BBC - Simon Schama - A History of Britain

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Spring 1851. The word "Victorian" enters the English language and a very small woman enters a very big building. She's four foot eleven, yet somehow she fills it. The moment, so pregnant for the future, seems holy. Victoria is herself flooded with religious awe. Neither she nor anyone else has ever seen anything like this building before, a greenhouse the size of a palace, with the difference that this is, from the beginning, a people's palace. A popular magazine calls it the Crystal Palace. Its grandest spaces are filled not with courtiers and flunkeys, but steam pumps and locomotives, a huge showcase for Britain's industrial empire.

Just three years before, in 1848, Europe had been torn apart by revolutions. The government had feared the same would happen here. As it turned out, other countries had war and revolution, we had the Great Exhibition. Other countries had barricades, we had the cheerful queue for the turnstiles. In an era haunted by fears of overpopulation, this was one of the greatest mass movements of people in all of European history. Six million came to see the show of shows. In 1848, industrial machinery had seemed to be the enemy of ordinary men and women, the gaping mechanical jaws into which countless lives were fed, to be spat out again as cotton cloth or nails.

Technology, the prophets of doom had warned, was an engine of inhumanity, driving working people to desperation or revolt. But inside the glittering glasshouse, someone seemed to have waved a magic wand over the mechanical brutes, turning them from ogres to busy, friendly giants, happy to be gazed at on a family outing - not least by the first family of the land, assembled amidst the hardware. After all, Papa, Prince Albert, the moving force behind the exhibition, was the first prince in European history to wear his connection with the world of business as a badge of pride, not shame.

But what about Mama? As the mother of a rapidly expanding family, Victoria might have been expected to know that if the cult of progress was to make Britain not just a great nation, but a good one, be a home maker, not a home breaker, it would fall to our women to see us through the painful change to an industrial society safe and sound. But, of course, hers was no ordinary family, and, despite the family photos, Queen Victoria was not exactly Mrs Average. The age which would bear her name would see transformations in women's lives which Victoria could never have imagined in the dazzling springtime of her reign. Whether she'd welcome them, whether she'd even understand them, whether they'd sweep past her and her glass palace, well, that remained to be seen.

In 1837, when she became queen, Victoria was only 18. She was as pure as a rosebud, which seemed a welcome change from the decidedly impure reigns of her uncles George IV and William IV, addicted to the pleasures of the bed and the table, and indifferent to the hardships endured by the mass of their subjects. Unlike the uncles, Victoria had been brought up a model of virginal moderation and self denial. No Regency pampering for her.
At one point, she and her mother, the Duchess of Kent, were forced to move out of Kensington Palace to save money. So, Victoria's nursery years were spent at bracingly ordinary places like Ramsgate and Sidmouth.

Much later in life, for some reason, Victoria looked back on her childhood as a time of sadness and loneliness. It's true that, like many middle-class and aristocratic children, she was subjected to an evangelical regime of prayers and constant self examination. She kept a behaviour book, full of solemn and self-critical entries. This one, for August 1832, reads: "Very, very, very" - underlined - "terribly" - underlined - "naughty". But could Christian betterment, the driving force of her generation, be taken from self improvement to bettering the life of her people? That was the question. On her first excursion in England's heart of industrial darkness, the teenage princess would see what she was up against.

Near Birmingham, she travelled through the landscape of a British inferno - sooty and sulphurous. But the view from the coach was the closest Victoria got to the bleak reality of smokestack Britain. In any case, there was something else on her mind - her upcoming date with history. All those tombs, crowns and thrones, was she ready? The moment would arrive all too soon, in the small hours of June 20, 1837, the teenage princess in her nightgown, woken by the arrival of the Lord Chamberlain and the Archbishop of Canterbury. At her coronation, on June 28, 1838, the young queen showed what she was made of... carrying the immense weight of the robes and regalia with aplomb.

