The Unofficial Queen of England

Queen-anne-resizeLOCATION: Hastings

WORDS: Gareth E. Rees

I came across this story in the book Hastings of Bygone Days – and the Present [1920] by Henry Cousins….

On the day Victoria was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1838, there was an alternative ceremony on All Saints Street in the Old Town of Hastings.

The people wanted their own coronation ceremony. So they chose Anne Page, ‘a sprightly old dame, 69 or 70’ to be their Queen in a grand burlesque.

Ann’s husband, a local revenue officer, had died thirteen years previously. Since then, she had been a constant on the social scene, whooping it up at the dances and bellowing out love-torn ballads. She couldn’t read, but she understood tarot cards well enough. When she wasn’t whirling merrily with the wheezing gentleman of Hastings, she liked to tell the fortunes of young women.

Popular, party-loving and with the ability to see into the future. She was the perfect choice.

On the day of her coronation a crowd gathered around a raised platform outside 117 All Saints Street, a 16th Century timber gabled house, where faux dignitaries gathered in outlandishly elaborate mitres and robes. They included:Annes-house

  • Lucas Shadwell – Treasurer of the Houshold
  • Frederick North – Groom-in-Waiting
  • Mr Jeudwine – Archbishop of Canterbury
  • Mr Anthony Harvey – Archbishop of York
  • Mr H Wood – Gold Stick-in-Waiting

The pretend archbishops were introduced to the pretend Queen by the pretend Officers of State. They took a gilded crown and placed it gently on Anne’s head.

“Long live the Queen!”

Up in that London, Queen Victoria was watched by four hundred thousand onlookers. Queen Anne smiled at less than four hundred – a ragged, beaming assortment of fishermen, basket weavers, parlous maids and sailors. They had assembled in their best clobber there to enjoy a holiday which had been bestowed upon the nation, much to the chagrin of the Tories and the radical left, who objected to the obscene costs of the event.

Once crowned, the following address was given to the crowd by one of the dignitaries:

Great is the pleasure now we feel

With you our friends to meet

On such a day as this to crown

The Star of All Saints’ Street

Unto your youthful Queen now give

All honours that are due

And we are sure she’ll in return

Her favours shower on you.

Henry Cousins, author of 'Hastings of Bygone Days'.

Henry Cousins, author of ‘Hastings of Bygone Days’.

There was a round of applause.

“I thank ye all,” said Queen Anne graciously, “for the honour ye have conferred on me. But these robes are itching something rotten.”

She shuffled into the house and re-emerged in new, lighter-weight robes, not unlike the mighty Victoria herself, who required two costume changes at Westminster Abbey.

The party was on.

A band struck up and proceeded noisily through the old town, followed by the gyrating Queen and her subjects. They finished at a line of tables, freshly laid out with vessels of tea.

Again the band struck up, this time to the tune of Polly Put the Kettle On. Classic.

Queen Anne sat at the table and beckoned the folk to join her. Afterwards they all danced on the elevated pavement above the street, high-kicking the hell out of the gnats and flies, until the sun went down.

“And no one,” wrote Cousins, “shewed a lighter pair of heels than Her Majesty.”

[The photos in this article were taken from Hastings of Bygone Days – and the Present [1920] by Henry Cousins, which you can find here.]

He's 128ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gareth E. Rees is author of Marshland: Dreams & Nightmares on the Edge of London. His work appears in Mount London: Ascents In the Vertical CityAcquired for Development By: A Hackney Anthology, and the album A Dream Life of Hackney Marshes. His essay ‘Wooden Stones’ is included in the forthcoming Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography.

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