood went one better, persuading its local Volunteer soldiers to fire a 21-gun salute!
Havering-atte-Bower was conscious of its history as a “royal village” (there’d once been a palace there).
Local gentry forked out to ensure “the day was celebrated in the most enthusiastic manner”.
There were flags and banners everywhere. Gifts of over 500 pounds of beef provided the poor with a decent feed. Bread and beer were included too.
Havering-atte-Bower’s schoolchildren were lavished with eggs, plum puddings, buns, oranges (a rare luxury), figs and gingerbread, “to the joy of their young hearts”. They were also each given sixpence (just over 2p).
Youngsters paraded the village singing God Save the Queen and “merry glees”. At night, there was a huge bonfire on the Green.
But there was little local interest in a later royal event, the July 1893 wedding of Victoria’s grandson, Prince George, to Princess May of Teck.
She’d been engaged to George’s elder brother, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, known as “Eddy”.
Eddy’s tutor politely described his mind as “abnormally dormant”. Had Eddy become king, Britain would probably now be a republic. In fact, he suddenly caught ‘flu and died.
Suitable royal brides were scarce, so Princess May was traded on to the next brother.
Tactfully, Romford people were reported to be “exhausted” by organising a recent agricultural show. In truth, this arranged marriage inspired little sentimentality.
The town managed “a moderate display of flags”. Some shops closed so people could watch a cricket match against a team from Hackney.
The royal couple later became King George V and Queen Mary.