When Princess Louise visited Witham in 1885, it was not a major event on the world stage like the royal wedding of 2011. But in the town itself, it was the most exciting event for many a year. The Princess, aged 37, was one of the daughters of Queen Victoria. She was a spirited and talented woman who in due course became interested in feminism. She lived till 1939.
She was due to attend a christening at Faulkbourne Hall, travelling by train to Witham. At first she had wished her visit to be private, but her host told her how much the people of Witham wished to see her, and she agreed that she would drive through the town. So with less than three days to go, a public meeting was called by the Vicar. He justified Witham’s intervention by saying that “the Princess in a sense belonged to the nation at large”.
A committee was formed to supervise the decorations. Many of the patriotic items which would usually have been available for hire in London, had already gone to Belfast, which was being visited by the Prince of Wales. But Mr Blood visited the capital and managed to obtain 300 flags, and Messrs Godfrey of Chelmsford also came to the rescue with more supplies.
A weekend of hard work turned Witham into a wonderful spectacle. The main feature was the series of immense ‘triumphal arches’ over the route, mostly comprised of evergreens and flowers. The photo shows one of these, as illustrated on a commemorative mug as shown above (plates were also made). The arch in Guithavon Street was designed as an “old embattled gateway overgrown with ivy”. In addition flags were shown at nearly every house. The many individual efforts included a “pretty device of a British lion” at Slythe’s the monumental masons, a series of flags round the gasometer at the gasworks, primroses over the windows of the Spread Eagle, and cauliflowers at Mr Bridge’s greengrocer’s shop. The newspaper reporter thought that “the whole presented an appearance of life and gaiety such as it has not worn since the County Agricultural Show was held there many years ago” [in 1863].
On the morning of the visit, hundreds of visitors arrived at the station from other parts of Essex, adding to the air of excitement. In due course a red carpet was put on the platform, and a small posse of policemen lined up. At 5.30 pm the Princess’s train arrived, and she stepped into her horse-drawn carriage to take a roundabout tour of the wonderfully decorated town. She was preceded by two mounted policemen. The crowds lining the route cheered most enthusiastically, and the Metropolitan School Band, from the Bridge, played the national anthem. On reaching Chipping Hill she continued to Faulkbourne.
The reporter went on to Faulkboune too, and observed the christening and the various formal meals. Sadly he was not impressed by the church, finding it “delapidated”, with “few … traces of artistic skill”. But in conclusion, he felt that the Princess’s visit would “not soon be effaced from the memory of the people of Witham”.
A version of this article appeared in the Braintree and Witham Times in April 1911.
The number 8, in the numbering of articles, was not used.