Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery - December 2017

Brooch mourning the death of Queen Victoria

The Opening of the Great Exhibition, engraving by S. Bellin, 1852.

December's Object of the Month, a brooch mourning the death of Queen Victoria, has been chosen by work experience student Abi. The death of Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901) brought a nation into mourning. To show their respect and love towards their Queen the nation wore mourning attire including jewellery. This brooch shows Queen Victoria’s initials V.R (Victoria Regina) intertwined into one image, sitting on top of a black bow.

One of my theories about the brooch is that it was originally used for another commemoration such as the coronation. As mourning jewellery was very expensive, it is likely that the original owner repurposed the brooch by putting the black ribbon onto it to show they were in mourning for the Queen.

Mourning jewellery became popular from the death of Prince Albert. Victorian women were expected to mourn their husbands for two years. And only after the first year jewellery was permitted. These pieces of jewellery also sometimes contained a lock of the loved ones hair.

Mourning jewellery is said to have three main factors:

  1. It was a memento
  2. It showed that the person has not been forgotten
  3. It was a status symbol

After examining the brooch it is likely that it was casted, this means it was mass produced because casting is a cheap way of creating many identical versions of an item. In the time I spent examining the brooch I noticed no hallmark and that the golden colouring had faded off of the front, this could identify that the brooch was plated. I could also see where the main image of the brooch had been soldered onto the pin; the pin itself is roughly 5 cm. The brooch has been pinned into the black bow.

This brooch is especially relevant for our collection because Queen Victoria loved to visit Tunbridge Wells as a princess.  We were named “Royal” Tunbridge Wells in 1909 because of its popularity with many royal visitors. As a princess, Queen Victoria liked to visit The Church of King Charles the Martyr (next to the Pantiles), and because of this the church has placed a memorial sign where Queen Victoria used to sit.

There are many other objects related to Queen Victoria’s death in the museum’s collection. This includes a photograph of a memorial service outside of the Holy Trinity Church (because there wasn’t enough space for the amount of people who turned up), as well as a black bookmark, a series of 12 magic lantern slides labelled ‘Life and death of Queen Victoria’ and many newspapers on Queen Victoria’s death.

Abi says: “I chose this mourning brooch for the object of the month because I was fascinated by the history of the brooch, and the national respect for Queen Victoria. The beautiful calligraphy of her initials stands out from the simple black bow behind it."

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