By Peter Ellis Jones
The news of the sudden and premature death of Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria, in December 1861 stunned the nation. He was much loved and held in high esteem by the populace at large particularly on account of his contribution to the industrial and cultural life of his adopted country. His initiative and drive had led to the staging of the highly successful Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in 1851, which afforded a window to the world of British industrial innovation and strength. His vision that the profits from the enterprise should be dedicated to learning and discovery on the site of the Great Exhibition in Kensington, London, were evidence of his deep commitment to the progress of the nation. 1
As was the custom of the time, those who had in their lifetime made an outstanding contribution to the life of the nation would be remembered by the raising of a memorial in a prominent position as a constant reminder of the country’s gratitude and as an inspiration to their compatriots. Within a month of the Prince Consort’s death the Lord Mayor of London had written to the mayors of urban boroughs throughout the country requesting their co-operation in eliciting subscriptions towards the erection of a national memorial in London.2 However, a number of towns and institutions wished to erect their own memorial; in particular the smaller nations of the United Kingdom desired to recognise their high regard for the Prince. Where to locate their memorial did not present a problem for Scotland and Ireland – Edinburgh and Dublin had been national capitals for centuries.3 Wales on the other hand had been administratively absorbed into England since 1536 and had never had a capital city to serve as a focus of its cultural life.
However, the green shoots of national awareness, based largely on the distinctiveness of the Welsh language, were beginning to appear, particularly in the counties of south east Wales. At Crickhowell, for example, the Welsh clergyman Thomas Price, was raising the profile of the language by his many contributions to the literary tracts of his day and in writing a History of Wales which he published in fourteen sections between 1836 and 1842.4 He founded a school in which Welsh was to be the principal medium of instruction and he condemned the practice of appointing English-speaking clergy to predominantly Welsh speaking parishes. He established Cymreigyddion societies in Brecon (1823) and in Abergavenny (1833) and a minstrelsy society to train boys to play the harp. The first national eisteddfod was held in Aberdare in 1861 and the song ‘Hen wlad fy nhadau’, composed in 1856, was soon adopted as the national anthem of Wales. In Monmouthshire, Lord and Lady Llanover, who were greatly influenced by Thomas Price’s works, became wealthy patrons of expressions of Welsh identity .Around 1840, Lady Llanover “evolved a homogenised Welsh national costume from various Welsh peasant dresses. ..and a very tall beaver hat.”5 She endowed two Presbyterian chapels in which services were to be held in Welsh. Lord Llanover rebuked the Bishop of St. David’s concerning the right of Welsh speaking people to have church services in their native language.6
The stirrings of national consciousness, however, “remained vague and unfocused” and did not represent a “coherent view of nationality”. 7 Unsurprisingly therefore no town came forward to raise a Wales memorial to the Prince Consort. This deadlock was broken by George White, mayor of Tenby.8 In the first week of January 1864, White convened a meeting in the Gatehouse Hotel, which he chaired, to gain support for his conviction that Tenby would be the ideal location for the Wales memorial. ” After waiting two years for some other place to take the initiative,” he declared that “Tenby should come before the Welsh people and ask them for their aid.” Tenby, he thought, would be an appropriate site in view of the “pre-eminence of its historical associations with the monarchy” – (Henry, the founder of the royal house of Tudor, was born and brought up in Pembroke and used Pembrokeshire as his base for his encounter with King Richard III at Bosworth), “its devotion to the throne and its unsurpassed beauties of situation, without mines and manufacturies.” White’s initiative gained the approval of the meeting and a circular was issued highlighting the claims of Tenby as the site for the memorial and canvassing “for subscriptions from all classes of the Welsh people” to fund the project.9
Soon, a committee of subscribers was formed to take the matter forward. Names of the committee members are not known. However, it is evident that Lord Llanover, no doubt a generous subscriber and a member of the committee, played a pivotal role in translating White’s aspirations into reality. As we have seen he was dedicated to supporting aspects of Welsh culture and would view a Wales memorial as a symbol of the nationhood of Wales. By the end of February £450 had been paid into the memorial fund. Such a generous response led the committee to conclude that a statue would be the most worthy memorial to the prince and since it was to be a Wales memorial the work should be entrusted to a native of Wales. The committee turned to John Evan Thomas ( 1810- 73) to advise them on the most appropriate form the statue should take. Thomas, a Welsh speaking native of Brecon “was the first Welsh sculptor to establish a significant career and reputation largely through Welsh patronage”.10 He opined that a statue, seven
feet high attired in royal robes and sculptured from Sicilian marble, would be “the most elegant. ..for a town as beautifully situated as Tenby”. He estimated that the cost of such a statue excluding the pedestal, would be £500 guineas.11 The subscribers’ committee commissioned Thomas to undertake the work and Tenby Corporation earmarked the centre of Tudor Place as the site for its erection.
