From Behind the Speaker’s Chair (68) – Henry W. Lucy (July 1901)

This is one of a long running series of parliamentary sketches by  Henry Lucy, the first well known lobby correspondent (whose Wikipedia page seems oddly poorly written – more a collection of bullet points than a coherent entry.). This sketch comes six months after the accession of King Edward VII., who did indeed enjoy life more than his mother (particularly toward the end of her reign), as his waistline indicates! 

The Civil List mentioned in the article was abolished in 2012, with the Queen now receiving a portion of the income from the Crown Estate, the monarch’s ‘public estate’, which makes around £200 million a year.

As you can probably tell from the sketch, Sir Edward Watkin was a railway entrepreneur, whose main railway, the Great Central Main Line was closed in the 1960s. Ahead of its time, it was a high-speed railway line which, if it had survived the Beeching cuts, would probably be much used today, as it avoids all the tiny branch stations of the older railway lines, in favour of connecting larger towns and cities. He was also the driving force behind the Watkin Path route up to the summit of Snowdon.

Volume 22, No. 127 (July 1901). Pages 104-108.

The King.


Edward VII. happily possesses the unmistakable, but indefinable, gift of being personally interesting. Amongst living monarchs examples of possession of this quality or negation of it are severally found in the German Emperor and the King of the Belgians. Among English statesmen, living and of recent times, it will appear upon examination that the attraction is very rare. In the House of Lords the Marquis of Salisbury monopolizes it on the Ministerial Bench. On the Opposition side Lord Rosebery, in perhaps even fuller degree, is the sole depository of the secret. On the Treasury Bench of the House of Commons Mr. Arthur Balfour and Mr. Chamberlain exclusively weave the magic spell; whilst on the Front Opposition Bench Sir William Harcourt in this respect sits alone. Of past Ministers Mr. Disraeli and Mr. Gladstone possessed the mysterious quality in superlative degree.

Since his memorable illness the Prince of Wales has always been popular. He was, of course, in all respects, the same man when, after unusually long chrysalis state, he bloomed into Sovereignty. Nevertheless, the public expected something different, and were not disappointed. The earliest public utterances and actions of the King struck the right note. The homely English mind was pleased by reiteration of affectionate reference to the “beloved mother.” It recognised a fine heart and mind in the modest sheltering of the King behind the revered figure of his predecessor on the throne, and in the solemn pledge closely to follow in her footsteps. This satisfaction was confirmed by promulgation of the addresses to “my people” at home and beyond the seas, which in simple, manly language acknowledged the sympathy evoked by the death of the Queen and renewed promise to walk in her ways.

A Man of Business.

The Prince of Wales, in varied circumstances, showed himself a born and trained man of business. One of his latest undertakings was the presidency of the Committee of the English Section of the Paris Exhibition. A member of it, himself the head of a great business enterprise, told me he learnt something from the manner in which the affairs of the committee were organised and directed from Marlborough House. This quality had full field for its display on the accession of the King. From the very first morning of his reign all the arteries of life in connection with the Crown felt the wholesome impulse of a fresh current. Under the mild domestic dominion of the Queen the order of things about the Court had fallen into sluggish condition. They were stirred up on the morrow of the Queen’s death, and are not likely to relapse.


The King shares with his Imperial nephew a natural leaning towards the regulation of Court ceremonial. Within due bounds he loves pageants, and insists upon having them ordered and carried out with strictest attention to precedent. Within the first fortnight of his reign London, not overstrained with such excitement, beheld two spectacles worthy its position among the capitals of the world. One was the stately procession that escorted the dead Queen to her last home. The other was the opening of Parliament by the King in person. There is well-founded expectation that, when the time of mourning shall be accomplished, the promise here given, of varying dull business life with historic pageantry, will be fully redeemed. Edward VII., as has been said, is essentially a business man. He thoroughly understands the business of a King, and may be counted upon to conduct it on the highest plane.

Kindly Tact.

