The end of a 63-year reign

January 22. Victoria, Queen and Empress of India, died aged 81 at her favourite retreat on the Isle of Wight. It was the end of a 63-year reign which had utterly transformed Britain and the world.

Queen VictoriaThe Union Flag flew over a quarter of the globe. From the Australian Outback via the African jungle to the remotest parts of Canada, Victoria was the mother-figure of the Empire. She had been in poor health and was deeply distressed by the sudden death of her son, Alfred, and the terrible loss of life in the far-off Boer War.

Victoria's reign had not started with much promise. She was madly in love with her husband, Prince Albert, and when he died she went into years of solitary mourning.

The monarchy became almost irrelevant; a powerful republican movement grew (one of its products was the Express & Star, founded and financed by the Scottish-American republican Andrew Carnegie). But in the later years of the 19th century Victoria emerged from her seclusion to become arguably the most popular monarch ever. Her golden and diamond jubilees brought huge public celebrations.

Her strict views, coupled with a sweeping religious revival, set the tone for decency and high moral standards in public life, even if the appalling conditions in factories and rampant vice in the big cities told another story.

October 2. The first Royal Navy submarine, Holland 1, was launched at Barrow. Sixty feet long, she was powered by a petrol engine while on the surface and used an electric motor when submerged. As with so many novel inventions, the military were at a loss what to do with Holland and her new-fangled torpedoes. Some still considered that attacking ships from below the waves was not so much warfare as a criminal act. Holland 1 may have been primitive but she should have given Britain advance warning of the notorious U-boat campaigns of both world wars.


In brief

February 19.
Dudley. Verdict of accidental death was returned on four-year-old Annie Rose Bellingham who died of burns after her clothes caught fire while sitting on a cinder mound.
March 19.
Wednesfield Council sent a delegation to press for the electric tramway to be extended from Wolverhampton into the town.
June 28.
Brierley Hill. A report showed that girls were flocking to work in the previously all-male brickworks, lured by wages of "as much as 15 shillings (75p) a week."
September 25.
First Wolverhampton "Economic" Building Society made its first loan, to Mr W. Parsons of Kimberly Street.
November 21.
Brierley Hill magistrates fined 25 loaders for "neglect of work" during a colliery dispute.
December 10.
First Nobel prizes awarded in Sweden. December 12. First transatlantic wireless signal was sent from Cornwall and received by Marconi in Newfoundland.