Saturday, November 23, 2019

Prince Albert's Model Cottages

Prince Albert's Model Cottage Chloe Bowles [CC BY 2.0 (]

Prince Albert told his audience at a public meeting about the horrors of working-class conditions that 'wealth is an accident of society' and that those who are wealthy 'should intervene to ameliorate 'the evils produced by other accidents'. He had resolved to speak, in spite of being warned against it by Lord Russell, the PM, and the Queen actually helped him rehearse his address.

 In the mid-nineteenth century the working-classes certainly endured many evils, such as overcrowded conditions, long working hours, low wages and the dangers of nasty diseases, such as typhoid, cholera and rickets.  Moving to the cities for work meant that most lived in slums with several children sharing a room. Sometimes whole families lived in one room.  Poor relief was apparently not much help.After a tour of working -class conditions, Prince Albert was naturally horrified, and he resolved to do something about it. According to the historian Katy Layton-Jones, the Prince believed that if you could raise the quality of life for the working-classes, this would help to lessen social problems and social conflict. 1.

The Prince had been nominal president of the Society for Improving the Conditions of the Labouring Classes since 1844 but it was 1848, and he decided that it was time to act. He commissioned the construction of model working-class flats financed with his own money, and designed by the great architect Henry Roberts.  These buildings were extremely innovative, and became extremely influential, beginning the advance of improved public housing in Great Britain, America, and many other countries.

The neo-classical flats were built in a type of red brick, which had several advantages. It was fire-proof, damp-resistant, non-porous and cheap. Each flat had two levels, two living-areas, three bedrooms, a scullery, an airing cupboard and even an indoor toilet. The cottages also featured a central open staircase, and modern domestic appliances. The parent's bedroom was very large for the time. Comfort and privacy were emphasized.

These cottages were shown at Prince Albert's highest achievement, the Great Exhibition in 1851, where they could be seen free-of-charge.  The cottages were outside the Exhibition grounds but this didn't prevent 250,000 people visiting them! Visitors included the Queen and Charles Dickens. Soon after the model cottages were built, institutions such as the Peabody Trust, started construction of social housing based on this model. 

One model cottage may still be seen on Kennington Park Road, on the very spot where the Chartists gathered to fight for democratic reforms.

1. How Prince Albert Changed Britain for the Better

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Meghan Remembered The Commonwealth

Prince Harry was delightfully surprised by his beautiful bride's wedding veil. Meghan Markle wondered how she could surprise her prince, and decided to include a piece of every Commonwealth country in her dress. She wasn't sure how to do this, however, so the British designer Clare Waight Keller suggested that she have the signature flower from each country embroidered onto her veil.

The flowers came from all 53 countries, and were delicately appliqued onto the Duchess of Sussex's 16-foot veil which she wore with her Givenchy gown.  They included the golden wattle of Australia, the kowhai of New Zealand, the bunchberry of Canada and the daffodil of Wales (my favourite).  Meghan also requested that two of her favourite flowers be embroidered onto her veil - the wintersweet and the Californian poppy.  The wintersweet grows outside Kensington Palace, where she lived with Prince Harry. The Queen had all of the Commonwealth flowers embroidered onto her coronation gown in 1953, but there were only eight flowers then.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are Commonwealth Youth Ambassadors.

Australia's Golden Wattle      Melburnian [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]                             

The Wintersweet 

The Californian Poppy

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Prince Albert and the Courage of Sir Robert Peel

Angry eyes turned to watch Prince Albert as he sat down in the public gallery of the House of Commons with a flourish. The day had finally arrived! The Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, was about to call for the repeal of the Corn Laws, after many long years of hardship and deprivation for the poorer classes. As he got up to speak, Sir Robert knew that this would mean the end of his stellar career…

George Bentinck, the leader of the protectionists and a dilettante aristocrat who had hardly ever spoken in Parliament in eighteen years, was especially livid by the audacity of the German Prince in involving himself in politics. He stated firmly that the Prince’s presence gave ‘the semblance of a personal sanction of Her Majesty to a measure which be it for good or for evil, a great majority, at least of the landed aristocracy…imagine fraught with deep injury, if not ruin, to them’.

The Corn Laws
The end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 meant that corn could easily be brought in again from Europe, a prospect which most landowners and farmers welcomed. They demanded the introduction of Corn Laws by the Tory government which restricted the amount of foreign gran which could be imported. These laws only permitted the import of duty-free wheat when the domestic price reached ’80 shillings per quarter,’ an extremely high price. Parliament had to be surrounded by bayonet-carrying soldiers when the Bill was passed, due to the incredible anger on the streets.

The Corn Laws kept the price of bread artificially high, making life difficult for tenant farmers, farm workers, labourers and other poor people. This caused riots, demonstrations and even led to the horrific Peterloo Massacre.  Eventually, the horrors of the laws would create the Irish Famine.

The Anti-Corn Law League

The Anti-Corn Law League, formed by Richard Cobden and John Bright, was mostly financed by Lancashire textile-owners, leading to accusations by protectionists that they wanted to import corn to help their buyers, drive down wages and maximize profits. Cobden and Bright, however, were idealistic men, who argued that the laws entrenched aristocratic misrule and class privilege, and harmed the economy by keeping wages down and stifling progress.  The League grew into a strong organisation, conducting research, publishing many books and placing great pressure on politicians.

There were many entrenched forces, however, who most certainly did not want to see the repeal of the Corn Laws. They even included the Church of England. Many of the clergy benefited from the oppressive laws because they were tied to the collection of tithes. Tithes had been converted into payments of so many quarters of corn, or their value, so the Established Church profited from keeping the laws.

Portrait of Sir Robert Peel

The Repeal of the Corn Laws

Prince Albert summed up Peel’s attitude towards protectionism in his memorandum about his conversation withPeel in December, 1845. Although Peel had supported the Corn Laws for a long time, he had become influenced by the arguments of the Anti-Corn Law League, and he saw that the promotion of free trade in other areas had increased prosperity and helped to create jobs. 1. However, the terrible situation caused by the potato blight in Ireland was the final straw. Although the government set up a commission to find solutions for the blight, and Sir Robert offered to give away any chemical which would cure it, no answer was found.

Sir Robert, supported by Prince Alfred, knew what he had to do. Suffering from gout and sleep-deprivation, he made his big speech on 27 January, 1846. He was on his feet for three and a half hours.

The repeal of the Corn Laws led to the resignation of Sir Robert Peel and the splitting of the Conservative Party. Prince Albert, chastened by Bentinck, never appeared at the House of Commons again.

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