This year the country is celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee, marking her 70th year on the throne. As the longest reigning Monarch, she is the first British King or Queen to celebrate such a milestone.
Previously, Queen Victoria had held the record for longest reign. When she died in January 1901, Victoria had been Queen for 63 years, 7 months, and 2 days.
This Great Seal was used during Queen Victoria’s reign as a guarantee of authenticity for formal documents – such as laws, treaties, and letters of dispatch.
At the time of her death, Victoria had been the only British Monarch to celebrate a diamond jubilee (60 years). She passed this momentous milestone on June 22nd 1897.
Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee was celebrated
with great enthusiasm across the Empire. Southend covered their streets in
bunting and put on a parade through the town.
Celebrations in Rochford began at 11am with all inhabitants directed to meet in the Market Square to sing the National Anthem, accompanied by organ. Other entertainments included a procession, a children’s tea, a bicycle race, and illuminations in the town. As ‘a Finale to the days proceedings’ there was a bonfire in the Church Meadow.
Victoria’s Life as Queen
Born on May 24th 1819, Alexandrina Victoria was 5th in line to throne. It wasn’t until her father died 8 months after her birth that anyone began to consider the possibility of her being Queen. Yet, after a heavily sheltered life at Kensington Palace, she became Queen at only 18 years old. Supposedly, her first request as Monarch was to have a single hour alone.
Amongst the attendants at her five-hour long coronation were Lord and Lady Baybrooke, whose invitation included instructions to ‘perform all such duties as are required and belong unto’ them.
Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha on February 10th 1840. They had 9 children together: Edward, Victoria, Alice, Beatrice, Leopold, Alfred, Louise, Arthur, and Helena. From these children sprung 42 grandchildren. As matchmaker, Victoria arranged royal or noble marriages for her family, spreading them across Europe and earning the nickname ‘Grandmother of Europe’.
When Prince Albert died in 1861
Victoria withdrew entirely from public life. She did not return for ten years
and, even then, continued to dress in mourning until her own death.
Life as Queen was not easy. Throughout her reign, Victoria survived 8 assassination attempts. Each attempt was by lone-acting assassins and most were later deemed to be mentally unfit.
The first of these attempts was by Edward Oxford who shot at Queen Victoria’s carriage on June 10th 1850 whilst she was out for a drive with her husband.
Queen Victoria’s Lasting Influences
Victoria was the first Queen to occupy Buckingham Palace. It required extensive repairs and renovations, but afterwards became the seat of power for future Monarchs (including our own Queen Elizabeth II).
Another Royal Residence which stemmed from Victoria’s influence is Balmoral Castle in Scotland. After falling in love with Scotland, Victoria and Albert bought Balmoral in 1842. They built new neo-Gothic castle on the land, which continues to be Queen Elizabeth II’s favourite residence.
We also have Queen Victoria to thank for the convoluted protocols and traditions used by our current Queen at the opening of Parliament.
After the previous building was destroyed in a fire, Victoria attended the first State Opening of Parliament in the new Palace of Westminster in 1852.
The protocols and traditions established on this day have been used by British Monarchs ever since. These traditions include the use of the Irish State Coach and the Monarch’s procession through parliament.
One of Queen Victoria’s actions which outlives her is the introduction of the Victoria Cross in 1856. Its purpose is to honour acts of great bravery and is awarded on merit instead of rank. When Victoria issued the first medals to veterans of the Crimea war, it was the very first time that officers and men had been decorated together.
End of an Era
The Victorian Era ended on January 22nd 1901 when Queen Victoria died of a stroke, aged 81 years, at Osbourne House on the Isle of Wight.
Queen Victoria was succeeded by her son, Edward. As King Edward VII, he would rule for only 9 years.
University of Essex MA student Punna Athwall writes about the ‘Empire of Care’ collection of oral histories…
In 2018 the NHS celebrated its 70th anniversary. Since 5 July 1948, the NHS journey has involved major changes in terms of its organisation, professionalisation and new treatments. However, the fundamental features of universal healthcare for everyone, free at the point of delivery are the same. The recent COVID pandemic has demonstrated the value of NHS provision to keep the nation safe.
Colchester reached another milestone in 2018 when Essex County Hospital on Lexden Road closed its doors after 200 years. A joint project by Essex University and Colchester General Hospital has compiled a library of images from its history.
Ten years earlier, Hollytrees Museum hosted the ‘Empire of Care’ exhibition, which focused on the lives and and stories of the nurses who came to Colchester to work for the NHS, recruited from other countries throughout the Commonwealth Empire. As well as objects, photographs, and press cuttings, the exhibition included interviews with a number of nurses who came to train at Essex County Hospital. These oral histories provide a window into life in Colchester from the 1950s to the 1970s.
