My View, Mel Hewitt: When Queen Victoria came to our town

Portrait of Queen Victoria s at  Cliffe Castle Museum, Keighley,  Picture Bruce Rollinson
Portrait of Queen Victoria s at Cliffe Castle Museum, Keighley, Picture Bruce Rollinson

Have you caught ‘Victoria’ fever yet?

Come Sunday when Poldark returns will you be torn between the rustling silk skirts and tiaras of Buck House and the charismatic Cornish cliffhanger?

I am enjoying Victoria even though I have always found her a monarch who is quite difficult to like or admire.

Yes, she was a woman striving to be Queen and Empress in a man’s world – but what a wilful, petulant, annoying madam she seems to have been!

Her only saving grace for me is that she could draw and paint a little.

Once her husband Albert – a dedicated, workaholic, Renaissance man – died aged 42 in 1861, she pretty much ‘stopped the clocks’. She kept this up with stubborn tenacity for 40 years.

Around her the great men and women of the age, engineers, writers, reformers and revolutionaries shaped the age that bears her name.

Before her beloved Consort’s death she did venture out more and 165 years ago this week visited Doncaster.

I first heard about this visit in 1991 when my office was based at The Mansion House.

Enjoying a tour of the building one afternoon, the House’s Superintendant showed me a gorgeous black oak and red velvet upholstered chair. It was low and wide without arms.

Invited to sit I was delighted to find that it was perfectly proportioned for my height. At five feet nothing I am used to my legs dangling from seats and sofas. The chair was made for Victoria – also a woman of small stature. The chair had no arms in order to accommodate her voluminous skirts and allow them to flow regally to the floor.

The royal couple arrived in our town on August 27, 1851 – the year of the famous Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace. With them were their four eldest children,including the future Edward VII and The Princess Royal, Vicky who became Queen of Prussia and later mother of Kaiser Wilhelm.

The family stayed for one night, en route to Balmoral, at The Angel Inn (later renamed the Angel and Royal in honour of their distinguished guests) on Frenchgate.

Sadly it was demolished in 1962 to make way for The Arndale centre. There are still photographs of the Inn, where Dickens also stayed, which show an elegant sash and bow-windowed façade.

The town apparently was overjoyed at the visit, although Victoria took part in no official engagements. No plaques were unveiled or projects visited.

Ten years later with Albert’s death, she only seemed to have the energy to try and keep control of her vast European-wide family. That sadly became her aim for the rest of her life.

Victoria, reclusive Queen of a global empire.