Queen Victoria's everlasting presence across the world
PUBLISHED: 10:58 20 February 2015 | UPDATED: 15:57 23 March 2015
With our treasured Queen set to reach a milestone this year, Sue Bromley discovers that her great-great grandmother retains a presence across the world
As the royal cars sweep in and out of the castle at Windsor there is a longstanding reminder of the historic event set to occur in September this year when HM The Queen becomes the longest-serving British monarch.
It’s the imposing bronze statue of Queen Victoria, the present ‘record holder’, erected to mark her Golden Jubilee in 1887.
Hardly a tourist must leave Windsor without a photo of themselves posed against the statue, the original £2,500 cost of which was paid by the townspeople. Some might note it was designed and executed by Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm, but perhaps not realise that he was an immigrant to this country, arriving from Austria to study, before happily settling here at the age of 28 and becoming a naturalised Briton in 1865.
He was also commissioned by Queen Victoria to produce family bronzes and statues for the castle itself. Like our present monarch she was an outward-looking person, interested in people from around the world.
But back to the statue, which Queen Elizabeth II has known as a local landmark of ‘nearly home’ in her life since early childhood. We who also live nearby must pass this regal ‘grandmother’ many times a year, probably giving her majesty no more than the odd cursory glance.
What’s more, around the world, this scene is repeated in many countries as people go about their daily business. The longevity of Queen Victoria and the growth and power of the British Empire during her reign mean that bronze, marble and stone figures stand in town and city centres thousands of miles away, usually close to the business of governance, perhaps to remind those charged with the duty of running the civic side of our lives that matters should proceed with diligence and dignity.
Some 40 noted statues can be found in England alone, including the one in Newbury’s Victoria Park. Funded by locally-born circus owner George Sanger, it initially stood in Market Place as a memorial but was moved to the park in 1933. Then there is the 1887 Jubilee statue in Reading’s Town Hall square, by noted local sculptor George Blackall Simonds. Numerous smaller memorials and busts can be found up and down the land.
Elsewhere, her somewhat forbidding presence stares down from plinths in Scotland’s major cities, as well as Belfast in Northern Ireland and Wrexham in Wales. Overseas, Victoria has pride of place in towns and cities across Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Kenya, South Africa and India, but some of the other sites are a little surprising.
For instance, a lavish statue stands outside the former Excelsior Hôtel Regina, in Cimiez, Nice, which was actually built to cater to her holiday needs. A regular visitor, she would take over the whole west wing with some 100 staff, even in old age.
Not that there was too much standing on ceremony. Victoria invited actress Sarah Bernhardt, considered a scandalous person by many ‘stiff upper lip’ Britons, to perform for her there. Then there were the festivals when she would happily throw flowers to handsome young Army officers. And she enjoyed giving money to the beggars who followed her carriage about in Nice.
It’s a somewhat different picture of the widow queen to the ones usually presented, and it’s clear the people of Nice appreciated their royal visitor. The hotel is now a stylish Belle Epoque apartment block retaining many original features, but the statue erected in 1912 is still there, and the queen’s coat of arms hang in Nice’s Holy Trinity Church.
Most of the statues depict Victoria in her later years and the marble one in Valletta, Malta is no exception. The work of Sicilian sculptor Giuseppe Valente, the statue commemorated the Golden Jubilee and was the centrepiece of an elaborate display of mourning when she died. There’s one little addition here, the queen is shown wearing Maltese lace.
Perhaps our favourite story surrounds the journey of the statue overlooking Queen Victoria Building in Sydney. Clearly of its time, the magnificent work in bronze on a granite plinth was produced in 1908, but has only been in Australia since 1987.
Originally the statue sculpted by John Hughes looked down on passersby outside Leinster House in Ireland.
Irish independence resulted in some of the new politicians determined to have what they saw as a reminder of a colonial past removed from the mansion grounds which had now become the Oireachtas, Ireland’s parliamentary centre. The sheer cost of moving Victoria delayed this until 1933 when ‘The Auld Bitch’, as she had become known in some circles, was moved to a less auspicious spot at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham.
Australia’s own bicentennial celebrations finally provided a solution. The Aussies had restored one of their finest buildings and needed a statue to complete the work. Ireland spotted a wonderful opportunity to offload Queen Victoria and graciously shipped her off as a gift to a more welcoming population!
The date when a record is set
Queen Victoria reigned for 63 years and 217 days from June 1837 when her uncle King William IV died. Her actual coronation was just over a year later. To date, Victoria is the longest reigning British monarch having remained on the throne until her death on 22 January 1901, when her son King Edward VII took over.
Her great-great granddaughter, HM The Queen, will have served as monarch for a longer period from 10 September this year. For the experts assessing the correct date there has been much debate about leap years as our present Queen will have reigned for one more leap year, and hence an extra day, than her ancestor.
Our Queen and her husband The Duke of Edinburgh, already have one royal record. Having been a monarch’s spouse since February 1952, he is the longest-serving consort.
Two queens in numbers
• Age when came to the throne - Victoria 18 | Elizabeth 25
• Age when married - Victoria 21 | Elizabeth 21
• Children - Victoria 9 | Elizabeth 4
• Grandchildren - Victoria 40 | Elizabeth 8
• Great-grandchildren - Victoria 37 | Elizabeth 4 (and one on the way!)
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