Approval for raising the memorial and its location rested with Parliament (and ultimately the Queen). Lord Llanover would have been a persuasive advocate for the committee’s decision since he had long experience in Parliament -as an M.P. from 1831 to 1858, as First Commissioner of Works in Lord Palmerston’s first ministry (1855-8) and in the House of Lords after his elevation to the peerage in 1859.12 The statue, as finally approved, would be 8 ft. 9 ins. high carved from a block of finest Sicilian marble and representing the Prince with head uncovered, in Field Marshall’s uniform with baton in hand under the mantle and collar of the Order of the Garter.13 It became clear that a statue of these dimensions standing on an 18 foot high pedestal would be out of place within the confines of Tudor Place. Thereupon, the Rev. James Henry Philipps of Picton Castle, a major landowner in the district, came forward to present a plot of land on Castle Hill to site the memorial. He also conveyed to the Corporation a 99 year lease on the remainder of Castle Hill with the proviso that it should not be built upon but rather
laid out as an amenity area with walkways and seats to be enjoyed by the public at large.14 This gift of an incomparable picturesque and open site overlooking the town and harbour and with views across the bay to the hills beyond was a fitting setting for the memorial.
Foundation stones for the monument were laid in December 1864; they support a platform of three ranges of steps upon which a pedestal of native limestone, 18 ft. high, was erected. Four engraved panels of Sicilian marble were set into each flank of the pedestal. Two of the inserts, one incorporating the arms of Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, the last native prince, the other the red dragon of Wales banner carried to the battle of Bosworth by Henry Tudor in 1485, were designed to emphasise the continuity of sovereignty between the two nations. A third panel incorporates the arms of the Queen and her Consort and the front panel bears the bilingual inscription ” Albert Dda, priod ein gorhoffus Frenhines Victoria, Albert the Good, consort of our beloved Queen Victoria.This memorial of His Royal Highness Prince Albert was raised by the inhabitants of Wales and inaugurated at Tenby by His Royal Highness Prince Arthur, his third son, on the second day of August, 1865.” (This may have been the first bilingual inscription to appear on public property in Wales). The statue was sculpted in London and conveyed gratis by the Great Western Railway Company to Narberth Road station (Clunderwen) where it was transferred onto a wagon and drawn by teams of horses along its 16 mile journey to Tenby.
Prince Arthur (1850-1942), later Duke of Connaught, was only 15 years of age at this his first public function. It was said that he was the Queen’s favourite son, the one who most resembled his father.15 He travelled from London to Milford on July 31st. At Newport, the gateway to Wales, he was met by Lord Llanover, the Lord Lieutenant of Monmouthshire and other dignitaries. Lord Llanover probably travelled with Prince Arthur on the last leg of the journey; it would appear that Lord Kensington, the Lord Lieutenant of Pembrokeshire, was unable to undertake the customary duty of welcoming a member of the royal family to the county and Lord Llanover deputised for him. Prince Arthur spent the night at the home of the Superintendent of the naval dockyard in Pembroke Dock. The following day he was driven to the Gatehouse Hotel in Tenby where he was received by the mayor, the Bishop of St. David’s, Lord Llanover and members of the Subscribers Committee.
The day appointed for the unveiling ceremony was declared a public holiday in Tenby, Pembroke, Pembroke Dock and Haverfordwest. The hundreds of people who converged on Tenby that day by road, rail and steamer found the town bedecked with flags, banners and greenery .A detachment of the 62nd Regiment from Milford, units of the Volunteer Corps from Haverfordwest and Pembroke Dock and members of the Castlemartin Yeomanry lined the route and were drawn up around the monument. The royal procession which formed outside the Gatehouse Hotel comprised, besides the Bishop of St. David’s and Lord Llanover, the mayors of many of the principal towns of South Wales, magistrates, clergy, sheriffs, and members of Tenby Corporation. 16 At the monument an address was given by the mayor of Tenby to which the Prince replied; a prayer was then offered by the Bishop. As the Prince unveiled the statue bands played and guns from a battery on Castle Hill fired a royal salute.17
The royal party , members of clerical and military orders and subscribers to the memorial fund then retired to the assembly room at the Gatehouse Hotel “which was tastefully ornamented with flags, the Red Dragon of Wales, the national crest, being conspicuous”. After a sumptuous luncheon Prince Arthur proposed a toast to “the health of the Queen’s loyal people” to which Lord Llanover responded. During the luncheon items of music were played by Lord Llanover’s harpist who was dressed in Welsh national costume. Evidently, an attempt was made to give the event a Welsh flavour.
