This week, in his ongoing series, Ion Castro takes a look at the pageantry that surrounded a royal visit to Hastings and St Leonards
Exactly 135 years ago to the day last Monday, on Monday June 26th 1882, Hastings & St.Leonards was graced with the presence of the Prince and Princess of Wales. The prince, as Queen Victoria’s eldest son was heir to the throne and would become King Edward VII on 22nd January 1901. After the death of her husband, Prince Albert, in 1861 Queen Victoria became more and more reclusive so a visit by her son and heir was the highest Royal Visit available and of course the park was renamed ‘Alexandra Park’ in honour of the Princess of Wales.
An official programme of events was produced and the local paper, the Hastings & St.Leonards Observer produced a ‘Special Royal Visit’ supplement which ran to 32 pages and at least three editions, price fourpence (less than 2p today). In 1882 the art of reproducing photographs in newspapers was still in the future but The Observer managed to publish a large number of line-art images, some of which are used here. The official programme, between A4 and A5 size with 20 pages and a card cover had no illustrations at all but carried full instructions covering the whole day as well as a complete list of the town council and magistrates. We are told “Their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales will leave Charing Cross Station, at 10.45 a.m., and are expected to arrive at Hastings, about 12.20 p.m” – at 1hr 35 mins. - faster than today’s train times!
The Royal party was received on the platform by the Mayor, Cllr. Revill and his daughter, the Deputy Mayor Ald. Gausden, the Borough Recorder, the Town Clerk, the town’s MP, C.J.Murray and his wife and Sir Thomas and Lady Brassey. Road Closures, even in the days before motor vehicles, are not a new idea and the programme stated that the whole route would be under the direction of Mr. W. M. Glenister, Chief Superintendent of Police. “No Vehicles of any description, or Persons on Horseback, will be allowed on the Lines of Route after the hours hereunder mentioned, until Their Royal Highnesses shall have passed such Streets respectively”. A detailed list of streets affected followed and the time of closure. We are further informed “Carriages containing Visitors to the Luncheon at Warrior Square Rooms, will set down at the North (Stage) Entrance in Warrior Gardens and· wait in Warrior Square Terrace, and the East side of Warrior Square if required, as directed by the Police. No carriages of any description will be allowed to stand or loiter in the Line of Route, and no Public Carriages permitted to remain on the Stands until after the Procession has passed. Foot Passengers Must remain upon the Pavements and Paths, and not stand or loiter in the Carriage Road” After the reception it appears that the ‘Warrior Square Rooms’ became known as ‘The Royal Concert Hall’ and decades later became the ill-fated Elite Cinema.
The whole of the lower portion of the Park “as far as the cross railings opposite the Spa will be closed to the general public until the Royal Party have left” and there were instructions relating to which parties should use which gates. The programme states “Such of the School Children as it has been arranged shall go to the Park will be assembled in an enclosure on the sloping bank, west of the Upper Pond. The Children will be admitted by a gateway in the New Park Road (now St Helens Road), near the spot, at Eleven o’clock”. In the meantime assembled crowds were entertained by bands deployed throughout the route, the park, and at the convalescent home.
The procession was headed by a detachment of mounted police and Yeomanry Cavalry followed by 19 carriages (with their occupants all carefully listed in order of importance) preceding the royal carriage which was surrounded by an escort of the 1st Middlesex Yeomanry Cavalry and upon arrival at the park the instructions were “As there will only be accommodation for a limited number on the Dais on which the Opening Ceremony is to be performed, the carriages containing those who are not provided with tickets for the Dais will, on arriving at the Lawn on which it is placed, drive forward and turn so as to be in readiness to start again as soon as the ceremony is completed; and in order that the Royal Party may not be delayed, the occupants of these carriages will keep their seats”. One of the fortunate few to be allowed on the dais was Robert Marnock, the Park’s designer who had the honour of being introduced the royal couple. After the official opening and renaming of the park, Princess Alexandra planted a commemorative tree and was presented with the ornate silver spade that she had used for the planting and the procession then left the park heading for the Convalescent Home for Poor Children in West Hill Road, St. Leonards, pausing at the Albert Memorial to receive an address from Hastings fishermen before continuing westward along the seafront to St.Leonards where they were received at the Home by Hastings’ MP, Mr. C. J. Murray, M.P. and the timings in the programme suggest that they didn’t stay there long because immediately after completing the Opening Ceremony the Royal Party returned to the ‘Warrior Square Rooms’ (Royal Concert Hall) for Luncheon and then left for London via Warrior Square Station at around 4pm, total time in Hastings & St.Leonards, three hours 40 minutes. For those that remained the festivities didn’t end with the royal departure, the Mayor went on to hold a reception in the recently opened new Town hall in Queens Road at 8:30 pm followed by a Ball with set-piece fireworks at Priory Meadow and rockets from the Castle.
All illustrations throughout this series are from Ion Castro’s own collection and he can make available copies of many of the historic images used in this series. There’s more local history on Ion’s website, www.historichastings.co.uk or contact him firstname.lastname@example.org.