History of Essex County Hospital
In 1818, a hospital for the poor was set up on Lexden Road by the archdeacon of Colchester, Joseph Jefferson. From 1907, his voluntary institution became known as Essex County Hospital. During the early days, the hospital was financed by subscriptions, gifts, and interest on investments, as well as collections, bazaars, and fundraising by the Ladies’ Linen League and Colchester Ladies’ Collection Association. From 1920, in-patients were charged £1 a week for maintenance, reduced to 10 shillings for contributors to an insurance scheme.
By this time, the hospital included an operating room and beds for more than 80 patients in eight wards. The hospital continued to add new buildings and medical facilities to cater for increasing demand, and during the Second World War it was graded as a first-class non-teaching hospital for all types of cases, becoming part of the emergency medical service.
In 1948 the County became part of the National Health Service. Over the next 40 years, the hospital added further facilities, including new operating theatres, a radiotherapy block, a postgraduate study medical centre and a children’s wing.
Empire of Care Interviews
The ‘Empire of Care’ collection, held as part of the Essex Sound and Video Archive (ESVA) at the Essex Record Office, includes seven interviews, from 21 minutes to over an hour long. Two of the nurses interviewed came from Malaysia, one from St Vincent, two from Trinidad and one from Braintree. Another interviewee was a local lady who supported trainee nurses.
Most of the international trainee nurses were young
– around 18 years old – when they arrived in Colchester. They all wanted to
care for others and considered nursing to be a good job. They came to England
because of a shortage of nurses. For most of them, it was the first time they
had left home, and was their first experience of air or long boat journey.
They comment that, at the beginning, they felt lonely in a strange country, with strange cultural practices and the wintry weather. However, they soon settled into their unfamiliar environment, sometimes helped by local families and by nurses from their own country who had come before them.
They all said that training was demanding and
regular work on wards was tough. They had to provide their own laced black
shoes and black stockings, and some had to buy warm clothes and coats from
their first wage.
Most felt that the matrons and sisters were stern but fair. Trainee nurses had to be quiet during ward visits by consultants. Different shifts required certain tasks to be completed to tight schedules, which could cause problems. All the nurses were dedicated to their studies and did well to complete their training successfully.
Work on wards brought all training nurses in close contact with patients, all of whom were white. They knew little about the places that the international nurses came from, but were curious to know about food and how life was back home. Some patients were surprised that Caribbean nurses spoke good English, without realising that English was their mother tongue. The Malaysian nurses mentioned that they found it difficult to understand patients when they used local slang and spoke fast.
In the clip above, Shirla recalls not being taught as well as her fellow trainees by one of the ward sisters. She was so upset that she wanted to leave and sent a telegram to her family, asking for money to go back home. The money did not materialise, and she was persuaded by another sister to return to her duties. After explaining the situation to Matron, she had no problems.
Colchester was considered a small town with few facilities – one interviewee recalled her excitement when the first coffee shop opened. On days off, some of the trainees visited their foster families or went home with local nurses. They had to leave the nurses home during holidays, but usually couldn’t return home as it was too expensive. One nurse stayed at the Methodist International Hall for her holidays. The Colchester International Club provided socialising opportunities to meet people from other countries. One of the interviewees met her husband, who was from Hong Kong, there; they had their wedding reception at her foster parent’s house.
Most of the nurses stayed in England and worked until they had families. Only one returned home to Malaysia, and she came back to England after three years. There was a general belief among international nurses that their chances of promotion were limited. Most of them left general nursing and went to London and trained in midwifery. Despite that, all the interviews were glad they came to England, and enjoyed long and successful careers.
Healthcare today in Colchester
During the 70 years since the creation of the NHS, health services in Colchester have undergone tremendous change. According to the April 2018 Annual Report, Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust provided healthcare services to around 370,000 people from Colchester and the surrounding area. It recognised that Colchester was a largely affluent area with relatively low unemployment and above average life expectancy.
However, a recurrent theme for the staff survey was that “staff from an ethnic background do not routinely feel supported to progress their careers and move into management posts”.
The Trust had a programme of work celebrating all staff and providing support such as dedicated group meetings for international new joiners. While progress has been made, it is recognised that further work is required.
In 2014 the BBC reported the shortage of trained medical staff as a major challenge for the NHS. More than a third of nurses in three Essex hospitals were from overseas due to a shortage of British-trained recruits. At Colchester Hospital, 29% of doctors and nurses came from overseas. The most popular countries for recruiting nurses are Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy and the Philippines.
Recently, the Nuffield Foundation report Closing the Gap estimate that for the English NHS “an additional 5,000 internationally recruited nurses will be needed each year until 2023/24″.
Based on the current indicators, the shortage of nurses, recruitment from abroad, and barriers to promotion for Black and Asian nurses, may not have been left behind in the 1970s.