By Carolyn & Peter Hammond
Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 6 (1997)
One hundred years ago the question on every local resident’s mind was how Chiswick should show “the gratitude of the community for the advantages and blessings enjoyed during the Queen’s long reign”. The Chiswick Times recorded how Chiswick celebrated Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897.
In February 1897 a Committee was set up by the District Council with representatives of the clergy, the school board, the guardians of the poor, the local philanthropic societies and influential residents. Everyone agreed that as well as festivities during jubilee week, there should also be a more permanent memorial. There the unanimity ended: suggestions for the memorial included building a new public library and public baths, enlarging the Vestry Hall, providing a cottage hospital or homes for the aged or motherless children. After several meetings and much debate a compromise was worked out: no decision would be made until it was known how much money had been raised, but it should be spent on an institution to benefit, firstly, the sick poor and, secondly, the aged poor; this it was felt would best please the Queen who had indicated that any memorial institution should minister to the suffering or relieve the needy and the unfortunate.
The area was divided into six each with its own fundraising committee who were all encouraged by the news that the Duke of Devonshire, the largest landowner in the parish, had agreed to give a plot of land free of charge on which the memorial institution could be built.
So much time had been spent on meetings and the setting up of committees that June 22nd, the national holiday for the commemoration, was fast approaching and the preparations were reaching a climax; the public buildings were decorated with lights and bunting, a triumphal arch was erected at the end of Town Hall Avenue in front of the Vestry Hall and local residents and shopkeepers decorated their premises with flags and Chinese lanterns.
Bedford Park must have looked especially attractive on the evening when the inhabitants organised an illuminated bicycle parade with 120 people riding in pairs, each bicycle decorated with Chinese lanterns which glowed in the darkness as the cavalcade wound its way through the streets.
The main events of the Jubilee week were the special meals for the elderly poor. Seven hundred aged and infirm were entertained to lunch in the Vestry Hall and in three church halls in different areas of the parish. This was paid for, at the rate of 2 shillings (10p) per head, by the Princess of Wales’ Fund. The menu included roast beef, mutton, boiled beef, ham, new potatoes, salad, pickles, several different puddings and a great deal else, but only tea or mineral water to drink – the offer of free beer from the local breweries had been rejected by the organising committee after an acrimonious debate on the perils of strong drink.
Local fundraising provided a special tea for 190 aged poor at the Mission Hall in Fraser Street (as well as sandwiches and bread butter and jam, there were three sorts of cake and tinned apricots), with a floral buttonhole for each guest and packets of tobacco for the men and tea for the women decorated with red, white and blue favours.
There was also a supper for a further two hundred and fifty poor people at the Vestry Hall, with a similar menu to the Princess of Wales’ Fund lunch except that this time there was beer to drink (it was organised by a different committee), followed by entertainment and gifts of tobacco and tea.
The children were not forgotten either. Their day was Saturday when three thousand five hundred from all the elementary schools of the parish assembled on Turnham Green to sing God Save the Queen and then walked in procession, led by two fire engines and several local bands down Duke’s Avenue to Devonshire Meadows. Here they enjoyed donkey rides, roundabouts and swings, displays of drill and a special tea followed by sports and they finally went home with a souvenir mug each. The youngest children had their treat the next week with tea, games and toys.
And what about the permanent memorial? No more was heard of that. As the editorial in the newspaper the week after the celebrations stated “there had been a want of definiteness about the appeal” which had discouraged people from contributing as they did not know what the money would be spent on.
However, most of the suggestions were taken up in the next few years either by the District Council in the case of the enlargement of the Vestry Hall and the provision of public baths, or by public-spirited local benefactors such as Dan Mason of Cherry Blossom, who endowed the cottage hospital, or the Sanderson family, of wallpaper fame, who gave their house in Duke’s Avenue to be a new home for the public library “in commemoration of the jubilee”.