Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - A Looker-On in London, by Mary H. Krout, 1899 - Chapter 15 - The Princess Maud's Wedding

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AFTER many months of preparation the wedding of the Princess Maud, the youngest daughter of the Prince and Princess of Wales was solemnized, Wednesday, July 22. For a week preceding the event, London had been visited with a brief season of intensely hot weather. The streets, shops and parks were empty and people either rushed out into the country or remained within doors in their town houses. There is something peculiarly oppressive in London heat; it is muggy and steamy, frequently with a yellow-grey haze over the sky which is like a molten lid above the simmering earth. Although the mercury rarely ever touches the altitudes which it reaches in our American dog-days, yet it is much more enervating because of the greater humidity.
    Tuesday, the day preceding the wedding, was the hottest day of the year, but notwithstanding this, fashionable folk came flocking back from their cool retreats, and Piccadilly was once more thronged with carriages. The club windows were crowded with parties of on-lookers, but everybody seemed dull and tired. I had engaged a window in Piccadilly which I shared with a friend and was told by the care-taker that the procession would pass about half past twelve. I was also assured that coffee, tea, bread and butter and sandwiches could be procured, and everything would be arranged with a view to securing the greatest comfort and convenience. This gratifying infor-[-156-]mation was given before the bargain was concluded. The prices asked for the lower windows were extortionate - a premonition of the Jubilee the following year;- two, three and even four guineas for a single place. I had observed that the supply far exceeded the demand up to that hour, but supposed that people were merely a little slow in concluding their bargains. Early Wednesday morning I set out with my friend from her house in Hampstead to the scene of the fete. After a week of blank stagnation the street was once more packed, and trains crowded with passengers arriving from every direction over the countless suburban roads, constantly swelled the throng.
    As we left Finchley Road station the carriages were filled with men, women and children in holiday spirits and arrayed in their best clothes. At Baker street the station platforms were still more uncomfortably thronged, and omnibuses loaded inside and out left every second for Piccadilly where the passengers were deposited. Our route lay through Oxford and along Bond street, and from there we walked to our destination. Below St. James street the sidewalks were comparatively free. Even at that late hour, for it was then half past ten, the decorations were not all completed and preparations were still going forward; carpenters were sawing and hammering, putting up rough seats, and florists were arranging wreaths and plants and suspending baskets filled with vines from windows and balconies, and servants in the clubs were putting the finishing touches to festoons and drapery. It seemed surprising that the decorations were not more general, but they were confined to a very small area, chiefly along Pall Mall in the region of the clubs, in St. James, Piccadilly from the Circus to the foot of Constitution hill, and in the vicinity of Buckingham palace. There was little or nothing along Regent or Oxford streets; the government buildings did not display an inch [-157-] of bunting, but stood grim and unashamed of their dinginess. The royal standard floated over the parliament buildings instead of the ordinary English flag, and it was the only hint given in this quarter that a royal wedding was in progress. Many shops displaying the royal warrant were as apathetic as the government, and furnishers and artisans to "H. R. H." were apparently indifferent and unresponsive. The decorations displayed were in no way very remarkable. The high wall on the Piccadilly side of Devonshire House was simply hung with lengths of crimson cloth, while several of the Piccadilly clubs imitated this simplicity of design. At the head of St. James street were three tall Venetian masts wreathed in garlands of green and decorated with red and white roses, like Elizabethan May poles; from these, red and blue ribbons fluttered gaily, and from a line across the street hung a rich banner of dark blue satin, gold fringed with the motto in gold letters "May you be happy all your life."
    The lamp posts were banked with flowers-roses, ferns and smilax surmounted by English, American and Danish flags, the American flag on the left-another evidence of national good will-balancing the English flag on the right. Indeed, American flags were used almost everywhere in great profusion. There were two, six feet or more in length, with English flags of the same size in St. James street, under which the bridal cortege was to pass. At regular intervals down this street also, were structures resembling small Gothic temples, their pillars and arches covered thickly with flowers, surmounted by three plumes - the crest of the Prince of Wales in carnations, or by the royal coronet in yellow. The initials "M." and "C" were also profusely displayed, white on a blue ground, or white and scarlet and yellow contrasted with blue, the letters arranged singly or intertwined in a monogram. The walls of one club were veiled in pale green and yellow [-158-]  muslin, with additional decorations of white flowers and green vines; windows and doors were Outlined in small flags, which were also flustered above the cornices and capitals. The entire effect, however, was not very pleasing or striking, there being a noticeable lack of grace and originality. Being much too early and not wishing to wait at our post until the procession arrived, we called a cab and drove down St. James street to Marlborough House along Pall Mall and back to Piccadilly. At Marlborough House a detail of policemen had been stationed on both sides of the street, about six feet apart, but they did not display their truncheons, and in their smart uniforms and white gloves were the mildest and most amiable representatives of the law that I had ever seen. Here and there, at the upper and rear windows of Marlborough House, the faces of servants could be seen pressed against the panes, under-footmen and housemaids, reminding one of the faces in the background of Hogarth's pictures. Over the gate a platform had been erected, and here seats had been placed for the officials of the household, and their friends.
