Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Hove Plaques - King Edward VII (1841-1910)

by Judy Middleton (2003 revised 2014)

copyright © J.Middleton
8 King's Gardens.
He was born on 9 November 1841 at St James’s Palace, being the eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who went on to produce another eight children. But there does not seem to have been any special bond between mother and her first-born. Indeed Queen Victoria was never one to dote on her babies and it must be said the children were not particularly photogenic. Then there was the weight of responsibility on new parents to train up the young prince for his important role in later life. Towards this goal, Prince Albert instituted a protracted and strict educational timetable that proved frustrating for the young prince who never possessed an academic bent. He also suffered from comparison to his next sibling in age, Princess Victoria, later the Princess Royal. She was bright and intelligent and had a close relationship with her father.

It is interesting to note that when the Prince of Wales and the Princess Royal were youngsters, they were vaccinated against smallpox whilst staying at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. The man wielding the syringe was Harry Blaker (1794-1846) and afterwards he took some of the vaccine home with him and vaccinated two of his grandchildren saying they would have royal blood in their veins. Blaker held the appointment of Surgeon and Apothecary to the Royal Household when they were in residence at Brighton. He received a salary of £300 a year and at Christmas time mince pies the size of dinner plates were despatched to him from the kitchen of the Royal Pavilion. Blaker was noted for being ambidextrous, which meant he could use either hand when performing operations. This speeded up the procedure, an important consideration when the patient had to endure the experience without the benefit of chloroform. There is a small memorial to Harry Blaker in St Nicolas Church, Portslade.

Prince Albert died of typhoid in 1861 at the early age of 42 and Queen Victoria was devastated. It also did not help the relationship with her eldest son because there had been a family row over his behaviour in Ireland. Prince Albert went to remonstrate with him and on the journey home became chilled. Queen Victoria put the stress of the incident as a factor in her husband’s death and thus laid some blame on the Prince of Wales.

The Prince of Wales retained that title for a very long time up until the age of fifty-nine. (Our own Prince of Wales has overtaken that record in the monarch-in-waiting stakes). But Queen Victoria continued to play her cards close to her chest and would not allow her heir to have any knowledge of government matters or the relevant documents and reports. It was probably quite an eye-opener to palace insiders when Edward VII turned out to be an able and well-regarded king although he only had a short reign. Moreover, he was popular in France, a feat for any Englishman, which laid the basis for the Entente Cordiale.