But she also managed something more important than dignity - a glimpse of humanity. When the 87-year-old Lord Rolle tottered as he tried to mount the steps of the throne to do homage, Victoria's kind-hearted instinct was to rise and go down the steps to meet him. Everyone noticed. She was young, but not precocious. She knew she needed help and was wise enough to ask for it from someone superbly able to give it - the Whig Prime Minister,
Lord Melbourne. He won Victoria's confidence by the simple but inspired tactic of never, ever talking down to her, never treating her like a child in need of protection.

Instead, he treated her like an adult, sophisticated enough to enjoy his worldly wisdom, his political gossip and even his off-colour jokes. Under his guidance, Victoria's confidence and her public persona blossomed. She was, of course, the most desirable catch in Europe. Victoria's mother had thrown banquets and balls to ensure Victoria met the most eligible princes... ...including her Saxe-Coburg cousins, Ernest and Albert. It may well have been
her uncle Leopold who, in the spring of 1839, first made the suggestion to Victoria that she might like to marry Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg. Like all young women, she probably initially found the subject a bit embarrassing, but once she had got used to it,  helped by that handsome, or as she put it, "angelic German head", she pretty much ran the show, virtually grabbing hold of her curly-haired intended and sprinting for the altar.

It was Victoria who supplied the ring... asked Albert for a lock of his hair... and wallowed in the kissing sessions. But if she sometimes seemed determined to wear the trousers in the marriage, there were also other times, especially right after the wedding, when Victoria simply melted away into the amazed bliss of conjugal love. Victoria and Albert's passion for each other was a strictly private matter. But for countless numbers of Britons in the suffocatingly overcrowded industrial cities, like Manchester, bedroom privacy was an unimaginable luxury. Manchester was the very best and the very worst taken to terrifying extremes; a new kind of city in the world, the chimneys of industrial suburbs greeting you with columns of smoke. 200,000 drones packed into the hive to make money for the lords of Cottonopolis.

An American visitor, taken to Manchester's black spots, saw: And thanked God for not having been born poor in England. The cotton mills were brutally demanding task masters. Whole families spent almost all of their working hours tending to the machinery. Children were given menial but dangerous jobs, like scavenging cotton fluff from beneath the moving machinery. As bad as all this was, it was even worse when there were no jobs at all. In the first years of Victoria's reign, hands were being laid off in tens of thousands. It would be a woman, Elizabeth Gaskell, who would be the whistle blower, the first of Victoria's sisters to stick her neck out.

Amazingly, her blazing protest took the genteel form of a novel. But what a book. When "Mary Barton" was published in 1848, nobody, not even Charles Dickens, had gone as far as Gaskell in looking dead-on at the grim reality of industrial misery. The middle-class wife of a Unitarian preacher, Gaskell took herself right into the lower depths of the city, to the gin palaces and open sewers, dark reeking alleys, where skin-and-bones children played among the rats. In "Mary Barton" you didn't just see, you heard working-class Manchester in the pages of literature for the very first time.

To most of her readers, it must have been a language more foreign than French or German.  By the time you'd finished "Mary Barton", one word, struck like a hammer over and over again, would have lodged in your memory. That word was "clemmed" - starved. You say it, and you call up the entire knife-edge world of struggling to survive that Elizabeth Gaskell had created. Elizabeth Gaskell believed that honest graphic social reporting could make a difference. She wrote to her cousin: One of Gaskell's fans, the social philosopher Thomas Carlyle, thought it was pointless to try and improve a system so fundamentally inhuman as industrialisation.

For Carlyle, there was only one route to salvation: Britain must turn aside from the machine, and summon up the spirit of the Christian centuries of the Middle Ages, the last time we'd taken it for granted that faith was more  important than money. To bring about this great conversion from Babylon to Jerusalem, nothing less would do than a Christian revolution in building. And no one was more convinced of this than the greatest of the Gothic revivalists - Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin. A new generation of churches would be in the front line in the war to save Victorian souls. Pugin was never happy just to sound off, though. He believed, with all the fervour of the old faith, that a properly beautified church was the very face of Heaven.