Those who come most closely in contact with the King speak with fullest admiration of his never-failing tact, a priceless gift which has its foundation in kindness of heart. I have personal recollection of an example forthcoming on an occasion when I had the honour of meeting the prince of Wales at dinner. It was a little festival given at the Junior Carlton Club by Lord Randolph Churchill. The guests were severally presented to His Royal Highness, who, in his pleasant, unaffected manner, conversed with each for a few moments. In fulfilment of this matter-of-course duty he might have talked to me about the weather, or if he had desired to choose a more special and equally familiar topic might have referred to proceedings in Parliament the night before. What he did talk about, with beaming face and hearty laughter, was an article written “From the Cross Benches,” published in the London Observer as far back as six years, describing Mr. Christopher Sykes’s adventures when bringing in a “Bill to Amend the Fisheries (Oysters, Crabs, and Lobsters) Act, 1877.”

Newspaper articles of the day before yesterday are like the snow on the river, gone and for ever. It is true that Christopher Sykes was an old friend and companion of His Royal Highness, a fact that would dispose him to read the article if it came in his way. But in the careful choice of this far-reaching reminiscence–Lord Randolph’s dinner was given early in the Session of 1890; the Christopher Sykes article appeared in May, 1884–was testified painstaking effort to give pleasure in a very small matter. It was the same spirit that prompted His Royal Highness to say that, finding the Observer on his table on Sunday morning, he always turned first to the “Cross Bench” article.

Side-lights on the Civil List.

It is generally assumed that the Sovereign contributes nothing to direct taxation during life, and that at death Royal property passes without the tribute of Death Duties. The latter is, I believe, the fact. But on a portion of her income Queen Victoria certainly paid Income-tax. In each of the last four years of her reign the sum of £2,867 was debited to this account in the department of the Lord Steward. Through the same period the Lord Chamberlain paid £1,460 a year, the Master of the Horse £1,377, and the Mistress of the Robes £167.

Her late Majesty’s annual visits to the Continent ran to a considerable sum. In 1899 it was £4,383, exclusive of nearly £1,300 expenses incurred on the same account by the Master of the Horse. In the same year Her Majesty’s autumn visit to Balmoral cost £10,590, her stay at Osborne considerably exceeding £1,200. Another charge that fell heavy on the Royal purse was occasioned by the visits of foreign Sovereigns. The King of Siam’s call in 1897 cost the Queen £944. The visit of the German Emperor in 1891 accounted for £1,766, his later visit in 1899 costing only £465. This is in addition to considerable incidental expenses borne by the State.

A large sum appeared in the estimates voted by the House of Commons on account of the marriages of the Princess Louise and the Duke of York. Queen Victoria incurred additional charges out of her privy purse, amounting to £575 in one case and £1,889 in the other. The late Queen generously bore the costs of the funeral of the Duke of Clarence (£514) and of the Duchess of Teck, which ran up to £680.


There are some increases and some deductions in the King’s Household as compared with his Royal mother’s. Our Poet Laureate is still left to draw his £70 a year. But the snug place of the Reader of Windsor Castle, with a salary of £200, has not been filled up under the new reign.

The Queen’s Savings.

When moving for the appointment of the Civil List Committee the Chancellor the Exchequer surprised the House of Commons by the statement that for some years past the sum provided for the expenses of the Sovereign fell short of the demand, Queen Victoria making up the balance out of her privy purse. This ran directly counter to the popular idea that, owing to the modest way in which the Court was kept, there were considerable savings on the Civil List expenditure. The Ministerial statement and the popular rumour were alike true. For the last eleven years of her reign Queen Victoria found it necessary to draw upon her privy purse to balance expenditure. The sums so appropriated varied from a payment of £4,480 in 1892 to a maximum of £17,000 in 1894.

There was in 1887 a special disbursement of £42,602 on account of the Jubilee. Prior to that date, running back to the first year of her reign, there were regular savings of sums so considerable as to amount to £824,025. Per contra, the Queen contributed out of these saving to current expenses £170,256, leaving a balance to the good of the privy purse of £653,769. With compound interest accruing over more than threescore years this handsome sum would assume really magnificent proportions.

The Duchies.

It would be difficult to find more striking evidence of the growth of national prosperity during Queen Victoria’s long reign than is presented in the accounts of the revenues of the Duchy of Lancaster and the Duchy of Cornwall. The first was the pocket-money of the Queen; the second the perquisite of the Prince of Wales. In 1838, the first complete year of her reign, Queen Victoria drew from the Duchy of Lancaster the sum of £5,000. In 1899, the penultimate year of her life, the Queen received, as she had done during the three previous years, the round sum of £60,000.

