As well as being a location for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s carriage rides, Hyde Park was the scene of what the Queen described as “the greatest day in our history” – the opening of the Great Exhibition in 1851.
Designed by Joseph Paxton, the vast Crystal Palace had been constructed on the south side of the park and it was at noon on 1st May, 1851 (having already celebrated their son Arthur’s first birthday), that the Queen and Prince arrived in a closed carriage to officially open the exhibition, encountering, as they did so, the biggest crowd they’d ever seen.
They were greeted by massed choirs as they entered the Crystal Palace after which Prince Albert delivered an address to the Queen and she made a short reply before the choir then sang the Hallelujah Chorus. The Royal Family – the Queen holding the hand of Bertie, the Prince of Wales, and the Prince holding that of Princess Victoria “Vicky” – then toured the building, cheered on by thousands of onlookers.
The exhibition, with its thousands of displays from around the world, was then officially declared open by the Lord Chamberlain and 100 cannons were fired outside.
The royal couple returned to Buckingham Palace where, for the first time, they walked out onto the balcony to greet the thousands of people massed outside.
Victoria described the day as one to “live for ever” in her journal. Paul Thomas Murphy, in his book Shooting Victoria, records that she went on to write: “God bless my dearest Albert, God bless my dearest country, which has shown itself so great to-day. One felt so grateful to the great God, who seemed to pervade all and to bless all.”
Interestingly, the park was also where Queen Victoria, in the presence of Prince Albert and other members of the Royal Family, presented 62 men with the first Victoria Crosses on 26th June, 1857. It was also where, sadly without the Prince, the Queen made a surprise appearance on 22nd June, 1887, as thousands of school children ate a free meal given as a gift to celebrate her Golden Jubilee.
PICTURE: ‘Her Majesty and the Princes passing through the Crystal Palace’, 1851 Sharles, H (artist) ; Ackermann & Co. (printer and publisher)/© Victoria and Albert Museum London.
WHERE: Hyde Park (nearest Tube stations are Lancaster Gate, Marble Arch, Hyde Park Corner and Knightsbridge); WHEN: 5am to midnight; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park