Walsall reader Michael Doyle has been touring his hometown to see what items of historical interest he can find, and he sends us this photograph of a 110-year-old memorial stone. He writes, "In 1902 Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein laid the foundation stone for the new town hall of Walsall."
Walsall Council celebrated the opening of its new council house and town hall in 1905 by publishing a book, Walsall: Past and Present. This provides some very good pictures of the town hall when new as well as detailed descriptions of the building: "This imposing block of buildings is situate on land having a frontage on Lichfield Street, and bounded on the other sides by Tower Street, Darwall Street, and Leicester Street.
"The chief frontage in Lichfield Street is about 170 feet long, with two wings and a central gable containing a richly decorated doorway; the spaces between the doorway and wings have columns extending through two storeys to the height of the building. The panels between the upper windows are filled with some fine examples of the sculptor's art.
"On the right frontage at the corner of Tower Street is a tower about 150 feet high, consisting of plain masonry up to a height of about 60 feet, and above that a richly decorated belfry, with sculptured figures. Over this is a delicate open-work lantern, with a crown surmounting the whole.
"The whole exterior has been built of stone, obtained in our own county (Staffordshire), being supplied from the Hollington Quarries, near Uttoxeter."
The book describes at great length the council chamber and the various council offices before describing the town hall: "The hall itself is about 150 feet long, 50 feet wide, and 45 feet high, being lighted by large windows on either side. The roof is barrel-vaulted, with side wings, containing windows vaulted over with small arches, which intersect the main vault of roof and form a series of groins, with good effect. The beautiful and finely executed fibrous plaster ceiling is worthy of notice, the medallions in the roof being filled with allegorical figures, very artistically designed and worked.
"The platform, which is semi-circular in shape, will accommodate about 200 persons, with orchestra and chorus staging, and it is intended that the Victoria Memorial Organ shall occupy the space at the rear.
"The Hall itself will easily accommodate 1,700 persons, and in addition, there are provided Refreshment Rooms and Retiring Halls for visitors and artistes."
The town hall was officially opened by the mayor, Alderman E.T. Holden, but it was Prince Christian who had laid the foundation stone. But who was he? Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein was a minor member of the British royal family. He was born in 1831, the second son of the Duke of Augustenburg. In September 1865 he met Princess Helena, fifth child and third daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who was 15 years his junior.
They were engaged in December and the marriage took place at Windsor Castle in July 1866. In giving consent to the marriage Victoria insisted that the couple live in Britain. She also made Christian a prince of the United Kingdom, thereby raising him from a mere Serene Highness to a Royal Highness and avoiding any drop in status for her daughter.
However, the marriage caused a rift within the royal family. Alexandra, Princess of Wales, was the daughter of King Christian IX of Denmark, who claimed the territory of Schleswig-Holstein in opposition to Prince Christian's family. Despite the objections of the Prince and Princess of Wales, Victoria insisted that the marriage go ahead but relations between Princesses Helena and Alexandra would remain strained.
Michael writes, "The taking over of Schleswig-Holstein by Bismarck in his quest for German unification was a key event in the history of Europe. So having Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein laying the stone links Walsall to this stage of European history."
What was called the Schleswig-Holstein Question was a contentious issue in European politics for much of the 19th century and into the 20th. British statesmen Viscount Palmerston, twice prime minister, remarked "Only three people have ever really understood the Schleswig-Holstein business — the Prince Consort, who is dead — a German professor, who has gone mad and I, who have forgotten all about it."
Schleswig and Holstein were two independent duchies in southern Jutland.
The population of Schleswig was roughly split in two, between Danes in the north and Germans in the south, while Holstein was entirely German speaking and a member of the German Confederation.
However, since the 15th century the hereditary dukes who ruled the two duchies had been the kings of Denmark.
The crisis came about during the reign of Frederick VII, who was without a direct male heir. Various branches of the Danish royal family began vying to succeed but the rules of succession were different in Denmark and Schleswig-Holstein. The two duchies followed Salic law, which barred the succession of females, while the Danish throne could pass to males through the female line. It appeared that with the death of Frederick VII the three territories would be divided.
Frederick VII tried to preempt this in 1848 by issuing a new constitution that would fully absorb Schleswig-Holstein into Denmark. This caused the two German speaking duchies to try and break away and led to the First Schleswig War of 1848-1851, when Prussia intervened to preserve the independence of Schleswig-Holstein. The result was a return to the status quo.
Frederick VII died in 1863 and was succeeded by his second cousin Christian IX, but the Duke of Augustenburg claimed Schleswig-Holstein.
Again the Danish king tried to absorb the German dukedoms and this led to the Second Schleswig War of 1864.
Prussia and Austria invaded Denmark and forced Christian IX to renounce all claims to Schleswig-Holstein in favour of the Emperor of Austria and the King of Prussia.
18 months later Prussia and Austria went to war with each other over Schleswig-Holstein with the result that the territory was fully absorbed into Prussia. That remained the situation until 1918 when, after a plebiscite, northern Schleswig returned to Denmark, while southern Schleswig voted to remain German. No vote was held in Holstein as the region had always been ethnically German.
Despite the political controversy, the marriage of Prince Christian and Princess Helena was long and happy; they were the first couple in the royal family to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary. In 1917, when King George V renounced his German titles and changed the royal family's name to Windsor, Prince Christian dropped Schleswig-Holstein from his name.
Prince Christian died on 28th October, 1917, and Princess Helena died 9th June, 1923. They are both buried at the Royal