And before he died, brutally early, at the age of 40, he made sure, especially here at the Church of St Giles in Cheadle, Staffordshire, to let some people see how gloriously colourful it could be. But however spiritually nourishing this might have been, it wasn't going to put bread on the tables of the needy millions. Victoria's first decade as queen was also a time of economic hardship for many of her subjects. A slump in foreign trade had led to mass layoffs in industrial cities. Bread was an unaffordable luxury for the unemployed, who blamed the corn laws for keeping cheap imported wheat out of Britain. Working-class anger and desperation was close to boiling point.

For middle-class reformers, the answer was easy - all we need to do is get rid of the corn laws and all will be well. But the militant spokesmen of the working people weren't convinced. They wanted more. Only a truly popular government, a democracy in fact, would do something about their distress. They set out their demands in a people's charter, a new Magna Carta for the modern age. It demanded the right to vote for all men, secret ballots, annual parliaments. How to get them? Moral force if we may, physical force if we must.

In the climate of fear and hatred, people had to decide just where their loyalty lay. If you were on the right side of the tracks, if you owned one of the great spinning mills, like this one in Ancoats, you would think the Chartists were just a mob, misled by demagogues. Besides, whoever said capitalism was a funfair? As long as you kept your hands off the market, well, the market, sooner or later, would right itself. And the poor, the people who worked here, who were hungry now, would be feeding off the fat of the land tomorrow.

On April 10, 1848, a monster Chartist petition, signed by nearly two million men and women, so huge it would take two hackney cabs to get it to parliament, was brought to London. Around 150,000 Chartists with banners and green, red and white rosettes converged on Kennington Common for the biggest political rally in British history. The government was ready for them. London was turned into a huge armed camp, with mounted guards, guns and even cannon posted at critical sites like the Tower of London and the Bank of England.

Soldiers were posted on The Mall to prevent access to Buckingham Palace, but the royal family had fled to the Isle of Wight. Faced with this immense display of strong armed force, the leader, newspaper owner and MP, Fergus O'Connor, had no choice. He gave orders that nobody should provoke the troops, however goaded, for the result would have been a bloodbath. Some of the younger firebrands thought it was a sell-out. But what was Fergus O'Connor supposed to have done? Unleashed his people's army on the queen's soldiers, only to get them mown down? And what good would that have done the cause of the working people of Britain?

Besides, just look at this photograph of the meeting on the common. The very first political photograph in our history. Not exactly about to storm the barricades, are they? It may have ended for the moment the threat of the kind of revolution that had spread through European capitals in 1848 happening here, too. But the dream of so many working people for somewhere decent to live, enough to eat, for a share in the Victorian bonanza, was as urgent as ever. If they weren't going to get it by armed revolt, they would get it in the British way - in small but decisive steps, by coming together in self-sufficient communities.

This is all that survives intact of those little pipedreams - one of the cottages of the Chartist Land Company settlement at Great Dodford in Worcestershire. Founded in 1845, the Land Company was the brainchild of none other than Fergus O'Connor. It bought land, which it divided among its members into smallholdings, meant to take people out of the industrial slums and back to the rural world of their forefathers. They'd get a few acres to grow
their own food and make a small living. "Do or Die" was the motto of the incoming settlers to places like Great Dodford, and their work was no picnic - breaking soil, planting hedges, making roads, with no certain outcome.

But some of them were determined to make a go of it, especially women. Ann Wood, for example, who lived in a cottage very much like this one, was just an Edinburgh charlady, but one with enough Scottish thrift and determination to save up 150 to put down for a lot at Great Dodford. That gave her the pick of the crop. And, after settling at number 36, along with her two daughters, Ann did well enough at any rate to lead a long life, dying at 86. So, when all the sound and fury had ebbed away, what seemed to count for most was making a home, not a revolution.

