But these very changes which enriched some few were the cause of misery and poverty to struggling thousands. Machinery had ruined the spinning-wheel industry and reduced the price of cloth; the price of corn had risen, and, after the close of the great war, other nations were free once again to compete against our country in the markets where we so long had possessed the monopoly of trade.
[Illustration: The Queen’s first Council at Kensington Palace Photo W.A. Mansell & Co.]
The period which followed the year 1815 was one of incessant struggle for reform, and chiefly the reform of a Parliament which no longer represented the people’s wishes. Considerably more than half the members were not elected at all, but were recommended by patrons.
The average price of a seat in Parliament was 5000 pounds for a so-called ‘rotten borough.’ Scotland returned forty-five members and Cornwall forty-four members to Parliament! The reformers also demanded the abolition of the ‘taxes on knowledge,’ by which was meant the stamp duty of fourpence on every copy of a newspaper, a duty of threepence on every pound of paper, and a heavy tax upon advertisements. The new Poor Laws aroused bitter discontent. Instead of receiving payment of money for relief of poverty, as had formerly been the case, the poor and needy were now sent to the ‘Union’ workhouse.
A series of bad harvests was the cause of great migrations to the factory towns, and the already large ranks of the unemployed grew greater day by day. The poverty and wretchedness of the working class is painted vividly for us by Carlyle when he speaks of “half a million handloom weavers, working 15 hours a day, in perpetual inability to procure thereby enough of the coarsest food; Scotch farm-labourers, who ’in districts the half of whose husbandry is that of cows, taste no milk, can procure no milk’ . . . the working-classes can no longer go on without government, without being actually guided and governed.”
Such was Victoria’s England when she ascended the throne, a young girl, nineteen years of age.
CHAPTER II: Childhood Days
On the western side of Kensington Gardens stands the old Palace, built originally in the solid Dutch style for King William and Mary. The great architect, Sir Christopher Wren, made notable additions to it, and it was still further extended in 1721 for George the First.
Within its walls passed away both William and his Queen, Queen Anne and her husband, and George the Second. After this time it ceased to be a royal residence.
The charm of Kensington Gardens, with its beautiful walks and secluded sylvan nooks—the happy hunting-ground of London children and the home of ’Peter Pan’—has inspired many writers to sing its praises:
In this lone, open glade I
Screen’d by deep boughs on either hand;
And at its end, to stay the eye,
Those black-crown’d, red-boled pine trees stand!