The first complete year’s payment out of the revenues of the Duchy of Cornwall paid to the account of the Prince of Wales was £18,579. This was in the year 1843, when His Royal Highness, just past his second year, regarded a thousand pounds here or there with sublime indifference. During his minority the revenue accumulated with steady growth, till in 1860 it exceeded £45,000. In 1899, the last year to which accounts were made up, it fell a few pounds short of £67,000.

This princely sum will henceforth be paid to the Duke of Cornwall in addition to the £30,000 a year allotted to himself and the Duchess in the settlement of the Civil List. The revenues of the Duchy of Lancaster go to His Majesty, in supplement of the £470,000 a year voted to the Civil List.

The Civil List Committee of 1889.

Of the Committee appointed in 1889 to inquire into the former practice of the House of Commons with respect to provision for members of the Royal Family only three sat on the Civil List committee of the present year. They were Mr. Labouchere, Mr. Wharton, and Mr. (now Sir Samuel) Hoare. Of members of the former Committee who still have seats in the House of Commons are Mr. Chamberlain, Mr. Burt, Sir John Gorst, and Mr. John Morley. Two, Mr. Goschen and Lord Hartlington, have gone to the House of Lords. Three have retired from Parliamentary life: Mr. Illingworth, Mr. Sexton, and Mr. Whitbread. Death has been busy with the group. Passed away from consideration of Civil Lists and other mundane matters are Mr. Gladstone, Sir Walter Barttelot, Sir James Corry, Sir Stafford Northcote, Sir Hussey Vivian, and Mr. W. H. Smith, who presided. He is represented on the Committee of the present year by his son.


Queen Victoria’s Grand-Children.

The result of this inquiry was a compromise largely due to the wisdom and tact of Queen Victoria. The point of inquiry was as to the limit, if any, of the national obligation to provide for the grand-children of the Sovereign. Mr. Labouchere had a short way of settling the business. Then, as now, he moved a report in opposition to that submitted by the Chairman. He desired the Committee to declare that, apart from the Civil List, in the growing revenues of the Duchy of Lancaster and the Duchy of Cornwall there were ample funds from which provision might be made for the children of the Prince and Princess of Wales. He further asserted that the funds at the disposal of Her Majesty were sufficient to enable her to make provision for her grand-children by her younger sons and daughters without trenching on the annual expenditure deemed necessary for the honour and dignity of the Crown.

In fine, Mr. Labouchere invited the Committee to record its emphatic opinion that “the cost of the maintenance of members of the Royal Family is already so great that under no circumstances should it be increased. In its opinion, a majority of Her Majesty’s subjects regard the present cost of Royalty as excessive, and it deems it therefore most undesirable to prejudice any decisions that may be taken in regard to this cost by Parliament whenever the entire subject comes under its cognizance, by granting, either directly or indirectly, allowances or annuities to any of the grandchildren of the Sovereign.” Only Mr. Burt joined Mr. Labouchere in signing this minority report. Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Morley, and the rest of the Committee agreed in negativing it.

The majority report admitted that the Queen would have a claim on the liberality of Parliament, should she think fit to apply for such grants as, according to precedent, might become requisite for the support of the Royal Family. But the Queen made it known that she did not propose to press this claim on behalf of the children of her daughters and her younger sons. With respect to the family of the Prince of Wales the Committee recommended the creation of a special fund by the quarterly payment of £9,000 out of the Consolidated Fund. An annual sum of £40,000 was proposed, but, on the motion of Mr. Gladstone, it was reduced to £36,000.

For the last eleven years the Prince of Wales, nominally with the assent of the First Lord of the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, divided this sum amongst his children. Being authorized only during the reign of Queen Victoria and for a period of six months after her demise, the payment lapses in this month of July.

Sir Edward Watkin.

For some years before his death Sir Edward Watkin has withdrawn from the House of Commons. Failing health and advancing years began to tell upon an iron constitution. There came over him an unfamiliar longing for repose. He held a safe seat at Hythe, whether he marched under the Liberal flag or ranged himself in support of a Unionist Government. After experience, going back nearly forty years, he had grown aweary of Westminster. The one thing that kept him constant to the Parliamentary post was the hope of carrying a Bill authorizing his beloved Channel Tunnel. He found a powerful recruit in Mr. Gladstone, who not one time after time voted in favour of the second reading of the Bill but supported it in luminous speeches. At the same time he was careful to explain that in this matter he merely exercised the privilege of the private member.


