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The Great Exhibition of 1851: Prince Albert's Triumph

Queen Victoria’s Journal, 1851 [taken from The Great Exhibition of 1851, compiled by C. H. Gibbs Smith (London: 1950). pages 16-18]

May 1. This day is one of the greatest and most glorious days of our lives, with which to my pride and joy, the name of my dearly beloved Albert is for ever associated! It is a day which makes my heart swell with thankfulness. We began the day with tenderest greetings and congratulations on the birth of our dear little Arthur. He was brought in at breakfast and looked beautiful with blue ribbon on his frock. Mama and Victor were there, as well as all the children and our dear guests. Our little gifts of toys were added to by ones from the Pce and Pcess [of Prussia].

The Park presented a wonderful spectacle, crowds streaming through it, - carriages and troops passing, quite like the Coronation, and for me, the same anxiety. The day was bright and all bustle and excitement. At ½ p. 11 the whole procession in 9 State carriages was set in motion. Vicky and Bertie were in our carriage (the other children and Vivi did not go). Vicky was dressed in lace over white satin, with small wreath of pink wild roses in her hair, and looked very nice. Bertie was in full Highland dress. The Green Park and Hyde Park were one mass of densely crowded human beings, in the highest good humour and most enthusiastic. I never saw Hyde Park look as it did, being filled with crowds as far as the eye could reach. A little rain fell, just as we started, but before we neared the Crystal Palace, the sun shone and gleamed upon the gigantic edifice, upon which the flags of every nation were flying. We drove up Rotten Row and got out of our carriages at the entrance on that side. The glimpse, through the iron gates of the Transept, the waving palms and flowers, the myriads of people filling the galleries and seats around, together with the flourish of trumpets as we entered the building, gave a sensation I shall never forget, and I felt much moved. We went for a moment into a little room where we left our cloaks and found Mama and Mary. Outside, all the Princes were standing. In a few seconds we proceeded, Albert leading me, having Vicky at his hand and Bertie holding mine. The sight as we came to the centre where the steps and chair (on which I did not sit) was placed, facing the beautiful crystal fountain was magic and impressive. The tremendous cheering, the joy expressed in every face, the vastness of the building, with all its decoration and exhibits, the sound of the organ (with 200 instruments and 600 voices, which seemed nothing) and my beloved husband, the creator of this peace festival 'uniting the industry and art of all nations of the earth,' all this was indeed moving, and a day to live for ever. God bless my dearest Albert, and my dear Country, which has shown itself so great today. One felt so grateful to the great God, whose blessing seemed to pervade the whole undertaking. After the National Anthem had been sung, Albert left my side and at the head of the Commissioners, - a curious assemblage of political and distinguished men - read the Report to me, which is a long one, and I read a short answer. After this the Archbishop of Canterbury offered up a short and appropriate prayer, followed by the singing of Handel's Hallelujah Chorus, during which time the Chinese Mandarin came forward and made his obeisance.

This concluded, the Procession of great length began, which was beautifully arranged, the prescribed order being exactly adhered to. The Nave was full of people, which had not been intended, and deafening cheers and waving of handkerchiefs continued the whole time of our long walk from one end of the building to the other. Every face was bright and smiling, and many had tears in their eyes. Many Frenchmen called out 'Vive la Reine'. One could, of course, see nothing but what was high up in the Nave, and nothing in the Courts. The organs were but little heard, but the Military Band at one end had a very fine effect, playing the march from Athalie as we passed along. The old Duke of Wellington and Ld. Anglesey walked arm in arm, which was a touching sight. I saw many acquaintances amongst those present. We returned to our place and Albert told Ld. Breadalbane to declare the Exhibition to be opened, which he did in a loud voice saying 'Her Majesty commands me to declare this Exhibition open,' when there was a flourish of trumpets, followed by immense cheering. We then made our bow and left.

All these Commissioners and the Executive Committee etc. who had worked so hard and to whom such immense praise is due, seemed truly happy, and no one more so than Paxton [the designer of the Crystal Palace], who may feel justly proud. He rose from an ordinary gardener's boy! Everyone was astounded and delighted. The return was equally satisfactory, the crowd most enthusiastic, and perfect order kept. We reached the Palace at 20m. past 1 and went out on the balcony, being loudly cheered. The Pce and Pcess [of Prussia] were quite delighted and impressed. That we felt happy and thankful, I need not say, proud of all that had passed and of my beloved's success. I was more impressed by the scene I had witnessed than words can say. Dearest Albert's name is for ever immortalised, and the absurd reports of dangers of every kind and sort, put out by a set of people the 'soi disant' fashionables and the most violent protectionists, are silenced. It is therefore doubly satisfactory that all should have gone off so well and without the slightest incident or mischief. Phipps and Col. Seymour spoke to me, with such pride and joy at my beloved one's success and vindication after so much opposition and such difficulties, which no one but he with his good temper, patience, firmness and energy could have achieved. Without these qualities, his high position alone could not have carried him through. Saw later in the evening good Stockmar after having had a little walk, and he rejoiced for and with me. There was but one voice of astonishment and admiration. The Globe had a beautiful article which touched me very much - I forgot to mention that I wore a dress of pink and silver, with a diamond ray diadem and little crown at the back with 2 feathers, all the rest of my jewels being diamonds. The Pcess [of Prussia] looked very handsome and was so kind and 'herzlich.' An interesting episode of the day was the visit of the good old Duke [Wellington], on his 82nd birthday, to his little godson, our dear little boy. He came to us at 5, gave little Arthur a gold cup and toys, which he had chosen himself. Arthur gave him a nosegay. We all dined 'en Famille', the children staying up a little longer, and then went to Covent Garden opera, where we saw the 2 finest acts of the Huguenots given as beautifully as last year. Was rather tired, but we were both too happy and full of thankfulness for everything.


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