At 1.10pm, on a bitterly cold November day in 1866, a special train arrived at Wolverhampton Low Level Station, which had been specially decorated by the Wolverhampton builder Lovatt with the help of the local architect Mr. Veall. The train carried Her Majesty Queen Victoria together with assorted attendants; the occasion for the visit was the unveiling of the equestrian statue in Queen Square, to the late and much lamented Albert the Prince Consort. This was in fact the Queen’s second visit to the town: she and Prince Albert had paused at Wolverhampton to receive a loyal address whilst en route for Scotland in 1851.

The Queen’s arrival had thrown the town into consternation, for her Majesty had already turned down similar invitations from Manchester and Liverpool. It seems that the widows of Wolverhampton had sent her a letter of sympathy after the Prince’s death, which moved her so much that she declared: “If ever I go out again, my first public appearance shall be in Wolverhampton, for the love and sympathy of the widows have comforted me in my darkest hour”.1

As it was, her acceptance caused something approaching panic in the organisers, as there were only eight days between the Queen’s acceptance and her arrival to unveil the statue.

The statue of Prince Albert.

The council divided itself into committees to organise the ornamentation of public buildings in the town. The noted local architect Bidlake undertook many of the decorations at his own expense. Flags and banners were hung across the streets and people hung banners out of their windows. High Green (Queen Square) was decorated with banners that ranged from the simple: “God Bless the Queen”, to the tortuous: “The Silent Father of Our Kings to Be”. The main streets were decorated with flags and garlands of flowers; flags and buntings hung from all the town centre buildings. Near to the railway station at which the Queen would arrive, there was erected a great arch made from lumps of coal and bars of iron. One of the pieces of coal weighed four tons and was decorated with picks and shovels, the whole designed to show the source of the area’s wealth. There were more triumphal arches that left the coal arch looking a model of restraint. School Street had an arch covered with items of hardware made in the town; iron tubing, edge tools, domestic goods and japanned ware. The route from the station to the unveiling place extended four miles.
Accompanying the Queen was Lord Derby the Prime Minister and observant people also noted the bearded figure of John Brown, the Queen’s Scottish companion, sitting in the Dickie seat of the Royal landau. For the unveiling itself a pavilion had been erected with crimson draping topped with a crown and decorated with roses; in it sat 2,000 ticket holders to watch the ceremony. The Royal party reached the square at 1.40pm. “Her Majesty advanced and bowed again and again…with a gratified look that could leave no doubt how highly she appreciated the reception awarded to her”.2
When the statue was unveiled, with the sculptor Thorneycroft himself pulling the cord, “the expression on Her Majesty’s countenance, as the excellent likeness of the Prince came into view, betrayed her emotion”. The Queen walked around the statue and thanked Thorneycroft, talked to the assembled worthies and got back into her carriage. In the evening a Mayoral banquet was held in the Exchange. On the whole the day went well, except for the man charged to fire a salute from a cannon in West Park who blew his hand off in the process. He was later awarded a pension of £20 per year.

The Mayor, John Morris being knighted by the Queen.

Nationally, many saw the visit as unsuitable with London and Manchester expressing indignation that Her Majesty, having been in retirement from public life for five years, should choose Wolverhampton, a town in the Black Country, to make her public re-appearance. There was outrage in the capital’s press and Punch added its two pennyworth with a particularly nasty and insulting verse:-

                   The Queen in the Black Country

Gracious Queen Victoria, Wolverhampton greets you,
Franks her unlovely face in smiles with homage as she greets you,
Underneath her arch of coal loyally entreats you;
Wreathes nails, locks, and bolts, and near the iron trophy seats you.
Grimy labour washes and puts on its Sunday clothes,
For holiday unwonted forges cool and smithies close,
Pale, toil-stunted children leave their nailing for the shows,
The pale strain subterranean work idly above ground flows.
In honour of the Queen, whose very name seems strange and odd
To many here, who know no more of a Queen than a God,
Slaving from dawn to darkness at nail hammer and nail rod,
Their backs bowed to the anvil and their souls chained to the clod 

The affair was soon largely forgotten but the memory of the Queen’s visit remained in people’s minds for many years, though the statue that she had unveiled very soon became a mess due to the atmospheric pollution. The visit though sums up much of 19th century Wolverhampton; proud, wealthy, perhaps slightly vulgar but above all vigorous.

* Any reader of broadsheet newspapers may feel that the attitude of those in the south-east remains unchanged to this day.


1. W.H. Jones, "The Story of Municipal Life in Wolverhampton", 1903. p.125.
2. The Royal Visit to Wolverhampton", pub. Edward Roden, 1867. Anyone interested in finding out more about the Royal visit should visit Bantock House, which has an interesting collection of commemorative memorabilia.

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