“May our Queen be still spared to us for some years to come, and may our town prosper, and good will and good fellowship be fostered among its townsmen, from generation to generation.” This was written by Witham solicitor Frank Postle Bawtree in 1897, at the time of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.
I have a special interest in this event, because when I look out from my desk in Witham, I see the words “Diamond Terrace” on the houses opposite. Mr Wadley, the owner, built the terrace in 1897, and put his initials there as well.
Witham people had already pushed the boat out for the Golden Jubilee in 1887, when the Jubilee oak had been planted in Collingwood Road. So they could remember what to do. But in the 1897 committee there had still been “differences of opinion, pretty strongly expressed at times”. They did find time to put together a booklet about Witham since 1837, which is very useful and interesting.
The activities started on Sunday 20th June, when the service in St Nicolas church was “exactly the same as that in which the Queen was taking part in her Chapel Royal at Windsor”.
On the Monday, “meat was distributed to about 1,450 people, so that all our poorer friends had a good dinner next day.”
Tuesday was the special day, when most people were on holiday for a “day of gladness”. This was “ushered in by the sound of the Church Bells”. Then at mid-morning, a large crowd watched as a small girl hoisted the Union flag over the National Schools in Guithavon Street. They also heard a talk about the significance of the flag, followed by a Church service at All Saints.
Then sixty select people sat down to lunch, and the Vicar, Reverend David Ingles, announced two pieces of good news. The first was that the well-loved Admiral William Luard of Witham Lodge had been knighted in the Jubilee honours. And the second was
that an anonymous donation of £1,000 had been given to the town in honour of the Jubilee. About forty years later, the benefactor was revealed to have been Tom Motion of Faulkbourne Hall. The money was used for buying and establishing the Park in Maldon Road for public use (see the book Witham Park: 100 Years Old).
As you can imagine, the national anthem had already been sung and played innumerable times by now, and it continued to punctuate the rest of the day at frequent intervals.
The next event was a procession “from the Avenue …through the chief streets of the town to the Park” (the Park was already made available on special occasions by its owner). We are told that “the scene in the High Street will long be remembered. The houses were beautifully decorated with flags and draperies, and at every window and door were crowds of happy faces”.
“Glorious sunshine” was also mentioned. In fact if you look on YouTube at videos of Queen Victoria’s procession in London, you’ll see that the carriages there were protected from the sun by parasols.
Back in Witham, sports occupied the afternoon. This seems to have been a customary way of marking a celebration: I suppose it kept the children busy. In addition, tea was served to 1,000 children, and after that the tea tent was available to the parishioners.
After an outdoor evening concert, “the great Bonfire on Wickham Hill warned us that it was time for the fireworks to begin”. They were glorious in every way, and ended with “the beautiful letters V.R. in colours”. As people went home, they were “quite convinced that no town had celebrated the great day as Witham had done”.
A version of this article appeared in the Braintree and Witham Times in June 2012