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Sunday, 16 June 2013

Jubilee atmosphere

Tuesday, June 16th., Victoria Grove, Chelsea.

Never since first I came to London has the West End been so crowded with sightseers, so congested by the business of pleasure: lines of women, gay and perspiring in the hot sun, recklessly ruffling their light thin frocks in scrambles for seats on the tops of buses; straw-hatted and waistcoatless men continually discussing the price of seats to view the procession, and the fortunes made and lost thereby; the thoroughfares packed with vehicles six and eight deep, and the drivers in their grey felt hats as imperturbable as ever, save for a stronger tendency to quarrel cynically among themselves for right of way. On all sides the sound of hammers on wood, and the sight of aproned carpenters working with the leisurely content of men earning eighteen pence an hour. In all the gutters poles springing up, decorated with muslins and streamers and gilt apexes, and here and there patches, daily growing bigger, of red and blue draperies covering the yellow wood of jubilee stands. Everything, taken separately, ugly and crude, yet in combination, by sheer immensity and bold crudity, certain in the end to produce a great spectacular effect.

Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee of 1897 was both a more restrained and a far grander celebration of her reign than the Golden Jubilee of the previous decade. The Queen’s own involvement was greatly diminished on account of her increasing frailty. The scope of the celebrations, however, expanded considerably for the Diamond Jubilee, with a celebration of empire becoming arguably the central theme. Unlike the Golden Jubilee, which had placed Victoria and her family at the centre of the festivities, the Diamond Jubilee focussed almost exclusively on a celebration of the British Empire. Joseph Chamberlain is generally credited for this shift in focus. 
The Jubilee was not however universally acclaimed.

Imagine, for instance, the view of that part of Fleet Street which includes St. Clement Dane's Church, upon whose walls, right to the summit, are hung pendant stands for hundreds of people, the highest seemingly half way to heaven.

No one has talked of anything but Jubilee till this morning, when the suicide of Barney Barnato brought about a diversion which a bad railway accident, a treacherous mutiny in India, and an earthquake in Calcutta, had all failed to accomplish.

Barney Barnato (1851 – 1897), was a British entrepreneurs who gained control of diamond mining, and later gold mining, in South Africa from the 1870s. He died in 1897 in mysterious circumstances; records state that he was lost overboard near the island of Madeira, whilst on a passage home to England. His family vigorously rejected the theory that he had committed suicide, saying that it was totally out of character for a man who had been a pioneer in the rough-and-ready days of emerging Southern Africa. His body was recovered from the sea and is buried at Willesden Jewish Cemetery.
The Welshampton rail crash was a fatal railway accident in the Welsh borders village of Welshampton on 11 June 1897. It resulted in the deaths of 12 people.
In 1897 the North West Frontier of India erupted in warfare, the tribes along the border attacking British garrisons and Indian villages. The reaction to this was a series of incursions by the British into tribal territory in 1897 and 1898. The first incident in the series of uprisings was the action at Maizar in the Tochi Valley where on 10th June 1897 the inhabitants of a group of Madda Khel villages attacked a small British force. 22 officers and men were killed.
The Assam earthquake of 1897 occurred on June 12, 1897 in Assam, British Raj, and had an estimated magnitude of 8.1. Thought to have happened 20 miles (32 km) underground, it left 150,000 square miles of masonry buildings in ruins and was felt over 250,000 square miles from Burma to New Delhi. Numerous buildings in the neighboring country of Bhutan were heavily damaged. There were very many aftershocks. Considering the size of the earthquake, the mortality rate was not that high, with about 1500 casualties, but property damage was very heavy.

This afternoon I had closed my office windows and drawn the blinds in order to review books in quiet and cool, when someone came in to say that a man who was fixing an electric wire had fallen out of the second floor window (next below me) on his head on the pavement. I was so busy that I scarcely noticed what was said. Then another came to say that the man had been carried away on an ambulance to the hospital, with a hole in his forehead into which one could put three fingers. And then later came the report that he was slowly sinking, and in a very short while would certainly be dead. The thing had happened within a few feet of me, and I had not troubled even to open my window and look out into the street. Only the catch in Miss Evors's voice as she spoke to me gave warning that not everyone was unmoved.

I had finished my work, and I ran out into Fleet Street to get a bus home. The crowds were still increasing; there was a pleasant thrill and rumour of excited expectancy in the air. Soon I forgot the man in the hospital, who a couple of hours before had been full of skilled strength and had had his own private hopes and expectations. The streets this evening were full of dowdy matrons, wives of toil, both of London and the country, going about with the naive child-like look of surprise which the housewife cooped up in kitchen and parlour for months together always exhibits on her infrequent outings. This inspection of the mere preliminaries of a great festival was their high holiday; they enjoyed the same sensations as the man free to roam will enjoy in witnessing all the splendid magnificence of Jubilee Day itself.

Stands seem to have been flung round some of the churches like a scarf, swathing them from tower to lowest buttress with almost the curves of drapery, clinging to the stonework like drapery pressed against it by a strong wind.

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