Sunday, 31 May 2009

Princess Charlotte

St. George’s church at Esher (bless you) is the next great English church to be ticked off my Jenkins quest.

The church was built in the 16th century, but superseded by the larger parish church that was built in the 19th century.

St George's church is associated with Princess Charlotte, daughter of George IV and heir to the throne, who died in childbirth aged 18. This is the monument to her, and her husband Leopold (who went on to become King of the Belgians). Had Charlotte lived she would have become queen, and there would have been no Queen Victoria.

The church remains consecrated, in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. I arrived just as they were locking up, but the lady in charge kindly kept it open for quarter of an hour, gave me a quick tour, and showed me the best places to photograph.

Things have improved since 1902, when Charles Harper visited for his "Cycle Rides round London". This is what he had to say (not long after Victoria died).

Saint George, Esher
The old church of Esher, long since disused and kept locked and given over to spiders and dust, has a Royal Pew, built for the use of the Princess Charlotte and the Claremont household in 1816. It is a huge structure, in comparison with the size of the little church, and designed in the worst possible classic taste ; wearing, indeed, more the appearance of an opera -box than anything else.

The authorities (whoever they may be) charge a shilling for viewing this derelict church. It is distinctly not worth the money, because the architecture is contemptible, and all the interesting monuments have been removed to the modern building, on a quite different site, across the road.

It cannot be too strongly insisted upon that the death of the Princess Charlotte in her eighteenth year made a vast difference in English history or, at least, English Court history. Had she survived, there would have been no William the Fourth, and Queen Victoria would never have been queen. Think of it ! No Victorian Era, no Victoria Station, no Victoria Embankment, no Victoria in Australia, no Victoria in Vancouver Island ; and, in short, none of those thousand things and places "Victoria" and "Victorian" we are surrounded with. None of those, and certainly no Albert Halls, memorials, streets, and places commemorative of that paragon of men.

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