As he was excluded from matters at the top table, the Prince of Wales enjoyed himself in society with weekend house parties, raffish friends and indulging his love of horse racing, yachting hunting and shooting.  He travelled abroad often and had a particular love of France. There was also a string of affairs with society ladies as well as actresses, despite the fact he had a wife. He married Princess Alexandra, daughter of the future King Christian IX of Denmark on 10 March 1863. She was much admired for her beauty and elegance but unfortunately she became profoundly deaf, which made social interaction very difficult. But they were known to be an affectionate couple and they had six children. She was remarkably tolerant of her husband’s affairs but she felt secure in the knowledge that he loved her the best. They also had sorrows to share. Their youngest son John was born in 1871 and only lived for a day, then their eldest son the Duke of Clarence died in 1892.  
copyright © J.Middleton
This splendid postcard of King Edward VII captures the regal bearing of his later years and the characteristic beard cleverly disguises a receding chin. Queen Alexandra was renowned for her beauty and elegance. She also popularised the ‘choker’ necklace, which hid a scar on her neck.
King Edward VII first visited Hove when he was still Prince of Wales. His circle of wealthy and successful friends included Jews such as Arthur Sassoon (1840-1912) and his wife Louise. At first the Sassoons lived at 6 Queen’s Gardens, Hove, which was next door to Arthur’s brother Reuben Sassoon’s home and Reuben was also a friend of royalty. In 1883 Arthur and Louise moved along the road (renamed Kingsway in honour of the royal visits) to 8 King’s Gardens. In 1891 their household had a staff of nine servants. It was to this residence that their royal friend came to stay. Louise was a first-class hostess and knew just how to make him happy and comfortable. But he also found the coastal climate did his ailing chest a world of good and he liked to walk in the private gardens and sit in his special chair placed in a shelter at the foot of Grand Avenue. The gardens were private in those days and the public had no access. But even so the Hove public seems to have behaved in a more decorous manner in the presence of royalty than their predecessors did in the time of Queen Victoria’s visits to Brighton. She was horrified at the way the public hustled her on her constitutional along the promenade and even came close enough to peer under her bonnet to get a closer look at her face. It was one reason why she sold the Royal Pavilion Estate to Brighton Corporation. Another reason was of course the building’s association with her dissolute uncles.
copyright © J.Middleton
You can only appreciate the width of Kingsway when it is practically devoid of traffic as in this postcard. The Sassoon residence at 8 King’s Gardens is the house on the corner.
The royal visits meant a time of worry for Hove Police who had the task of keeping their monarch safe from harm. There was one occasion when a group of around 50 unemployed men staged a noisy demonstration outside the house under the leadership of a Mr Hardy. But the police were on hand and although banners were torn down and Mr Hardy was arrested, peace was soon restored The Mayor of Hove also did his bit by having the railings and public seats near the Sassoon residence painted to deter loiterers.
copyright © J.Middleton
Photo left:- King Edward enjoys a walk in the sunshine on Hove seafront while the crowd keeps a respectful distance. Photo right:- The shelter where King Edward is seated was situated at the foot of Grand Avenue. 
In fact King Edward enjoyed his visits to Hove so much there was talk in the town he was looking for a place of his own. He visited King’s Gardens in 1907 and 1908 but his last visit was on 10 February 1910. While he was there he gave an audience to Mr Asquith, the Prime Minister. On Sunday he attended morning service at All Saints Church in The Drive. But he was in low spirits, and muffled in scarves, with his homburg on his head, he walked slowly along the promenade, arms linked with Arthur and Louise. Despite his asthma and bronchitis, he continued to puff away at his favourite cigars. He died suddenly on 6 May 1910.
copyright © J.Middleton
All Saints Church, Hove, which once numbered a king amongst its congregation.
The public were genuinely upset at his death, and particularly in Hove, where his visits had been so much appreciated. General W.E. Marsland, 5th Dragoon Guards, was moved to present a magnificent west widow to All Saints Church, both in memory of the late King and of his attendance at the church. The window was described as being of ‘soft, silvery tones, suggestive of lights and shades playing on a lake.’ The window’s theme is creation and re-creation. On the left Eve is created from the rib of a sleeping Adam, attended by blue-winged cherubs; the corresponding light shows the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus and St Joseph carries a lantern. There are angels attending them on either side. Below these lights, the six days of creation are depicted and below them there are three scenes related to the Nativity.
copyright © J.Middleton
Photo left:- Hove people were shocked at the King’s death and the interest was such that souvenir postcards were produced. This one shows ‘The Late King Edward’s Favourite Seat at Hove’ plus a wreath. Photo right:- This postcard shows the Union Flag and the Royal Standard at half-mast with, two portraits of the late King and an image of 8 King’s Gardens.
Meanwhile, Arthur Sassoon donated the sum of £100 towards the creation of a large memorial in memory of King Edward VII to be placed on the border of Hove and Brighton. It is now universally known as the Peace Statue. (see Peace Statue web-page).

copyright © J.Middleton
The Peace Statue.
On 30 August 2013 the Mayor of Brighton & Hove, Councillor Denise Cobb, unveiled the blue plaque at 8 King's Gardens.


Blaker, Nathaniel Paine Reminiscences
Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Jackson, Stanley The Sassoons (1968)
Newspaper accounts   

Copyright © J.Middleton 2014
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