Prince Albert himself understood this. In the year of the Great Exhibition, he commissioned and had built model lodgings for the working class. Later they were rebuilt at Kennington, on the very site of the Chartist revolution that wasn't. And, as the boom years of the 1850s replaced the hungry 40s, Britain had never seemed so middle-class, starting with the monarchy. The many photographic visiting cards circulating the country showed the queen and Prince Albert, not on their aristocratic high horse, but acting out the rituals of middle-class life. Respectable, reliable, even a little boring. Queen Victoria was to have nine children in all, and never had Britain had a monarch who went to such lengths to advertise her domestic pleasures to the nation.

The stroll in the park. The romp with the children. The sing-song round the tree at Christmas. And, on the Isle of Wight, a modest seaside getaway, Osborne House. Designed by Albert and relished by Victoria as an idyllic retreat from the pressures of rule. It was here at last that Albert, who'd been kept from meaningful public work, got his desk sitting beside hers, from which he could direct his campaign to make industrial Britain a better as well as a richer place. To see them together beavering away, you'd suppose it was a perfect partnership. But not so perfect that this couple, in every other respect so mutually devoted, were spared all arguments. They had their spats,
just like the rest of us.

For her part, too, Victoria wasn't above letting rip when she got too worked up. Single people, she'd occasionally let it be known, were often much better off than unhappily married couples, forced to stay together by convention.  Astonishingly, this echoed exactly the kind of thing coming from the mouth and pen of two of the most daring critics of the Victorian conventions of marriage - John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor, husband and wife for seven years, tortured lovers in a peculiar Victorian way for a lot longer, and the joint authors of "On the Subjection of Women". This was, don't forget, an age in which a woman's property automatically passed to her husband when they got married.

Husbands had the right to beat their wives, as long as the cane was no thicker than their thumb, and to lock them up for refusing sex. In 1830, the philosopher John Stuart Mill went to a dinner party which changed his life forever. He was struck dumb by the vision of a swan throat and dark enormous eyes. They belonged to Harriet Taylor, writer, poet and unhappily married wife. Between the soup and the port, John and Harriet were swept away by an instantaneous knowledge that they'd found their true soul mates. But being two serious intellectuals, Mill and Taylor's forbidden love couldn't just be a selfish private passion.

It had to be thought out loud as a public issue. Their situation made only too clear the hypocrisy of the loveless Victorian marriage. Surely there was another way out than adultery or suffering misery in silence. What had to be done was to expose marriages as the property transaction they often were, and then use education and law to enlighten and protect women. Taylor and Mill would have to wait 19 years for a chance to practise what they preached. In 1849, Harriet's unloved husband  finally died, freeing the way for her to marry John Stuart Mill. But not before he formally renounced all the rights the law gave him over his wife's property and person.

Their happiness was short-lived. Harriet Taylor died of TB in November 1858. But there would be an epitaph. All their ideas poured into "On the Subjection of Women", their book, that Mill published in 1869. Happy and equal marriages were no longer its only concern. Women, who made up half the workforce of Britain, should have pay equal to their labour. And, most breathtakingly of all, they should have the vote. It was a book whose ideals gave powerful momentum to the Women's Movement. After the Second Reform Act in 1867, almost all male householders had the vote, which made the fact that female householders hadn't seem glaringly unfair.

Mill, himself an MP, had tried to argue their case, and even won the support of 73 other MPs. The vote was lost, of course, but the words had been spoken, and they were heard especially loudly in Mrs Gaskell's Manchester. The breakthrough had been made, a democracy worth the name could not be just for men. Queen Victoria may have had her doubts about unhappy marriages, but this was a violation of God's ordering of right relations between the sexes. She let it be known in no uncertain terms what she thought of: There was fit and proper work for women to do, Victoria allowed, but only the kind which used the qualities of tenderness which God had given to their sex.

