Over the years, a number of monarchs have visited Arundel, not always with good intentions.
However, the visit of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, in December, 1846, was welcomed with great excitement by the townsfolk.
On Tuesday, December 1, at Fontwell, Henry Charles, the 13th Duke of Norfolk, who had accompanied the Queen and the Prince from Portsmouth in a carriage, rode alongside his son, Henry, the Earl of Arundel and Surrey, as he took over the escort of the royal cortege for the final leg of the journey to Arundel.
At 4.30pm, the royal party passed into the town under the huge triumphal arch that was built on the site of the old Water-gate, at the lower end of Maltravers Street.
The Illustrated London News at this point reported the Queen was wearing a ‘black velvet vesite, trimmed with sable fur, and ermine muff, white silk bonnet and a lilac dress.’
Once through the arch, the cortege was brought to a stop where the mayor and borough authorities were assembled in their new robes.
The borough had commissioned these especially for this visit, based on the design worn by the Guildford mayor and authorities.
12 robes for councillors, ‘black, hemmed with black silk velvet’, while the mayor’s robe was ‘scarlet trimmed with German sable.’
The mayor, Howard Gibbon, officially greeted her majesty and offered her the town mace, saying: “May it please your majesty to accept this mace which I, as mayor of this ancient borough, humbly present, in dutiful submission to your majesty’s royal prerogative.”
During my research for this article, I was surprised to discover that Mr Gibbon was the second son of Charles Howard, 11th Duke of Norfolk – known to posterity as the ‘Drunken Duke’ – and Mary Ann Gibbon, the duke’s long-time mistress.
The Queen graciously acknowledged Mr Gibbon, and with a scarcely suppressed though exceedingly good-tempered smile, returned the symbolic offering, assuring him ‘... it was not possible it could be in better keeping.’
At the castle lodge gate, the royal party went through a huge evergreen arch.
As they continued on to the castle quadrangle, enormous gas-lit letters burst into flame on the keep, spelling out ‘Welcome Victoria and Albert.’
Entering the grand entrance hall, the party was received by Charlotte, Duchess of Norfolk, her two daughters, Ladies Mary and Adeliza, the Duke of Wellington and several other members of the aristocracy.
Victoria’s diary notes that they found the castle ‘...small but very cheerful’.
At 8pm, and according to tradition, a huge Chinese gong sounded announcing dinner.
During the evening, ‘a grand display of fireworks was given in the meadow at the foot of the castle hill and the streets were crowded with a gay and well-behaved population.’
On Wednesday, December 2, Victoria and Albert had breakfast alone as was usual on such visits.
Later that morning, the duchess introduced her three young children to Victoria who, somewhat amusingly, describes one of the children, her godchild also named Victoria, as ‘...a funny fat little thing aged three...’
In the afternoon, Victoria and Albert accompanied the duke for a tour around the castle gardens, which included a visit to the keep to see the duke’s famous owls.
Victoria notes in her diary: “Unfortunately, the castle has not been restored in a good style by Duke Charles, the last but one, and Saxon and Gothic architecture are mixed.”
This walk included a visit to the newly-built castle dairy by Swanbourne lake.
Victoria wrote: “We lunched with all the company, and afterwards took a nice, long walk with them all down the Slopes Walk to a charming dairy, with gardens and a pretty little cottage, for the duchess’s use, all so nicely kept.”
The after-dinner enter- tainment was provided by the Ethiopian Serenaders, who had been hired especially for the occasion.
Victoria describes the scene thus: “Afterwards, about 100 people came, and there was some music in the library, the Ethiopian singers singing a number of their songs. The comic was, though laughable, I thought rather tiresome.”
At 10.30am the next day, the queen was driven to Petworth House which Victoria notes: “...is fine and large, with a handsome suite of rooms, full of beautiful pictures, but they are badly arranged.”
The royal party arrived back at the castle for luncheon at 2pm, after which Victoria and Albert ceremonially planted two trees in the castle grounds.
This was followed by a stroll around the Fitzalan Chapel and the other half of the same building which is the parish church of St Nicholas.
It was noted in the queen’s diary that after dinner: “... a conjuror performed tricks and we danced a little, concluding with a very merry country dance, which I danced with the duke.”
On Friday, December 4, the Royal party left at 10am, having ‘... enjoyed our stay very much.’
The Duke of Norfolk accompanied the party from Arundel to Chichester on horseback and, from there, in a carriage to Portsmouth, where they departed for Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.
My research on this article was greatly assisted by the Illustrated London Times report on the royal visit, the published diaries of Queen Victoria and the ever-useful Arundel Borough and Castle, by GW Eustace.
• As a current Arundel town councillor, I have had the privilege to have worn the gowns of office that were created for this royal visit and would like to state I am eternally grateful that, in 1846, one of the councillors was short and rotund, as there is just the one gown that could have been tailormade for me, as it fits perfectly.
Upcoming events at Arundel Museum
• Thursday, September 18, 7pm for 7.30pm, Journey to Titanic, illustrated talk by Rob Goldsmith, £5. Bar available.
• Monday, September 29, 2.15 pm, guided tour of Fitzalan Chapel, Arundel, cream tea in Cathedral Centre.
• Thursday, October 2, 7pm for 7.30pm, The Way to the Stars, a talk by Patricia Warren, £5. Bar available.
• Saturday, October 18 to Sunday, October 19, 10am-4pm, Guild of Village Craftsmen, free entry.
For tickets and information contact www.arundelmuseum.org or call 01903 885866.