Happy Birthday Dear Victoria... A Royal Day At Blists Hill

By Roslyn Tappenden | 03 June 2005
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a photo of a group of re-enactors wearing uniforms of Victorian soldiers and marching together

A birthday guard of honour fit for a queen. Photo: James Maskrey.

24 Hour Museum Renaissance Student Writer Roslyn Tappenden was lucky enough to get an invite to a right royal birthday party.

Blists Hill Victorian Town sprang to life over the May bank holiday weekend as the residents and workers of the town came out in force to celebrate Queen Victoria’s 81st birthday.

Celebrating the year 1900, the streets of Blists Hill, near Ironbridge, Shropshire, were awash with colour over the May bank holiday as townsfolk decorated the streets with red, white and blue bunting in anticipation of Her Majesty’s special day.

Visitors to the town were greeted by a ceremonial arch, covered in ivy and decked with flags, bearing the words, ‘God save the Queen’.

Shows a photograph of a town crier in full ceremonial dress and clanging a bell.

Shrewsbury Town Crier, Martin Wood greets guests at Queen Victoria's birthday party. Photo: James Maskrey.

The celebrations were overseen by the Shrewsbury Town Crier, Martin Wood, who celebrated 20 years in his job last week.

“Town criers are a dying breed in the age of Queen Victoria,” said Martin, “The introduction of printing presses and more schools means people are getting their information elsewhere.

“At the end of the 1700s there were three-and-a-half thousand town criers across the country but in 1900 there are just 110 of us,” he added.

Local landowner, the Earl of Craven, paid for much of the celebrations. As a friend and confidant of Queen Victoria, he was keen to prove to Her Majesty that he was a good and noble Earl by bearing the cost of the town’s festivities.

Shows a photograph of a man dressed as a Victorian policeman and standing astride a bicycle.

What's all this then? PC Jarred keeps the local population in order. Photo: James Maskrey.

Blists Hill’s policeman, Arthur Jarred, was never far away, riding around on his bicycle, keeping an eye on proceedings.

“I’ve been 19 years in the Police,” said Arthur, “I joined when I was 21. It was a stroke of good fortune really because when they brought in the Early Closing Act, it meant I got a half day off every week, so when I was 14 I got free lessons and I learned to read and write.”

Although the festivities passed without a problem, PC Jarred was forced to make one arrest after a suffragette’s protest disrupted the pageant. The protester stopped the parade outside the New Inn public house and began shouting women’s rights slogans.

Shows a photograph of a man dressed as a Victorian school teacher, drawing a picture of the famous Ironbridge in Shropshire on a blackboard.

And they say SATS are hard - how about a bit of schooling Victorian style? Photo: James Maskrey.

Meanwhile headmaster Mr Alsopp carried on with lessons. The school at Blists Hill has two classrooms and Mr Alsopp teaches the eight to 12 year-olds. At the end of the lessons, worried-looking children left the classroom under the stern gaze of Mr Alsopp and hurried home for a celebration tea.

Kathleen Williams, occupier of one of the houses in Blists Hill, had prepared a special tea to celebrate the Queen’s birthday.

“The whole family will come,” said Kathleen, “There will be about eight of us here for high tea.”

Throughout the day the fairground opposite the school welcomed children and adults alike and a barrel organ player provided music for passers-by outside the baker’s shop.

Shows a photograph of a man dressed as a Victorian candle maker, working in a workshop.

That's 81 candles we need... Photo: James Maskrey.

Behind the scenes, the craftsmen carried on with their work. Martin Wood, the town’s wood carver, continued making rocking horses in his workshop.

“A carpenter’s wage is about 20 shilling a week,” said Martin, “My grandfather taught me this trade when I was just a boy.”

Other crafts workshops included canal boat painting, willow basket making and candle making, to name just a few.

Throughout the day soldiers marched around the town in red uniforms urging any men that they could find to join up and fight for Her Majesty the Queen against the Boers in South Africa.

Shows a photograph of two men and a woman dressed in Victorian-style clothing.

The Blists Hill site manager, Derek Hill (centre), has been hard at work organising the birthday party. Photo: James Maskrey.

The Queen’s birthday festivities were masterminded by Blists Hill site manager Derek Hill who enlisted the help of re-enactment societies and theatre groups from all over the country.

“It’s the first time we’ve celebrated the Queen’s birthday at Blists Hill,” said Derek, who was dressed in a Victorian gentleman’s attire with a black top hat and white cotton gloves.

“I started organising it in November,” he explained, “The ceremonial arch is in its infancy at the moment. Most arches would have been decorated with flowers so it’s likely to develop with time.”

Around 8,000 flocked to the town over the three-day event, however Blists Hill is open all year round and there are many other events including hands-on workshops and themed days.

Shows the Renaissance in the Regions logo.

Roslyn Tappenden is the 24 Hour Museum Renaissance student journalist for the West Midlands region. Renaissance is the groundbreaking initiative to transform England's regional museums, led by MLA, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.

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