Later that afternoon the royal party left by train for Pembroke Dock where it boarded the royal yacht ‘Victoria and Albert’ bound for Osborne, Isle of Wight. Meanwhile the crowd lingered on Castle Hill, in the narrow streets of the town and on the beaches before returning home to reflect upon their impressions of the day that Wales could stand proudly alongside the other nations of the British Isles in honouring the memory of the Prince Consort.
Wales, however, had to wait another century before its status as a nation was recognised with the appointment of a Secretary of State and accompanying Welsh Office in 1964. And it was Cardiff and not Tenby that became the capital of Wales in 1955!
1. The site now houses a complex of museums (Victoria and Albert, Science, and
Natural History), colleges (Imperial and Royal College of Music), other
learned bodies, e.g. the Royal Geographical Society, and, of course, the iconic
Royal Albert Hall.
2. P(embroke) H(erald) and A(dvertiser), 14th February 1862. The Albert
memorial in Kensington, designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott and sculptured
by John Foley was unveiled in March 1876.
3. An equestrian bronze statue designed by David Bryce and sculptured by John
Steele stands in Charlotte Square Gardens, Edinburgh; a statue sculptured by
John Foley was positioned in Leinster Lawn, beside Merrion Square, Dublin,
but was repositioned to a less prominent site in Leinster Lawn in 1921.
4. For Thomas Price (‘Carnhuanawc’; 1787-1848) see Y B(ywgraffiadur)
C(ymreig) hyd 1940 (the Welsh Dictionary of National Biography), London,
1953, pp. 74-5.
5. Prys Morgan, ‘The Hunt for the Welsh Past in the Romantic Period’ in E.
Hobsbawm and T. Ranger, eds., The Invention of Tradition, London, 1983,
6. For Lord and Lady Llanover see Benjamin Hall (1802-67) in Y.B.C. pp. 313-4;
John Davies, A History of Wales, Penguin, 2007; and Peter Lord, Imaging the
Nation, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 2000, pp. 251-6.
7. Morgan, K.O., Rebirth of a Nation, Wales 1880-1980, Oxford University Press,
1982, n.b. Chapter 4, ‘The National Revival’, pp. 90-91.
8. George White (nat 1826) was a native of St. Florence and a Wine and Spirit
Merchant with premises in High Street, Tenby. Census 1861.
9. P.H.A., 15 January 1865. See also P.H.A. 12 February 1865.
10. Dictionary of National Biography & YBC. “He interested himself in Welsh
affairs. With the support of Lord Llanover he led the movement to save from
misuse the endowments of Christ College, Brecon” (translation).
11. PHA, 4 March 1864.
12. M.P. for Monmouthshire Boroughs, 1831- 7 and for Marylebone 1837 -1859.
Before becoming a baron his name was Benjamin Hall. It was during his time
as First Commissioner of Works that the great bell was raised to the top of the
bell tower of the Palace of Westminster and has been called ‘Big Ben’ ever
13. Although the Prince Consort is principally remembered for his patronage of the
cultural and industrial life of the nation, he took an active interest in measures
designed to reform the Army. One of his numerous honorary titles was that of
Field Marshall. See Hermione Hobhouse, Prince Albert: his life and work,
Hamish Hamilton, 1983.
14. PHA, 23 September 1864.
16. The High Sheriffs of Carmarthenshire, Montgomeryshire and Pembrokeshire;
the mayors of Pembroke, Carmarthen, Haverfordwest, Cardiff, Newport
(Mon.), Newport (Pembs. ), Swansea, Cardigan and Denbigh.
17. The event was reported in PHA, 4 August, Te by and Pembroke Dock
Observer, 3 August and the Illustrated London News, 12 August 1864.