Reported by Christopher Singleton
The Edwardian Era, sometimes referred to as the Golden Era, spanned the years from the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Tony King’s talk provided a framework to this period, from early Victorian times to 1918, with a wealth of images, film and sound.
Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and Prince Edward, born in 1841 and later King Edward VII, were guests of Napoleon in Paris. Edward, who had a constrained existence in Windsor, was enthralled by Paris and wanted to stay. However, he did travel to Canada, USA, Edinburgh, Oxford and Cambridge. Whilst attending Cambridge in 1861, an affair involved the intervention of Prince Albert. Albert contracted a fever from this visit from which he died and for which Victoria never forgave Edward.
Edward, whose London home was Marlborough House, became known as the “Prince of Pleasure” with his country house parties, shooting and fishing. He was keen on motoring, gambled at Monte Carlo and in a 10-month period, made 10 international visits around Europe. He bought Sandringham for £220k and had mistresses, including Alice Keppel and Lilly Langtry. By 1874 was £600k in debt. Edward may have had involvement in the Cleveland Street brothel scandal and is suspected of being Jack the Ripper, who murdered 11 prostitutes.
Gladstone wanted Edward’s involvement in affairs of State, but it was not until Edward was 50 that this was eventually achieved.
An overview of the “British Beehive” class system was given, from royalty to the workhouse, contrasting the lifestyle of the Prince, with Ascot and Henley, to life in the factories and the hovels by the Thames before the Embankment was built. Workhouses, soup kitchens and shelter were provided by Councils, the Church and Salvation Army. Riots ensued.
There were significant changes in Edward VII’s reign. He, with his endeavouring to foster good relations with Europe for which he became known as the “Peacemaker”. Ladies could only watch what was going on in Parliament and the Suffragette movement was formed. The Welfare State was founded and the first flight, by Blériot, was in 1909.
The Edwardians’ pastimes included Music Hall and Theatre. The Theatre Royal opened in Drury Lane with pantomimes including Dick Whittington and there was opera at the Savoy from 1881, the first place to have full electric light in all areas. At the Albert Hall, Elgar evoked the spirit of England with music such as “Pomp and Circumstance”.
The birth of cinema was in Paris and in 1896 it came to the Regent Street Theatre in London. Films became part of the Music Hall repertoire with “animated pictures” and they spread to town and village halls across the country.
The concept of holidays away developed, first in Scarborough, with visits to London in the horse-drawn era.
In the Edwardian Era, the Shopping revolution was underway, with Selfridges opening on Oxford Street in 1909. At John Lewis, in 1928. to the dismay of the founder, his son Spedan, who could not accept the wide distribution of income levels, turned the business into the Partnership it is today. In Reading, considered to be the most typical Edwardian town of that time, there was Waite, Rose and Taylor, which joined the Partnership in 1937.
Returning to the Edwardian Era, Queen Victoria was considered to be the grandmother of Europe and, had she lived, the thought is that the First World War might have been avoided. Of her grandsons, George V was the most popular, changing the royal household’s name from Saxe-Coburg to Windsor and in 1918, Tsar Nicholas was murdered and Kaiser Wilhelm fled to the Netherlands.
Tony King provided us with a glimpse into the Edwardian Era and much more.