Wednesday, 11 June 2014

"I shot Prince Albert ..."

"... but I did not shoot his architect". Further to Harriet Parr in Shanklin, I just ran into another anecdote from the memoirs of Lord Ernle (Rowland Edmund Prothero), in which he confesses to shooting Albert, the Prince Consort.

The church at Whippingham was being rebuilt, and the Prince Consort took a keen personal interest in all the details of the work. The tower was approaching completion. An indiscreet friend had given me a catapult and a bag of marbles. Armed with this weapon, I was prowling round the churchyard in search of a shot, when I heard voices on the platform round the top of the tower. Looking up, I saw that on it were three figures; one was my father; one a stranger dressed in shepherd's plaid trousers, and wearing a white tall hat with a black band; the third was the builder, an enormously fat man. I hated this tyrant of the building works, because he would not allow me to play in the mortar. Now I would have my revenge! Crouching behind a gravestone, I fired at him. I had got the range correctly, but my aim was not straight. It was the stranger and not the builder whom I hit. He leaped up into the air, clapping his hands to the fleshy part of his back and uttering a sharp cry. The two other men each caught hold of an arm to prevent him from falling off the platform. The victim was the Prince Consort. I cowered behind the gravestone, not suspecting that I could be seen from above. I was mistaken. A few seconds later came the awful voice of my father; "Bobby! Come out!" To my terrified imagination the scene exactly reproduced the picture of the Day of Judgment in the old illustrated Bible at home. There were the three figures on the tower; there were the gravestones, and there was a naked shivering soul coming out from one of them. But the consequences were not so bad as I feared. It was the consciousness of this crime which made my next appearance before the Queen so formidable. But the Prince Consort had not told on me, and I felt in school-boy phrase that it was "jolly decent" of him.
- Whippingham to Westminster: The Reminiscences of Lord Ernle (Rowland Prothero), John Murray, 1938 
Whippingham Church c1910
From Project Gutenberg's Pictures in Colour of the Isle of Wight
I ran into this in the information display at St. Mildred's Church, Whippingham, the family church for Queen Victoria and her family when they were staying at Osborne House. It was presumably the handiest church with a degree of privacy enforceable; it would have been a bit public and downmarket to go to St James, East Cowes. Prothero's father, the Reverend Canon George Prothero, was rector of St Mildred's. The third man on the tower, the intended target, may have been Albert Jenkins Humbert, architect and builder of the modifications to St Mildred's in the 1850s-60s. Time and folklore seems to have expanded Albert's role in the work, some accounts saying he actually designed the church, but reality seems to be more that the work was done
 ... under the superintendence of Mr. A. J. Humbert from designs prepared by him and approved by the Prince Consort
- The Country Gentlemen's Estate Book, The Country Gentlemen's Association., 1903
Despite commercialisation (it has an adjacent coach park and exhibition centre), St Mildred's is well worth a visit for anyone into Victoriana. We were on a flying visit to the Island, so arrived at about 9.30, before the commercial stuff opened, and that's probably the best time. It's a very distinctive church in a pretty location only a short bus ride from Newport.

I rather like the contemporary account of it in Fenwick's Guide to the Isle Wight:
This is well worthy our attention for several reasons. It is almost the last public work Prince Albert took an active part in; the Queen and Royal Family attend Divine Service here; and here is a monument to the memory of the Founder, which will for centuries recall the memory of a great grief. The original Church was dedicated to St. Mildred, and was one of the six Churches given to the Abbey of Lire by its founder, \Villiam Fitz-Osborne. This was pulled down, and a new and extremely mean edifice erected by Nash, the architect, of East Cowes, in 1804. This in turn gave place (after the failure of the foundation of a new chancel and aisles, erected in 1855,) to the present Church. This was built in 1860, in the fanciful Norman style, by Mr. A. J. Humbert of London. The slight square tower, little minaret spires, and varicoloured brick decorations, have a pretty effect; but it is questionable whether these toy Churches are suitable to our changeable climate. The more heavy, robust style of our forefathers, seems better adapted to meet and dare the wintry storm and searing rain, —they built for ages, we for a passing day! In the side aisle of the chancel is Mr. Theen’s new and artistic monument to the late Prince Consort. It is of white marble, chastely decorated with gold. Two angels are represented holding an immortelle and crowning the medallion of the Prince; small columns of light marble support pointed arches with zig-zag mouldings, and the same ornaments are repeated in the upper part. The inscription—which will draw tears from many an eye, albeit unused to weep—is as follows :—
“Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life.”——Rev. ii., 10.THIS MONUMENT IS PLACED IN THE CHURCH, ERECTED UNDER HIS DIRECTIONS, BY HIS BROKEN-HEARTED AND DEVOTED WIDOW,
Round the slight pillars facing the royal seats, and all over the plain book-rests, a profusion of flowers were twined and scattered. Long, very long, may the memory of the good and great Prince be—as our warm-hearted Irish brethren say—“ green in our souls; ” we must all fear we shall never in our time—
“ Look upon his like again.”
A monument to Dr. Arnold’s father deserves inspection, and the stained glass windows, if not remarkable for colour and unity of design, are not bad specimens of modern English art. Everything about the Church is neat, plain, and of chaste design, nothing mean, showy, or meretricious. Simple good taste seems to have ruled in arranging this quiet interior, and many modern revivalists might visit this little Village Church, and inspect its decorations with good effect.

On leaving the Church, the young farmer’s daughter who has the showing of it, was asked if there were any remarkable tombs in the ground. “ Oh, yes sir,” was the reply, “one of the royal grooms is buried there.” We did not turn to see it. Departing from the place, two little girls begged of us, the first we had seen this tour; in assisting them we perhaps did wrong, encouraging some drunken and ne’er-do-well parent, but we have been warned to “beware of a man who is never deceived, he is a greater rogue than all the rest.” For hours the miserable peaked-up little faces of those village children rest upon our mind, and sadden us with the reflection—that in this world, alas! misery often exists close upon grandeur.
- Fenwick's new and original, poetical, historical, and descriptive Guide to the Isle of Wight: from a recent personal survey, George Fenwick, Ryde, 1866 (Google Books ID sJRYAAAAcAAJ).
Celebrity graves now amount to more than "one of the royal grooms"; Prince Louis of Battenberg and his wife Princess Victoria of Hesse (granddaughter of Queen Victoria) are buried there, as is the sailor and boat designer Uffa Fox. There are also a number of memorials to Victoria's family inside the church; check out the official site

- Ray

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