Nurses, for example, were rightly called sisters and matrons. But was it quite right for the queen's own nephew to call one of them Mammy? Florence Nightingale may well have garnered the reputation, back in Britain, among civilians, as the Angel of Mercy in the Crimea, but the woman whom surviving soldiers most adored, and for the very good reason that she saw them through the worst,  was the most forgotten and the most unlikely of Victoria's sisters. And her name was Mary Seacole. Mary Seacole was West Indian, the daughter of a Scotsman and a Jamaican woman.

Largely self-taught, her Caribbean remedies became famous after they'd been shown to stop violent dysentery and to bring yellow fever and cholera victims back from death's door. When Britain joined the Crimean War in 1854, she tried to volunteer her services at the front. But Mary didn't exactly fit the profile of middle-class nurses. She was turned down by the likes of Nurse Nightingale. So Mary got herself to the Crimea under her own steam and with her own funds. And once there, she did something truly extraordinary. Mary Seacole built her "British Hotel" right on the front line, and it doubled both as a refectory, feeding the boys going into action, and a recovery station for the sick and wounded. Every morning, she'd make great vats of nutritious food, like rice pudding, saddle up a pair of mules and ride into the heart of the action looking for wounded, to whom she'd dole out food, hot tea, medicine, but most of all, motherly love.

Mortars would whiz past the big old woman trundling along the lines. After the war was over, the soldiers f๊ted her at a charity gala. She'd become, briefly, an "Eminent Victorian". Suppose, though, that women drawn to help the sick went one stage further and dreamed of being a doctor? That was a different story. In 1860, Elizabeth Garrett enrolled as a surgical nurse at Middlesex Hospital, but her sights were set higher. In between the swabs and the bedpans, she was looking carefully at surgical operations, and she was also cutting up body parts in her bedroom.

This improvised education made her bold enough to take the hospital's medical, not nursing exams, and when the time came to publish the results, one E Garrett had come top. Ordered to keep the outrage secret, she went public instead. Nine years later, the French gave her an MD. And in 1874, the first medical college expressly for women was set up in London. For Victoria, the mere idea of slips of girls looking at, much less cutting up
the naked bodies of dead men was an unthinkable indecency. But no doctor was of any help to her in the greatest crisis of her life.

For in 1861, the same year that Elizabeth Garrett cut her way into medicine, Albert contracted typhoid, which, after a few months of horrifyingly swift deterioration, ended in his death in December. Everything in those last weeks became suddenly invested with an almost religious significance. Here, for example, is the last book read to Albert, Scott's "Peveril of the Peak", and on the flyleaf the queen has written: "This book was read up to the mark on page 81 to my beloved husband "during his fatal illness "and within three days of its terrible termination." You turn to page 81 and here's how it reads: "He heard the sound of voices, "but they ceased to convey any impression to his understanding; "and in a few minutes, he was faster asleep "than he'd ever been in the whole course of his life." Victoria buried her beloved Albert in the Italianate mausoleum she built here at Frogmore in Windsor Great Park.

Albert's death threw Victoria into a paroxysm of grief. Not for her the stoical acceptance of the inscrutable will of the Almighty. She had lost not only her co-ruler, but her helpmate, and vanished, too, was her domestic idyll. At the abyss of her misery, she must have thought that all chance of contentment had gone. Death was an immense presence in Victorian life, perhaps because it was the one conquest denied to the soldiers and engineers and captains of industry who seemed to be able to conquer everything else. If they couldn't stop their loved ones from going to their graves, they could at least create the illusion in marble and photographs that they were still alongside those who mourned them.

