Birmingham Libraries are currently gearing up for events to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, with a Right Royal Family Fun Day at Centre for the Child on Saturday 2nd June and the Jubilee Book Bash at Aston Hall on Monday 4th and Tuesday 5th June. Would Queen Victoria have been amused? I’m not sure but our collections can throw some light on how she celebrated her Diamond Jubilee!
More than a hundred years ago, in 1896, Queen Victoria became the longest reigning British monarch in British History. On the suggestion of Joseph Chamberlain, colonial minister at the time, she chose to defer celebrations until the following year. Chamberlain, whose connection to Birmingham is well known, proposed to make the Jubilee year a festival of the British Empire.
The Birmingham Daily Post on Wednesday June 23rd, the day of Jubilee itself, reports that on the evening before the main day of celebration, Chamberlain attended a Luncheon for the Colonies at the Council House as the guest of honour. From his speech, it’s clear he knew how to play this particular crowd. He’s there to massage the sense of civic pride, opening with the words, “There are many cities in the United Kingdom but only one Birmingham.” Birmingham’s approach to the colonies is compared to what he calls the “Manchester School”, seeing there “a want of appreciation of [the colonies’] importance in the British Empire.” In comparison, Birmingham is for him an international city, welcoming trade and cultural exchange from across the globe; it’s as such a city that they celebrate the Jubilee. In a phrase very much of its time, he tells his listeners that a colonial visitor to the city can be left in no doubt that “…the mother country… is proud of her children”
Another article in the same edition takes a curious line on the celebrations: “We are not accustomed to scenes of pageantry on every conceivable occasion, being a practical, business like people”. It would seem logical when looking to the great events of the past to make reference to earlier royal visits or other civic celebrations. And yet the writer of this article recalls “…the stirring periods of social and political agitation when we have shown the world demonstrations on a scale of magnitude unsurpassed elsewhere”. Something of this dissenting Brummie spirit may account for the image of the Cromwellian Artillery that can be found in photographs of the processions.
However, such sentiments shouldn’t give the impression that all Brummies responded half heartedly to the Jubilee. In an article of the same day, a journalist described a visit to the Art Gallery Tower from where the vast stretch of the city could be seen. Great fires lit on the Clent and Lickey Hills, just some of the many beacons lit across the country, were visible as well as the firework displays in Victoria, Calthorpe and Summerfield Park. The whole of the centre of Birmingham was lit up with red, white and blue electric lights. Another Daily Post journalist wrote:
“Never before in the history of Birmingham has a larger, more enthusiastic, or orderly mass of people lined the streets than that which witnessed today’s procession.”
We’re hoping to have a large and enthusiastic crowd at the Jubilee Book Bash, hope to see you there!
Main picture taken from The Queens Graphic Diamond Jubilee Number, part of our ephemera collections. You can see more from our collections on our Jubilee Flickr page or read Queen Victoria’s Journals. Thank you to Michael Hunkin, Amanda Holtham, Sam Owen, Jen Bakewell and Marian Leydon for their research and support.