How Pittville celebrated the Diamond Jubilee in 1897

Diamond Jubilee commemorative plate
Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee was officially celebrated on 22 June 1897, marking the sixtieth anniversary of her accession on 20 June 1837. It was the first Diamond Jubilee celebration of any British monarch in history, just as the 2022 Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II is also the first of its kind.

On the morning of 22 June Victoria took part in a parade in an open carriage from Buckingham Palace to St Paul’s Cathedral. Before leaving the palace, the Queen sent an electronic message by telegraph to her vast empire – at less than 70 characters, the equivalent of a 21st century Twitter message:

“From my heart I thank my beloved people. May God bless them. V.R. & I.”

“Bertie”, Prince of Wales
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Like our current Queen, the 78-year old Victoria had mobility issues. She suffered from arthritis and was unable to climb the steps of the cathedral, so she remained in her carriage and a short service of thanksgiving was held outside the building.

The main event in Cheltenham, however, took place a month earlier on 13 May 1897, when the Prince of Wales honoured a long-standing invitation to visit the town. The visit was not directly connected to the imminent jubilee, but the coincidence was too good to ignore. In particular, much effort went into decorating the prince’s planned route through the town up to Prestbury Park, where he was due to carry out a military inspection of the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars.

Arriving by train, the Prince rode in a carriage through the town centre and passed through Pittville Gates on his way to the Pump Room, where the official welcoming committee was assembled. On arrival at the Pump Room he was greeted by the Mayor before continuing to the racecourse on horseback. After inspecting the troops, he returned on horseback via Prestbury Road and Winchcombe Street to the Queen’s Hotel through what the Cheltenham Looker-On described as “immense crowds of cheering spectators”.

The Prince of Wales on the steps of the Pump Room with local dignitaries, 13 May 1897
Credit: Cheltenham Borough Council and The Cheltenham Trust
The prince’s visit came just two years after the launch of a public electricity supply in Cheltenham. By 1897 the new electric street lighting system had got almost as far as Winchcombe Street, and local residents and businesses were lobbying for it to be extended. The council saw an opportunity to make a distinctive civic statement along the route of the prince’s visit to Prestbury Park. As well as agreeing to extend the new street lamps as far as Pittville Circus, a new arch featuring an arc lamp was designed and installed at remarkable speed above Pittville Gates and was switched on for the first time on the evening before the prince’s visit (although it was not in regular use until the rest of the lighting in Winchcombe Street had been installed).

Pittville Gates – the arch and lamp and the words “Pittville Park”
date from the Diamond Jubilee Year, 1897

Credit: Friends of Pittville
The words “Pittville Park” on the new 1897 arch are significant. The use of this name only dates from 1894, following the acquisition of the lake and grounds on the west side of Evesham Road to add to the Pump Room and gardens on the east side which the Council had bought in 1891. In effect the Council was proclaiming Pittville’s new status as a “People’s Park” rather than a private estate, although an entrance charge continued until the 1950s. Further information about the 1897 additions to the gates can be found in Pittville Gates: Cheltenham’s Grand Entrance by the late James Hodsdon (Friends of Pittville, 2011).

Hilary Simpson