In addition to an overwhelming majority in successive Parliaments, the Channel Tunnel had arrayed against it two such doughty opponents as Mr. Chamberlain and Lord Randolph Churchill. Early in the 80’s Sir Edward, who was not accustomed to allow the grass to grow under his feet, commenced the works designed to connect the Continent and Great Britain beneath the silver streak. Mr. Chamberlain, at the time President of the Board of Trade, appointed a Departmental Committee to inquire into the project.

Meanwhile he issued an edict forbidding further progress with the works. Sir Edward was furious. He confided to me a project he was quite capable of carrying out.

“If,” he said, “the Tunnel works are permanently stopped, I will erect on the site at the British end a pillar of stone lofty enough to be seen by ships passing up and down the great water-way.”

In fine weather, he mused with undisguised satisfaction, it might be seen from the coast of France. On its front he would have engraved an inscription recording how the works had been visited by the Prince of Wales, by Mr. Gladstone, the Speaker of the House of Commons, peers and commoners galore; how, when the great enterprise was fairly started, the works were stopped by “Joseph Chamberlain, of Birmingham.”

Lord Randolph Churchill.

In the Session of 1888 Sir Edward, undaunted by previous repulses, again moved the second reading of the Bill. Mr. Gladstone came down on a Wednesday afternoon to support it. But the debate is memorable chiefly for a speech contributed by Lord Randolph Churchill.


Replying to the stock argument that in case of war with France the under-sea approach to our island home would be a source of danger, Sir Edward showed how by an electric button pressed in a room in London the British end of the tunnel could be blown up and approach made impracticable. This greatly tickled Lord Randolph’s fancy. With dramatic gestures of out-stretched forefinger he pictures the members of the Cabinet presided over by Lord Salisbury decided who was to press the fateful button. On a division a second reading was refused in the full House by nearly two to one. The figures were: for the second reading 165, against 307.

Out of Harness.

In business relations Sir Edward was an uncompromising friend, an implacable adversary. When he took a man up, being thoroughly convinced of his capacity, he pushed him along to the highest places. When he fought a man he was as bitterly relentless as is indicated in the incident of his projected monument to Mr. Chamberlain. Through many years the relative position in the railway world of Mr. J. S. Forbes, of the Chatham and Dover line, were akin to those filled in the political field by Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Disraeli.

Which railway magnate represented Mr. Gladstone, and which Mr. Disraeli, those familiar with the twain must settle for themselves.

In his private relations Sir Edward was kind-hearted in the extreme, always ready and anxious to serve someone, however humble his position. But he carried the peremptoriness of the Board-room into domestic life. I remember staying with him at the little châlet he built for himself on Snowdon, having in his princely manner purchased one flank of the great Welsh mountain. It was a lovely autumn night, with the stars shining like moons. A large telescope stood on the lawn before the dining-room window. Sir Edward directed his butler to arrange the instrument for the edification of his guests. What he was chiefly anxious for was that we should see and recognise Jupiter.

“Now, Mullet,” he would say, addressing the butler in sharp tones of command, standing by him as he manipulated the telescope, “where’s Jupiter? Come, turn on Jupiter.” As if the planet were a soda-water siphon or the plug in the bath-room.

Staying with him another time at Northenden, his old home near Manchester, where he spent many happy years of married life and where he died full of years and honours, he was much distressed at dinner because he could not think of any suitable and sufficient way of entertaining his guests. He came down to breakfast next morning radiant. Lying awake at night burdened with the trouble, a happy thought flashed upon him. It was the time when the two great northern lines, competing for Scotch traffic, had each put on an express service covering the distance from London to Edinburgh in eight hours.

“I’ll tell you what we’ll do,” he said, rubbing his hands gleefully; “we’ll go up to town this afternoon, dine and sleep there; get up in good time in the morning, go to Edinburgh with the fast train, sleep there; come back next morning, catching a train that will bring us back here for a late dinner.”

He was surprised that this alluring programme was not acclaimed. For himself he was a comfortable in a railway carriage as in an arm-chair in his dining-room. He used to say that the safest place in the world was a railway carriage travelling over a well-laid road at a speed of fifty miles an hour.

Sir Edward had his faults of temper, occasionally perhaps of taste. But he was of the class that have made England great. In public he said some harsh things; in private he did many kind ones.



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