    A temporary balcony opposite, from which floated their flag, was occupied by a party of gaily dressed Americans who had for their neighbors dark-skinned natives of India with whom they fraternized as they never would have done with the scarcely darker-skinned negro of their native land. ·Many people drove about in their carriages looking at the banners and flowers and arches, while scores of the very poor went on foot-costermongers in corduroy ·with a following of children and the "missus" in a shapeless bonnet and trailing gown. It was interesting and pleasant to notice the self-respecting independence of these humble folk; they were neither noisy nor intrusive, and while they retained a certain hereditary reverence for the classes above them, at the same time their [-159-] attitude was without servility and they were allowed to do as they liked within the sacred confines of the Green park which, that day, was the brownest of brown parks, after weeks of drought All sorts of contrivances had been devised, to be rented at a few pence, upon which people might stand and look over the heads of the crowd along the curbstone. There were packing boxes, improvised four-legged stools, rickety chairs, aged and infirm, and rough benches. In the course of the day one of these benches collapsed under the weight of ten people, two of whom were removed to the hospital, one with a broken arm and another with a dislocated knee. At the foot of the streets opening into Piccadilly and the more crowded thoroughfare, detachments of the uniformed St. John's ambulance corps had been stationed with supplies of stretchers, bandages, and restoratives in readiness for immediate relief; but happily, comparatively few accidents occurred.
    After looking at the decorations we returned and took the seats at our window which commanded a good view of Constitution hill, and found, by this time, that the curb-stones were well lined, all the chairs and benches occupied, and many were refreshing themselves with luncheon. Venders were going up and down shouting " Eres yor 'fishal progrime". These were of various kinds; some printed on thick card-board, others on ordinary paper or on Japanese paper with bright red or green borders. The latter were recommended as suitable "to take 'ome to the children." After we were seated at our airy post we were told that we might have chairs at a window on the lower floor which had remained unsold. But we preferred the seclusion of our own place, which we had to ourselves. A white-capped, white-aproned maid came presently with a plate of very uninviting fruit which was offered to tie for a shilling and was afterward reduced to a sixpence. [-160-] This we declined and when we asked for ~the promised tea and coffee we were told that "they had been disappointed." This probably meant that there were not people enough in the building to make it worth while to provide these luxuries; the cheese, biscuits and mineral water which were substituted, however, proved sufficient. As we ate and drank, a state carriage drove by with its coachman and footman in plush and powder; and, occasionally, there was a clatter of hoofs as a detachment of Life Guards in their gold and scarlet uniform cantered toward Buckingham Palace. Companies of police were stationed along the curbstone as in Pall Mall, and finally their chief arrived, mounted on a spirited charger, in full uniform with plumed chapeau, and rode slowly up and down the line inspecting the men. After he and his aides had departed, there was a jingle of copper, shouts of laughter and much good humored commotion; a favorite diversion had begun; men in the club windows where they sat surrounded by bevies of women in splendid Parisian toilettes, were tossing out pennies to be scrambled for by the crowd below. The scramble for the money did not confine itself to the children; older people took part in it - dreadful wrecks of men with swollen, purple faces, broken boots and filthy tattered clothes; and impudent brazen women sodden with gin, who scuffled and fought and rolled over in the dust. One or two of the women were decently dressed, but they, too, shouted with laughter, wrestled and struggled and screamed like furies. Attracted by the uproar the chief came riding back and sternly commanded the police to put a stop to the disturbance, which, for a few seconds they endeavored to do; then the tumult began again and continued until the procession was in sight. The people were not actually violating any law, and consequently could not be "given in charge." At three o'clock the Queen's trumpeters rode slowly up Piccadilly [-161-] in their splendid uniform stiff with gold lace, and kettle drums and trumpets from which depended richly embroidered banners; the wedding was over, and then came the procession returning from Buckingham Palace to Marlborough House, a pageant which was both brief and disappointing, with few soldiers and no music, not even the beating of drums. First the bride and groom appeared in one of the gilded state carriages, with the Queen's monogram "V. R." in huge letters on the panel, the hammer cloth of silk heavily fringed and embroidered in gold; the coachman and the three footmen in the royal livery, scarlet and gold, with inharmonious pink silk stockings, buckled shoes and velvet caps, and nosegays in their buttonholes. All that could be seen of the bride from our elevated station was a billowy heap of satin wedding- gown, and a passing glimpse of a bridal bouquet, veil and tiara; the groom in his simple naval uniform was quite extinguished by the shimmering folds of his bride's finery; a detachment of mounted troops, preceded the carriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales. The royal mother- in-law was in a gown of pale gray silk with a sparkling tiara of diamonds; the Prince of Wales in full uniform, carried his gloves and shako in his hand. In the carriages that followed, each with its attendant guard, were the Duke and Duchess of York, the Duke and Duchess of Fife, the Princess Victoria and the crown Prince and Princess of Denmark. There was not much enthusiasm as the procession passed, popular demonstration being confined to waving of handkerchiefs and a discreet clapping of hands. On all sides the people said disappointedly; "It was nothing, compared to the Duke of York's wedding;" the splendors of which they had evidently expected to see repeated. After the bride and groom had returned to Marlborough House the lookers-on in that vicinity remained to see them set out to the railway station [-162-] - to which they were conveyed in an open landau, the bride having changed her splendid satin gown for a simple and tasteful travelling dress. It was some time before the crowds in Piccadilly finally dispersed, and at various points they formed a solid and immovable body. We were an hour in walking less than half a mile, moving inch by inch, in a mass of humanity from which it would have been impossible to escape had a panic ensued. At times we were carried along by sheer force, propelled by the slowly-moving crowd, and it was easy to realize what crushing and stifling would have ensued had it been excited or hurried; as it was, the people were extremely patient and good-natured, waiting their chance to move on as space was made for them, and without pushing or struggling. When we finally emerged at Bond street, somewhat disheveled and breathless, we agreed that there were far more satisfying pleasures in this transitory world than seeing, or trying to see, a royal wedding procession.