This, in her distraught, inconsolable grief, Victoria knew how to do. With religious devotion, she set out Albert's shaving equipment every morning... and fresh evening clothes and a clean towel every evening. Missing his physical presence, she slept with his nightgown by her side. The exuberant headstrong young woman shrank into the hard shell of the forbidding inconsolable widow, for whom the least sign of merriment was a betrayal of Albert's sainted memory. She seemed, in a way which no one accustomed to the strong-minded queen could ever have imagined, somehow no longer in charge of either herself or of the country. Victoria's sense of moral calling, so strong from the beginning of her reign, had become so dependent on Albert the Good's judgement that now that he was gone, she seemed at a loss about how and where to exercise it.

It never occurred to her that women alone, either as widows or spinsters, might be able to do good by themselves, to make a life, even a career, on their own. If she wanted to see how this could be done, all she needed to do was to take her pony trap  a mile or two down the road from Osborne to Freshwater, to visit someone who, though neither widow nor spinster, was very much her own woman. The photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. Since Victoria was herself an avid collector of photographs, she might have been curious about this eccentric half-French woman's notorious dark room. For Julia Cameron, photography was not just an amateur hobby.

The poetic lyricism of her photographs disguises the hard need she had to make some money. Worse, she seemed perversely to glory in the male mess of camera work. Flouncing around in a converted hen house that was her studio, her dresses and hands stained with black silver nitrate, conscripting men and women models like a recruiting sergeant major and bellowing terrifyingly at them if they moved before they were told. Needless to say, the men who ran the Royal Photographic Society refused to take her seriously. What they meant, of course, was that a soft woman couldn't be expected to master machinery, chemicals, the hard technology of the job, let alone make a professional career out of it, despite Julia's obvious success at both.

But some of the most powerful and intelligent of the great and good - Tennyson... Carlyle... and the astronomer Sir John Herschel, who had obediently posed, were not deceived by the poetic light of her work. They embraced her as the greatest portraitist of her age. Julia's triumph in making a profession as an artist must have been noticed by all the young women of the 1870s and '80s who wanted more for themselves than just a destiny as wife and mother. After Girton College, the first Oxbridge college for women, opened its doors near Cambridge in 1873, they had, for the first time, somewhere that would educate them, liberate them, if they chose, from middle-class domesticity.

But even as they drank in knowledge behind the red walls of Girton, some of those young women longed to get beyond the cloister. The old ways of women's useful work - teaching, preaching, nursing - were no longer enough. Nor was just being an educated designer of the House Beautiful. They were drawn instead, as Elizabeth Gaskell was a generation earlier, to the ugliness everywhere in a Britain feeling once more the strain of economic crisis.
Some of them even decided to make that new home in the places most shocking to their parents' generation - in the slums of the industrial cities, to steep themselves in the dirt and anger of their poor abused sisters... to face up to harsh truths, the kind spelled out by the young George Bernard Shaw.

The bravest of this new generation could even face head-on the most unpalatable truths, like that link between breeding and destitution.  Annie Besant was the kind of do-gooder clergyman's wife unthinkable a generation  earlier, and still unthinkable to the likes of the queen. Annie Besant had scandalised the country by publishing contraception advice for working people. Such impertinence would not go unpunished, however, and Annie found herself the victim of a court order. She lost custody of her daughter to her former husband, an unforgiving time for women judged as unfit mothers. But nothing would stop her crusading. Searching round for a woman's cause, Annie found one in the teenage match girls who worked amidst phosphorus fumes for Bryant and May in East London.

They were paid just between four and ten shillings a week, and if they had dirty feet or an untidy bench they were fined, taking more money out of their already pathetic wages. Most horrifying of all, the girls ran the constant risk of contracting the hideously disfiguring "phossy" jaw, since Bryant and May persisted in the use of phosphorus, which other match companies had given up. At the same time, the company was paying huge dividends to its shareholders, a disproportionate number of whom, Annie enjoyed revealing, were the clergy.

Annie wrote an article about the plight of the match girls for her campaigning newspaper, The Link. And together with fellow socialist campaigner Herbert Burrows, she distributed copies of it at the gates of the factory. The owners of Bryant and May threatened the girls with instant dismissal if they didn't sign a document repudiating the article and the journalists. But, instead of signing, the girls went en masse to Annie and Burrows with their story. They told her: A strike committee was formed. Besant and Burrows promised to pay the wages of any girl dismissed for their action.

