I may, perhaps, preface my observations with the paradoxical remark that the first great celebrity I ever saw I just missed seeing. This was Louis Kossuth. I was only a small boy when the great Hungarian patriot visited Birmingham in the year 1851. Hearing so much talk about Kossuth I naturally burned with a desire to see him. When the eventful day of his visit came I secured a very good position at the top of Paradise Street, and fancied I was going to have a fine view of the distinguished Hungarian and the procession that accompanied him. I waited patiently for some hours, then I heard the sound of music in the distance, and then the roar and cheers of many voices. They grew louder and louder; then came the surging wave of a great crowd of people. For a brief time I was quite submerged, and when I recovered my position the procession and the patriot were past and gone.
I remember the visit to Birmingham of the Prince Consort in 1855 to lay the foundation stone of the Birmingham and Midland Institute.
I saw his Royal Highness well and truly lay the said stone, and I afterwards saw him in the Town Hall, where he was entertained at luncheon. I have a very distinct recollection of the occasion even now, and I call to mind in particular that the Prince wore a pair of light grey trousers and a swallow-tail, that is, a dress-coat. We should think this a strange costume for a gentleman at a morning function in these days, but times have changed, and the dress coat is now never seen in the morning, and not so much at night as it used to be.
Of course I remember the Queen’s visit to Birmingham in 1858, for the purpose of opening Aston Park, the “People’s Park,” as it was proudly called. There was a deal of effervescent talk about this noble project. The People, with a capital P, were going to buy the park for the People, with the money of the People. The scheme succeeded save in the matter of getting the funds. The People approved of the project, the People shouted themselves hoarse when her Majesty came to put the finishing touch to the noble undertaking, but, unfortunately, the great People failed to find the money necessary to carry out the grand undertaking, and the Municipality had to pay up to complete the purchase.
It is still going back a long time, but I distinctly recall the visit of Lord Brougham to Birmingham in 1857, when as president he delivered the inaugural address at the opening meeting of the newly-born Association for the Promotion of Social Science. I remember the Town Hall was completely filled, and much interest was felt in the appearance of Lord Brougham on the occasion. When he took his place on the platform there was some little disturbance and confusion among the audience. This promptly brought to his feet Lord Brougham, who said in very emphatic tones, “Allow me to say—and I have had some experience of public meetings—that if any persons attempt to disturb the proceedings of this meeting, measures shall be taken to expel them.”