If you go through the Blackfriars Bridge underpass on the south bank of the Thames look out for this tiled replica of a picture which appeared in the Illustrated London News on 13 November 1869.
It was eight years since Queen Victoria’s beloved husband Prince Albert had died and since then she had been in deep mourning and had very rarely appeared in public. Her and the monarchy’s popularity had plummeted. In an effort to change this, the Prime Minister William Gladstone had persuaded her to come to London on 6 November to open two new structures in the City of London. The Queen had, in fact, tried to pull out of the engagement a few times, fearing that she would be booed.
Her first engagement was the opening of the new Blackfriars (road) Bridge. This replaced an earlier one opened only a hundred years earlier in 1769, which was no longer wide and strong enough to carry the increased traffic. This picture shows Queen Victoria processing over the bridge in a carriage with her daughters Princesses Louise and Beatrice and her son Prince Leopold, with admiring crowds and military guards on either side. The lord mayor of London and all the dignitaries of the City of London turned out to welcome the queen. She later travelled on to open the new Holborn Viaduct in the City of London before returning to Windsor Castle.
Although there are stories that Victoria was booed, there does not seem to be evidence to support this. In her journal for the day the Queen records her surprise at the welcome she was given and that there was not the trouble she had expected.
“Never did I see a more enthusiastic, loyal, or friendly crowd & there were numbers of the very humblest & lowest. This, in the very heart of London, at the time people were said to be intending to do something & full of all sorts of ideas, is really very remarkable.”
It is appropriate that a statue of Victoria, erected about 30 years later, greets you at the northern end of Blackfriars Bridge to remind us of this royal visit to the City of London.