George Bernard Shaw volunteered as the cashier of the strike fund. 1,400 girls came out. The company eventually settled and Annie Besant and the girls were triumphant. She was hailed as the working girls' champion  and was immediately sought after by all sorts of other women aggrieved at their treatment. In 1888, Annie campaigned for election to the Tower Hamlets School Board in a dogcart festooned with red ribbons. She won, in a landslide victory, polling 15,000 votes. Even before they had the vote, women showed they could, and would, win local elections. Queen Victoria was not, in fact, blind to the miseries which so appalled the young women social workers of the 1880s and 1890s.

Shaken by some of the revelations in "The Bitter Cry of Outcast London", she actually pressed Gladstone's government to spend more of its time on the problem of housing, and her insistence produced a Royal Commission. But, whether she wanted to see it or could have seen it, there were, in the warm Jubilee summer of 1887, two Britains. Nearly a third of able-bodied men were unemployed. Now, thousands of the jobless were also homeless,
sleeping rough in parks or squares, some of them even in open coffins - the undead of underclass Albion.

But, of course, the queen was kept well away from all that. What she saw were 30,000 poor schoolchildren in Hyde Park, who each got a meat pie, a piece of cake and an orange to celebrate the great day of her Jubilee. It was the kind of thing which brought a smile - yes, a smile - on the face of the old queen. It would be like this for the rest of her life - the country bathed in summer evening light, the faces well-scrubbed and dutiful. The old lady, at last, something like the contented matriarch, the grandmother of the Empire, the thrones of Europe filled with her offspring.

There was, of course, someone missing from this national family photo. In the Abbey, amidst all the splendour, Victoria suddenly felt a pang. Victoria would have to wait another 14 years, until 1901, before she would be reunited with him: Her long-suffering secretary, Frederick Ponsonby, said there was nothing Victoria enjoyed so much as arranging funerals and her own was no exception. She ordered a white lying-in-state and funeral for herself. In her hands was a silver crucifix, her white dress decorated with cheerful sprays of spring flowers. There was a touch of Miss Havisham about this, the 80-year-old flower-bedecked virgin bride.

But not jilted by her beloved, going to join him. When Albert's memorial effigy had been ordered from the sculptor Marochetti in 1862, Victoria insisted on hers being made at the same time, and with her appearance as it was when he had been taken from her, so that they would be reunited, at least in marble, at the same age, in the glowing prime of their union. The trouble was, no one could remember where they'd put the statue made 40 years before. It had, in fact, been walled up in one of the cavities of a renovated room in Windsor Castle.

Eventually, it was found and laid next to Albert as per the queen's orders. And there she is, as if the clocks had stopped along with the heart of the Prince Consort. But they hadn't, of course. Victoria might lie by her beloved dressed as a medieval princess, but he, of all people, had known it had been progress which had been the mainspring of her reign. Albert had done his best to see that it had been a force for goodness as well as greatness,
that the surging movement of the machine age would be held in check by the moral anchorage of the Victorian home.

The women of Britain, Victoria's sisters and daughters, were supposed to be grateful for this, to bask in the warmth of the hearth they tended. But those cosy fires kindled yearnings that couldn't be contained by a placid domesticity. Those little liberators - the cheque book, the latchkey and the bicycle - beckoned over the doorstep and into the street. And you couldn't tell any longer just how the girls would turn out. Riding with the body of the queen from London to Windsor was the widow of one of her Viceroys of India - Lady Lytton. Just eight years later, her daughter, Constance, in prison as a suffragette, would make her statement about the future of women in Britain... ...by carving, with a piece of broken enamel from a hairpin... ...the letter V into the flesh of her breast. But it wasn't V for Victoria. It was V for Votes.

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