Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Cogges, Oxfordshire

Sixty years a queen

The diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897 inspired a host of commemorative items, from plates to trays, medals to jugs, including some jugs made by Doulton of Lambeth emblazoned with the legend, ‘She wrought her country lasting good’. I don’t know how much good Victoria did her country, how much her influence has lasted, but such commemoratives are certainly still highly visible, as a visit to any antiques fair will show.

One can also find Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee commemorated on buildings. Jubilee clocks are still keeping time on some public buildings. There are also ceramic plaques like this one attached to the lychgate to the churchyard at Cogges, telling us that the gate itself was built in Jubilee year. The 1880s and 1890s were a great age of ceramic decoration on buildings – terracotta sunflowers and sprigs of foliage were a favourite motif of builders constructing houses, especially the larger than average houses of well to do streets in the suburbs. A builder could buy standard sunflower or foliage tiles or order bespoke panels bearing house names and insert them into the walls as the courses of bricks went up.

This Jubilee plaque is on a still larger scale. A profile portrait of the monarch, like one from a coin or a postage stamp, is surrounded by a roundel, a band containing her title ‘Empress of India’ and a border naming her other principal domains, from Gibraltar to New Zealand. Lions and crowns fill up the remaining spaces, as if we needed the imperial idea to be emphasised still further.

A number of these plaques survive on buildings in Great Britain and, for all I know, in the countries of what was then the British Empire. They were made, I believe, at Stanley Brothers Brick and Tile Works in Nuneaton. This one on a lychgate would have been seen every Sunday by those going to church. Others, I’m sure were on still more prominent buildings on High Streets in major towns. As we know from recent decades, British people still know how to celebrate a jubilee, but in its memorialisation of empire and dominion, this commemoration belongs to another age.

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