THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

01 January 2014

New Year gifts to the poor from Queen Victoria

Having shared the story of Queen Victoria’s enthusiastic participation in Hallowe’en jollity in Scotland, I was keen to discover how she celebrated New Year.  I searched in vain for reports of royal Hogmanay celebrations at Balmoral – the Queen spent New Year at Windsor.  Newspapers focus on her annual distribution of gifts to the poor of Berkshire rather than on merrymaking at the Castle.

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Every year Queen Victoria gave gifts of food, fuel and clothing to the aged, infirm and ‘deserving poor’ of Windsor, Eton, and Clewer.  The Berkshire Chronicle of 1 January 1853 explained how a committee of royal officials and local dignitaries selected ‘those most deserving of the royal bounty, such as persons who had distinguished themselves by tidiness and prudence in the management of their household affairs, more particularly those who, in compliance with royal wishes, had shown a disposition to help themselves’.  The chosen recipients were divided into five classes according to the size of their family and the amount of goods given to them was adjusted accordingly.  In 1853 the first class of largest families received 7lb of beef, 3lb of plum pudding, and 2½cwt of coal.  The total amounts donated that New Year were 900lb beef, 2700lb pudding, and 50 tons of coal.  Bread, potatoes, blankets and ‘useful’ clothing were also provided.  It appears that tickets for ale were issued early in Victoria’s reign but this was dropped as being impolitic in 1846 (The Era 3 January 1847).

The distribution took place in the Riding School at Windsor Home Park. The building was decorated with banners, flowers and evergreens.  The Queen and members of her family attended with their New Year guests from the Castle, sitting in the gallery which afforded an excellent view of proceedings.  The poor entered by the west door, moving to the centre where the supplies were handed to them by local officials.  Sometimes members of the royal family tasted the plum pudding and walked amongst the stacked tables to see the ‘interesting proceedings’ at closer quarters. The poor left by the eastern entrance beneath the Queen’s gallery, ‘each, as they walked up the building, laden with their gifts, respectfully acknowledging to the Queen her Majesty’s kind benevolence’ (The Era 3 January 1847).

Happy New Year from Untold Lives!



Margaret Makepeace
Curator, East India Company Records


Further reading:
Queen’s Hallowe’en
British Newspaper Archive

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